Its often a mystery when good talent does not succeed to the level you might expect. One example of this unfortunate phenomenon is Jermaine Stewart. The former Shalamar backup singer collaborated with Culture Club and others, but when his debut failed to chart beyond it title breakout single ‘The Word is Out’, it seemed puzzling.
Stewart’s sophomore effort Frantic Romantic had a bit more success,but would be known for its one hit ‘We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off’. That song with its innocent message, infectious beat and cheerful tone, won the hearts of R&B fans and quickly crossed over to the pop chart where it peaked at #5 in the U.S. and #2 in England.
Stewart was born in Columbus, Ohio, but his music had a kind of European sheen to it. Frantic Romantic was recorded in London, England – perhaps explaining his greater success in Europe vs. America. Frantic Romantic did not lack quality songs. Produced by both “Jellybean” Benitez and Narda Micheal Walden, two producers who knew their away around a pop hit song, Frantic Romantic should have been one of the bigger pop or at least R&B albums of that year.
Nearly all of the tracks except ‘Versatile’ was produced by Walden. His signature pop style was evident throughout, with lush synths on songs like ‘Don’t Ever Leave Me’ to the Ready For the World-like ‘Out To Punish’.
In the end it may have been Stewart’s image that was his biggest handicap, at least in macho meat eating America. Although it was the ’80s and androgyny had gone mainstream, Steward projected a feminine persona without the camp edge that made it palatable to mainstream audiences (men). In the case of Boy George or Pete Burns of Dead or Alive, they were so outrageous that they simply transcended any sexuality and crossed over into the realm of extreme entertainers.
Prince to a lesser extent got away with this, but his reputation for womanizing and the mystique crafted from Purple Rain made any turns of androgyny appealing to both men and women who either wanted to be him or with him. Stewart was never convincing as a ladies man. His high voice and petite stage presence put him at a disadvantage, especially with American R&B audiences that were with a few exceptions conservative where gender roles and image was concerned.
Stewart’s career would continue into the ’90s with a officially unreleased album Set Me Free in 1992. He never quite captured the momentum of his first two album releases. Stewart eventually died of Aids-related complications in 1997. He was 39 years old. Although he died way too soon, his music is starting to get the attention it deserves and hopefully more will get to hear the talent that was Jermaine Stewart.