Thursday, December 17, 2015

Destination, Dream Street: Janet Jackson - The Early A&M Years - Part of 2

If Janet's self-titled album, released in 1982, was a representation of salvaged sounds from the previous decade (late 1970's disco) integrated with the burgeoning electronic funk/R&B sounds of the early eighties, then DREAM STREET is a representation of eighties indulgence: excessive drum machine programming and a plethora of synthesizers. Yes by 1984, the synthesizer was the predominate choice of instrument, and a "sound" that quickly went on to define the neon-fused decade. In between her self-titled debut and DREAM STREET, released October 1984, it was inevitable that these sonic textures would come to dominate her next musical outing. 

Original album cover.
DREAM STREET, although critically maligned and commercially unsuccessful at the time of its release, is an album that should be revisited but not only fans of old school R&B, but more particularly, for those Janet fans who choose to have perpetual myopic vision towards this release, choosing not to delve deep beyond anything that precedes CONTROL (1986). However, It has more to offer that what any contemptuous critic has ever written about. 

Perhaps we should focus on the main fact: it was predominately produced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, the production team responsible for many of Donna Summer's biggest records (Bad Girls, Live & More, I Remember Yesterday, just to name a few). As well, Giorgio himself was experiencing a career spike in the early 80's as an in-demand producer, thanks to such immensely successful film soundtracks like AMERICAN GIGOLO (1980), CAT PEOPLE (1982), and, of course, the Grammy and Academy Award winning soundtrack FLASHDANCE (1983). Giorgio's involvement constituted more than fifty percent of the album's content, somehow, however, as with the album reputation, it was sorely overlooked.

Images from the "Dream Street" album photo shoot.
Album credits plastered on the back jacket of the vinyl canvas elevated the profile and appeal of what laid beyond the wax. The problem with the digital age, particularly with archive recordings of this sort, is that there is NO album credit information. With physical formats, I was one that would explore an album's back jacket and further delve into its offerings based on musician/producer involvement that was indicated on the reverse. Mike Chapman (Blondie, Shandi, Pat Benetar) and Narada Michael Walden (Whitney Houston, Angela Bofill, Stacy Lattisaw) are just a few examples of producers who have, just by name recognition alone, have lured and sueded me into exploring other artists work, whether it be known or unknown. Strangely, I only recognized the Moroder credit on DREAM STREET well after purchasing the album. However, if one were to isolate the five tracks from the other four (produced by Marlon Jackson and Jesse Johnson respectively), you will hear the signature Moroder production sound that came to be synonymous with this time period of his music-producing career: gated electronic euro-drum beats, Roland synth programming, and more notably, the Ritchie Zito layered (doubled) guitars solos, which have become a predominate presence in Moroder's early-mid 80's production. Just listen to the SCAREFACE soundtrack, or Toni Basil's self-titled album, or France Joli's ATTITUDE album...coincidentally all released in 1983, the same time DREAM STREET went into production. For those familiar with these recordings, will find some redeeming aspects within this album.

The title track, along with "Hold Back the Tears", and "If it Takes all Night" are some of the best, unacknowledged Moroder-produced tracks. The production for each of these tracks are commanding, freezing the audience and luring them into an infectious musical landscape, occupied by dramatic chord progressions, master synth-programming, and yielding hooks. If I were to isolate a few tracks from this release as a recommendation to the curious, these would be it. The other two Moroder/Belotte tracks, "Communication" and the duet track featuring pop-vocal veteran Cliff Richard, "Two to the Power of Love", are enjoyable to the extent of production and vocal performance values, but could have been much more had the "powers-that-be" elected someone who was closer to Janet's age...say Howard Hewitt (Shalamar), or even her husband at the time, James Debarge (of DeBarge). Perhaps the pairing was a creative decision influenced by her father/manager, Joe Jackson? Evidently, a slight misstep. 

Janet during the recording sessions of "Dream Street". Circa 1984
Since Moroder/Bellotte constituted fifty five percent of the production pie, the remaining forty-five percent was delegated evenly to two other producers; First up, Marlon Jackson, sibling and member of The Jackson 5, contributed production talents to "All My Love to You" and the Billboard R&B Top Ten Hit, "Don't Stand Another Chance", which featured backing vocals from The Jacksons (5), including Michael, which is distinctly heard at certain segments of the track. Indeed, it's decision to feature it as the opening track on the album is a testament to how sonically appealing it is to the ear, and a way to garner attention to the listener. However, it is important to note that the track was not built from ground zero: the rhythm track was recycled from a John Barnes produced Cheryl Lynn track, "Love Rush", which was featured on her 1983 album, PREPPIE. In fact, if one were to play the two tracks back to back, one would observe their distinct similarities, almost to the extent of "karaoke instrumental", but further observation would reveal Marlon's "punchier" multi-layered rhythm track, bolstered by enhanced electronic drums, dominating, synthetic bass and lead keyboard arrangements. Janet's sings with a slight ferocity, perhaps to bring emphasis to the subject matter at hand. She takes command, while her brothers provide musical backing support, more prominently her brother Michael, with his signature howl, swooping in just before the instrumental break. "All My Love to You", the second of two tracks produced by Marlon, opens with an quick, rolling acoustic piano before giving way to various electronic sound-pleasures. Rhythmically, one cannot help think of Michael Jackson's own material with this track. It has an "OFF THE WALL" vibe to it...more specifically, the track "Working Day and Night". In a post-disco setting, the track is energetic and upbeat, accentuated by tight keyboard and guitar rhythms. One notable musician on this track is Jazz/R&B/Funk artist Greg Phillinganes, who extends his hand by providing synthesizer/keyboarding programming. The Jacksons (5) once again provides backing vocals, with Michael squeezing in one of his many signature vocal affectations into the mix. Despite his limited appearance as producer on the album credits, these two Marlon-produced tracks stand out as the album's highlights (aside from the Moroder tracks). A shame that a fully-produced album by Marlon never materialized. Nonetheless, it adds flavour to an already interesting musical platter. 

Pretty in Pink...Janet during the "Dream Street" photo shoot. The image on the right was included in the inner sleeve of the album.
Former The Time guitarist, Jesse Johnson, serves as the album's third producer on the remaining two tracks, "Pretty Boy" and "Fast Girls", the latter which was released as one of the album's few singles. With Giorgio's euro-post-disco production on one side of the spectrum, Jesse Johnson's delivers the "Minneapolis Sound" on the other, which is a hybrid of the funk, R&B, synth-pop and new wave genres. Idiosyncratic in style, and a sound popularized by Prince, Jesse's keyboard and drum programming are consistent to what one would later hear on Ta Mara & The Scene's 1985 self-titled album. Heavy on rhythms and instrumental breaks,  It's a sound that places strong emphasis on the synthesizer, supported by mechanical drum programming and percussion. Coincidentally, Janet's association with Jesse could be perceived as a precursor to Janet's association with the Minneapolis Sound, embraced wholeheartedly with her next studio album, CONTROL, propelled by her long-time collaborators, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis of Flye-Tyme Productions. 

DREAM STREET  is not a complete throwaway as some fans/critics have voiced over the years, however it is perhaps a touch jagged upon first listen. But rest assured, something musically redeeming emerges from this journey: an electric group of credible musicians and producers delivering something that will ultimately be worth the musical journey...destination: eclectic street.


"Don't Stand Another Chance - produced by Marlon Jackson

"Hold Back the Tears" - produced by Giorgio Moroder & Pete Bellotte

"Dream Street" - produced by Giorgio Moroder & Pete Bellotte

"All My Love to You" - produced by Marlon Jackson

*Click here for part 1 of 2*

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