Friday, January 24, 2014

Sister Sledge - We Are Family

In 1978, the R&B siblings of Kathy, Debbie, Joni and Kim Sledge were paired with Chic super-producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The result was pure gold. This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of We Are Family, the third studio album from Sister Sledge. The 1979 Platinum seller hit number 45 in New Zealand, number 37 in Australia, number 33 in the Netherlands, number 7 in the UK, number 4 in Canada, number 3 on the US Billboard Album chart (with thirty three weeks on the chart), and number 1 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

Edwards and Rodgers wrote all of the tracks on the album. Further, they played bass and guitar respectively. They also brought along with them Tony Thompson (drums) , Robert Sabino (piano) Norma Jean Wright (backing vocals) Cheryl Hong, Marianne Carroll and Karen Milne (strings) who also had played with Chic. Luther Vandross also did backing vocals on the record.

The four sisters took turns at the lead vocals. Kathy does lead on tracks 1, 3 and 4 on side one, and track 1 on side two. Joni sings lead on the second tracks on both side one and side two. Debbie has the lead on track 3 on side two, while Kim has the lead on the album closer.

Side one opens with the six minute version of “He’s the Greatest Dancer”. The single version, released ahead of the album in 1978, went to number 22 in Australia, number 20 in Ireland, number 19 in Belgium, number 18 in the Netherlands, number 17 in New Zealand, number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 6 in Canada and the UK and number 1 on the US Billboard R&B chart. The infectious rhythm, which Will Smith sampled for his 1998 smash hit “Getting’ Jiggy Wit It”, serves as the foundation for this dance floor smash. The lyrics painted a perfect picture of the disco club scene, complete with a checklist of clothing designers (“…Halston, Gucci, Elio Fiorucci…”).

The third single was mid-tempo “Lost in Music”; it reached number 35 on the US Billboard R&B chart, number 30 in Ireland, number 17 in the UK, number 12 in the Netherlands, and number 8 in Belgium.

It is time to slow things down a bit with the ballad “Somebody Loves Me”, the B-side to the lead single. The simple, stripped down accompaniment really works here for the tender, heartfelt tune.

The B-side to third single was “Thinking of You”, a mid-tempo groove with that opens with some smooth percussion. In 1984, a remixed version was released as a single which charted at number 20 in Ireland and number 11 in the UK.

Side two begins with the eight minute version of “We Are Family”. As the second single, it hit number 26 in Germany, number 20 in Belgium and Ireland, number 19 in Australia, number 16 in the Netherlands, number 8 in the UK, number 6 in New Zealand, number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and number 1 on the US Billboard Dance and R&B charts. This solid dance song about family solidarity has become iconic, and it even appears in the 1996 film The Birdcage, a particular favorite comedy of my wife and myself.

The mid-tempo “Easier to Love” was chosen as the B-side for the second single.

Things slow down on more time with “You’re a Friend to Me”, a song about appreciating support and understanding.

“One More Time”, the album closer, is all about the importance of hearing those three little words “I love you”.

I really got to know Sister Sledge thanks to the hit singles from We Are Family; my love of disco as a teenager would not be complete without them. The rest of the album is equally stellar and one that I am pleased to have in my digital music library.

For 1982’s The Sisters, click here.

For 1983’s Bet Cha Say That to All the Girls, click here.


Mark said...

A blueprint for all dance music of the past 35 years.

HERC said...

Recorded simultaneously in the same studio with all the same players as Chic's C'est Chic in early 1978, this album was released nearly five months after Chic's.

For my money, the best songs on each album are Chic's "I Want Your Love" and Sister Sledge's "Lost In Music". One of my most played playlists features these two albums in their entirety along with Norma Jean's "I Like Love" (another 1978 Chic production) and "Dance, Dance, Dance" & "Everybody Dance" from Chic's self-titled 1977 debut album.

But don't take my word for it. Here's Nile Rodgers in an interview with Sound On Sound:
"Lost In Music" was a better song than "We Are Family" or "He's The Greatest Dancer", but because it was a better song it was not as commercial.

Martin Maenza said...

Guys, as always, thank you for your comments. They are appreciated.