One of the joys of music is how it can bring you up when you are down (that’s actually a lyric in a Commodores song). I have grown to associate R&B from the late ’70s to about 1986 as a kind of golden age drug of choice when I need a quick pick up. That was one of my primary coping devices as a child growing up in a strict fundamentalist Christian household.
Of the happy go lucky R&B music I prescribed to myself, few artists were as effective as a mood changer as Shalamar. I first heard them when the hit “Second Time Around” was making its rounds on the radio. Somehow I ended up with a 45 I don’t remember buying. The song had burst out of the prison of black radio and had become a pop hit. With appearances on Soul Train, American Bandstand and Kacey Kasem’s Top 40, Shalamar was becoming a feelgood household name in no small part to the dancing skills of Jeffery Daniel.
Big Fun, had a lot more than Daniel’s dancing going for it. It spawned three singles including the above hit, “I Owe You One” and “Right In the Pocket”. At the time is sounded like a total re-branding for Shalamar. Like the arrival of Buckingham/Nicks to Fleetwood Mac, Shalamar had a new look and sound that made it easy to forget what they were like before.
For Shalamar, that new look and sound came from a new lead singer, the golden-voiced Howard Hewett. I always thought he had the best voice in R&B or at least on par with Luther Vandross. With Jody Watley on keyboards and Jeffery Daniel on guitars, Shalamar finally found its groove. Whether they were actually playing or not did not matter because they looked and sounded good together on stage.
Not to slight any of their skills, but musicianship was not as important because the trio was a studio created hit-making machine anyway. Don Corneuils the creator of Soul Train hand picked two of the members with the primary goal being to create a singing and dancing hit machine. That’s exactly what they did during a golden era that started with Big Fun and arguably ended with The Look. The joyous and infectious songs on Big Fun, came courtesy of Leon Sylvers III who’s production would find the groups musical sweet spot well into the ’80s. Unlike a lot of R&B albums of the era, Big Fun was more than a singles vehicle with above average songs that were non-singles.
This was not the case with Big Fun as many of its tracks like “Let’s Find the Time for Love” and “Take Me to the River” had the potential to be hits. A lot of people agreed, pushing it to #4 on the R&B chart while scaling Billboard’s Top 100 at a respectable 23.
The goodness of Big Time hardly had time to fade from memory before Shalamar would release a follow up the next year called Three for Love, their second gold-selling album in the US.