No artist or band likes being known for one song. Despite multiple hits that spans into two decades, One Way is likely to be forever stamped with the label.
At about the time funk acts like Prince, Rick James and Cameo were dominating urban radio, other lesser known acts were trying to cash in on the new wave of funk brought about by the increased use of cheaper electronics.
Many acts were still making the transition from large horn sections to money saving gadgets. There were successful hybrids like Earth Wind and Fire, but veterans like George Clinton who made the switch early helped spawn a new era where nearly everyone was on equal terms with the new funk. One of those acts was Detroit’s One Way. For most of its history it had been a kind of bit player limited to the outer reaches of the R&B charts and occasionally the top 20.
By 1982 the band had changed its name several times and released what amounted to an album a year since its beginning in 1976. Some years there were two releases as in 1982: Wild Night and the band’s most successful release Who’s Foolin’ Who.
The latter album is best known for “Cutie Pie” the big R&B hit that almost freed the band from the ghetto of black radio. The bouncy bass with cow bell accented keyboards was a popular sound effect in the opening years of the ‘80s. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis may have been responsible for the effect’s mass acceptance, but arguably, One Way’s usage of the bell was one of the first in R&B. One Way’s sound had evolved into a mix that resembled Ohio based funk like Slave and the more mainstream funk of Earth Wind and Fire.
The seven or so members of One Way were led by Al Hudson, who was just one of a few vocalists. Interestingly Alicia Myers, who had left the band before they settled on the name One Way, released her third solo album with help of her old band. So, 1982 actually featured three albums from the members or former members of One Way. Such saturation did not seem to hurt either release as most R&B music was focused around singles of which Who’s Foolin’ Who had three (with the title track being the next most successful). To the average or casual fan, all the singles that year from the band and it’s alumni probably sounded like they all came from Who’s Foolin’ Who anyway.
For a band known for one dance song, Who’s Foolin’ Who was actually heavy on ballads. Bright and happy was generally the theme as on the mid-tempo “Sweet Lady”. There were plenty of quiet storm moments like the stripped down “It’s You” or the “Age ain’t nothing but a number”(made famous by Aaliyah in 1994). While good, these songs don’t stand out in any particular way which is why the distinctive hook of “Cutie Pie” makes it One Way’s most enduring song.
The predominance of ballads was probably by design as anyone making funk music needed to have a few catchy dance songs to get radio’s attention. Once that happened Who’s Foolin’ Who went down in history as the old school textbook example of funk, even if it was only known for “Cutie Pie”.
Popular comedian Cedric the Entertainer once featured a routine where he mimics an old black man backing up his big car with style and flair. The song playing in the background was always “Cutie Pie”.
One Way continued through most of the ‘80s with a string of R&B hits, but never achieved the crossover success that “Cutie Pie” did. The legacy of “Cutie Pie” lives on with by being sampled prominently by the R&B and hip hop communities.