Classics: Rick James – Glow (Reprise) (Gordy)
Now with the necessary hindsight – more than 30 years have gone since its release – I would tend to consider ‘Glow’ as a pivotal piece of music in the life of Rick James. And even more when havin’ a look at its love or hate it video clip. Both self describing and sadly premonitory, meanwhile just at the crossroad between the raise of fall of the man.
Mind you, Rick James‘ life happened to be the one a hard-liner since his early days. This most likely explaining the ambivalence of his temper. And, subsequently, his inclination to come up with double meanings (if not more) in his lyrics. A way for him (if not a therapy) to live with his internal demons and turn them into advantages in his musical expression. ‘Glow’ (the song and the video) standing as the perfect illustration to this.
Of course, there’s the emotion James feels in front of a beautiful woman in his narration. But that’s also and maybe even more the way he needs himself to be seen both as a man and an artist. Therefore showcasing his own fragility that would be for much on his recurent instablilty. Nothing else but the theme of Diana Ross‘ memorable ‘Mirror Mirrow’ as a matter of fact.
Besides, how not to find some parallel between ‘Purple Rain’ and ‘Glow’ in terms of both shooting and scenario. And, in the meantime, another reminder of the rivalry between Prince and James? A situation which Gabi Tartakovski interestingly describes on Popmatters.com.
The incandescent ‘Glow’ pretty much marked James‘ absolute peak productionwise. It had everything of a whirlwind. Boasting a tough Latinized jazzy beat. With thanks to drummer Steve Ferrone‘s metronomic play. But also to Daniel LeMelle‘s glossy synth parts. Not to mention LaMorris Payne‘s blowing trumpet solo jammin’ along with the same LeMelle on sax. The whole over a devastating bassline and firing Rock rhythm guitar parts…
A quick look back at Rick James‘ teenage years suffices to understand the main traits of his character. Betwwen quirkiness, rebellion and harshness. The whole with an obvious flamboyance hiding some undeniable sentimentalism…
The Buffalo, NY native started singing as a teenager in local Doo-Wop in R&B groups in his hometown. He deserted to Toronto, ON to avoid being drafted after entering the U.S. Navy. There, here embraced fusion. Creating a group – the Mynah Birds – whose line-up included Bruce Palmer, Neil Young, and Nick St. Nicholas. The military authorities ended up finding his trace with the help of Motown which warned them after they’d discovered he was a fugitive. The label execs telling James they wouldn’t release any material from him in these conditions. Eventually convincing him to come back and work with them after straightening out his legal issues. James surrendered himself to the FBI in May 1966.
After his release from Portsmouth Naval Prison in August, 1967, he returned to Toronto where he endured another detention. And by 1968, he finally got back to work. Producing and writing songs for Motown acts such as The Miracles and The Spinners among others. He relocated to California in 1969, playing in various Rock bands. As many experiences which would be for much on the consistency of his grooves. Then in the establishment of his reputation as the King of Punk Funk!
He eventually released his first single – ‘My Mama’ – back in 1974 on A&M in a Rock mood. Returning to his native Buffalo, NY 2 years after, he formed the Stone City Band, delivering ‘Get Up & Dance!’ for Polydor that same year. They then signed a contract with Motown’s Gordy Records imprint, beginning soon after the recording process of their debut-album in NYC.
The latter, titled ‘Come Get It!’, saw the light back in April 1978. The singles ‘You And I’ and ‘Mary Jane’ contributing to help it reaching a double-Platinum status.
A workaholic, James released 2 albums in 1979, ‘Bustin’ Out of L Seven’ and ‘Fire It Up’. Launching his first headlining tour, he invited the then-upcoming artist, Prince, as his opening act. And also Teena Marie for whom he’d produced the ‘Wild And Peaceful’ album, featuring the memorable ‘I’m A Sucker For Your Love’.
That Fire It Up tour would have some consequences though. Leading to James developing a bitter rivalry with Prince after he accused him for ripping off his act…
1980 followed and James dropped another 2 albums. One along with the Stone City Band – ‘In’N’Out’ – which features the unsung although firing ‘Little Runaway’. And the other – ‘Garden Of Love’ – on his own. Embedding gems such as ‘Big Time’ and ‘Mary Go Round’.
Another year on and James would deliver ‘Street Songs’, his biggest selling package of all time. Spanning classics such as ‘Give It To Me Baby’ and ‘Fire & Desire’ featuring Teena Marie. Not to mention ‘Super Freak’ which MC Hammer notoriously sampled 9 years after on ‘U Can Touch This’.
Two more Gold albums stepped into the light by the likes of ‘Throwin’ Down’ and ‘Cold Blooded’. Respectively including gems such as ‘Dance Wit’ Me’ (featuring Roy Ayers on vibes) and ‘Standing On The Top’ along with The Temptations. Not to mention ‘She Blew My Mind (69 Times)’ and… ‘Cold Blooded’. This in a period when James produced extra hits for the Mary Jane Girls. From ‘All Night Long’ to ‘Candy Man’, and ‘In My House’. Meanwhile, a compilation of his – ‘Reflections’ – saw the light in 1984 featuring the infectious ‘You Turn Me On’ and ’17’. The outstanding ‘Glow’ most likely marking the end of his heyday. He would nevertheless briefly get back to the charts along with Roxanne Shanté on ‘Loosey’s Rap’, from his 1988 ‘Wonderful’ album on Reprise.
The 90’s pretty marked the beginning of a long agony for the singer. From his ever growing addiction to drugs to regular stayings in jail for various assaults.
On the morning of Aug. 06, 2004, Rick James‘s caretaker found him dead in his Burbank home. He had died from pulmonary and cardiac failure. This, in addition his various health conditions of diabetes, and a stroke, pacemaker, and heart attack, following a reluctant drug abuse. He was 56…
You might also like…
10 essential Disco Funk tracks…