Wednesday, April 7, 2021

With a little help from Prince, Rick James releases the R&B album of the year

Rick James : Give It To Me Baby

On April 7, 1981 Rick James, "The Punk of Funk",  released Street Songs, an album that would top the R&B charts for twenty straight weeks and sell four million copies thanks to songs like "Give It To Me Baby" and "Super Freak".

According to his protégé Teena Marie, James had a bitter rivalry with Prince, allegedly stealing Prince’s programmed synthesizers following a tour together and using them on Street Songs, and then sending them back to him “with a thank-you card.”  

Soon after joining the U.S. Naval Reserves at 15, James went A.W.O.L. and ended up in Toronto where he formed The Mynah Birds with Neil Young and Bruce Palmer (later of Buffalo Springfield) and future Steppenwolf Goldie McJohn. They signed to Motown but nothing came of it so James spent years as a sideman. Then, in 1978 Motown signed him again and James began producing a series of hit albums and singles as well as producing two artists who show up on Street Songs : Teena Marie and The Temptations.

Street Songs is Rick James at the height of his powers. After all, it contains "Super Freak" (later co-opted by MC Hammer for his smash hit "U Can't Touch This"). Strangely, the reviewer for Billboard doesn't mention this super freaky song in the 1981 review. It's a little like visiting Seattle and never mentioning the Space Needle.

Street Songs finished as the  #9 best album of the year in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll.

 Rick James: Street Songs (Gordy) 20; 
 Slave: Show Time (Cotillion) 15; 
 Fela Anikulapo Kuti: Black President (Arista import) 10; 
 Chaka Khan: What'cha Gonna Do for Me (Warner Bros.) 10; 
 Ray Parker & Raydio: A Woman Needs Love (Arista) 10; 
 Maze featuring Frankie Beverly: Live in New Orleans (Capitol) 10; 
 Earth, Wind & Fire: Raise! (Columbia) 10;
 Linx: Intuition (Chrysalis) 5; 
 Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA); 5
Curtis Mayfield: Love Is the Place (Boardwalk) 5.

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