Robert Palmer: The 80’s

Palmer, the blue-eyed soul Englishman who scored big hits with “Simply Irresistible” and “Addicted to Love,” was much more than these two songs.

Palmer started recording albums in the mid-1970’s but success was slow. He embraced many different styles of music that is was hard to define him, which may have been the reason success had to look hard to find him.

Early on, he bounced around between reggae, soul, funk, New Orleans flavored R&B, pop, new wave, and heavy rock. His first few albums contained some interesting original songs and covers.

“Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” “Bad Case of Loving You,” “Give An Inch” and “Every Kind of People” got him airplay and chart action.

Palmer wrote about half the songs on his albums and selected songs from other writers that he adapted to his own style. One of Palmer’s strengths was his ability to interpret songs that you believe he wrote because they fit his vocal style so well.

In 1978 his song “Every Kind of People” broke into the top 20 and this was followed in 1979, his album Secrets contained “Bad Case of Loving You” which charted in the U.S. at 14.  This served as a turning point for Palmer, who released Clues in 1980, as he continued to change styles of music from Little Feat-inspired funk to Caribbean reggae to new wave synth-pop.

Clues featured “Johnny and Mary,” “Looking For Clues” and “Woke Up Laughing.”  This album has a metallic percussion feel, not the smooth R&B groove that was the undercurrent of his last several albums, even though they held various styles.  This harder edge sound was in part from Palmer’s work with other New York influences and recording with Gary Numan and The Talking Heads.

Palmer then released a live album and then Pride, an album of new materials.  This was more of a treading water period, the lone interesting song was “You Are In My System.”  This period was less guitar and more processed keyboards, a true distinction from his 1970’s work.

In 1985, Palmer hooked up with the Taylor boys from Duran Duran and drummer Tony Thompson from Chic for The Power Station album.  “Some Like it Hot,” “Bang a Gong” and “Communication” were the big singles from this Billboard number six album.  This was a short-lived band as Palmer departed to resume his solo career.  Bernard Edwards produced the album.

Riptide was also released in 1985, again recorded in the Bahamas, and produced by Bernard Edwards. Palmer released four singled from the album including “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” and the number one hit in America, “Addicted to Love.”  Palmer rode “Addicted to Love” to many awards, including the music video that we’ve all seen a million times of his with the all-female band.

Palmer was at the height of his popularity, two incredibly popular albums, hit singles and videos on MTV.  Palmer’s sound had a very unique 80’s groove to it, the production drenched in sound, but it has that synthetic 80’s polish that now sounds quite dated.

1988 came Heavy Nova, a fusion of his heavy rock and bossa nova grooves. It was lIs3oyZrecorded in the Bahamas and Italy.  “Simply Irresistible” was another big chart hit but sounded too much like recycled “Addicted to Love.”  The album contained a couple of other singles, so again, a very successful album.

Don’t Explain followed in 1990 which contained many covers and few Palmer originals.  The album did not chart as high or sell as well as his last two albums. Ridin’ High (1992) was another change in style, this time jazz standards.  The album performed poorly.

Palmer seemed to want to reinvent himself as a crooner with the Great American Songbook.  How many times have we seen this?  In the mid-1980’s, Palmer had ditched the leisurewear for tailored suits and expensive haircuts.

Honey, released in 1994, was a return to his pop-rock style, handling all of the songwriting himself.

Even though Palmer had bailed out of The Power Station tour a decade before, he joined up again to record Living in Fear (1996). Tragedy struck as bassist Bernard Edwards died while the band was touring.

Rhythm & Blues was released in 1999, with Palmer again writing most of the material. The album didn’t chart in the U.S.  The album is a blue-eyed soul effort, very polished production, too much so.  Palmer never lost his vocal ability, he could summon his soulfulness at any time.

His next album of new material was Drive in 2003, a collection of mostly blues and companion styles.  This was Palmer’s final album before he died. Not a bad album, another road in his long musical journey of diverse genres.

Palmer was only 54 when he died.  Mostly, he will be remembered for his 1980’s solo work and The Power Station.  The MTV videos live on to show a man of style and soulful voice.  He dared to reinvent himself over and over, and to indulge his interests in a variety of musical styles.


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