The Pointer Sisters – 1975 – Steppin’
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Keeping their forward momentum at warp speed, the Pointer Sisters brought the effusive Steppin’ to bear in summer 1975. Having already danced into the spotlight across their first three albums, it was no surprise when the David Rubins on-produced LP, which boasted one of the era’s best cut-out sleeves (slingback high-heeled tap sneakers!), cruised to number three R&B. Keeping their feet planted firmly in the older soul tradition which had served them so well, the Pointer Sisters continued to look ahead, carving their own niche in a genre soon to be glutted with contenders. This set is a thriller, from the opening funk groove of the number one hit “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)“, which remains a delicious collision of mid-period soul, funk, and nascent disco, to their energetic cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “Sleeping Alone” and “Chainey Do“, which sports jazz fusionist Herbie Hancock on clavinet. Sparklers like these only serve to whet the Pointer Sisters’ own appetite, though, as they work their way through a hefty course of vibes. Their love of early standards blossoms across the smoky, sultry, six-minute “I Ain’t Got Nothing but the Blues” — a wonderful tribute to Duke Ellington sung in medley form, allowing the quartet’s vocal harmonies to shine across a big band backdrop. Elsewhere, they take a spin through Allen Toussaint‘s “Going Down Slowly“, which scored them another R&B hit at the end of 1975. And although the Pointer Sisters are best-remembered for the mid-’80s disco soul they plied so well, it’s albums like Steppin’ which best capture the sisters’ true spirit.
A1 How Long (Betcha Got a Chick on the Side) 7:26
A2 Sleeping Alone 4:31
A3 Easy Days 3:36
A4 Chainey Do 6:03
B1 I Ain’t Got Nothin’but the Blues:Medley in Tribute to Duke Ellington 6:14
B2 Save the Bones for Henry Jones 3:10
B3 Wanting Things 3:11
B4 Going Down Slowly 7:54
STEPPIN’ is a high point in the Pointer Sisters 70’s output, and their final album for Blue Thumb; with plenty of space for their 40s style Big band chorus singing, as well as some of their heaviest funk of all time. Once it occurs to you that this album plays like the bulk of a musical the P-Sis might have written about a woman who’s man recently left her high and dry, and is now STEPPIN’ out to find her own way; it’s hard not to see how these songs follow this theme. “How Long” starts as a slow funk burner and establishes the cheating man theme, while the elastic tempoed “Sleeping Alone” states the obvious in an oddly assembled composition that works nonetheless (probably one of the least catgorizable songs of their career; written by Stevie Wonder). “Easy Days” takes it down to an Issac Hayes ballad tempo (one of the writers) and falls into a Broadway style 70s show music tune about dreamin and hopin for a day alone without a worry. “Chaney Do” is one of the hard funk numbers here, about searching the town for some lovin’ but finding that Mr. Chaney is the only one who satisfies. It begins with a wonderful African chant and progresses into a funky rhythm section, wah wahed out guitar and stanky clavinet by Stevie Wonder, in a lengthy solo section before breaking back down to a chanted ending.
“Nothing But The Blues” is a remarkable tribute to Duke Ellington which flows back and forth between six different songs by Duke. The slow build, strings and superbly arranged vocals take us near both the 40s and Broadway again (or more accurately 40s Harlem’s 125th Street), while the P-Sis build to an ending where lines from several songs are delivered alongside one another for a rather smart climax. “Henry Jones” is a throwback to the earlier P-Sis 40’s style hot Jazz, about a dinner party guest who doesn’t eat meat. This is one of the most humorous P-Sis songs in their catalog and the accompaniment is perfectly styled. “Wanting Things” juxtaposes a practically ‘Love Story’-style ballad arrangement with a lyric that deals with some serious spiritual questions about desire. “Going Down Slowly” (next to Sleeping Alone, Chaney Do, Nothin But The Blues and Henry Jones) is one of the classics from this album. This Toussaint composition is the absolute heaviest P-Sis 70s funk you’ll ever hear (unless you get into their back-up work for the early 70s Betty Davis albums), and was included (edited to more than half it’s length) in the Best Of Blue Thumb double album that came out the next year. The lyric is a classic cautionary tale about people born into freedom loosing their freedom and soul while they wait for the others. “Going Down” is a slowly burner that drops a funk bomb with the P-Sis belting it out so heavy you’ll get chills up your spine! Not sure how the finale here fits into the earlier theme, but someone needs to consider putting together a ‘Mama Mia’-style musical out of Pointer Sisters songs; it’d kill! An amazing way to end an already solid album that could easily have been the P-Sis break through album, rather than 1983’s BREAK OUT. Instead they’re probably remembered for their 70s work more from the CAR WASH Soundtrack than this amazing album