Turn Back The Clock
Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
We interrupt our regularly scheduled music review to Turn Back the Clock. Let me take you back...way back...back to the 80's. A time when music videos were becoming an extremely popular way to promote music and music itself was undergoing a definitive change. Something very important was happening to the way we listened to music. Times were changing and music was evolving. It had a profound effect on those of us growing up at the time.
Not trying to date myself here, but in the late 80's, I was just becoming a part of the working force. Music was very important to me, even then, and one group in particular helped me break out of my shyness with amazing lyrics and dance beats that were exciting and fun. What were some of my first dollars spent on? Records (yes, vinyl was still popular back then) and cassette tapes (remember those?) featuring Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam.
Who Is Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam?
In order to give you a clearer picture of the Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam I remember, let me break it down for you:
Lisa Lisa: Born Lisa Velez, Lisa Lisa is the youngest of ten children born in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. Aspiring to be a singer at a very early age, Lisa Lisa was already sneaking into clubs at the age of thirteen. It was at one such club, that she met musician Mike Hughes, a member of Cult Jam. Mike Hughes introduced Lisa Lisa to the group Full Force and the rest is history.
Mike Hughes: A neighborhood friend of Full Force's Bowlegged Lou, Hughes was responsible for bringing Lisa Velez to Full Force's attention. He performed percussion and keyboards for Cult Jam.
Spanador: Born Alex Moseley, Spanador was a friend of Mike Hughes and performed guitars and bass for Cult Jam.
Full Force: A group of R&B singers and producers from Brooklyn, New York, Full Force consists of Brian George (AKA: B-Fine), Junior Clark (AKA: Shy Shy), Paul Anthony George (AKA: Paul Anthony), Lucien George, Jr. (AKA: Bow-Legged Lou), Curt Bedeau (AKA: Curt-T-T) and Gerry Charles (AKA: Baby Gee), all either brothers or cousins...keeping it all in the family. In addition to recording their own albums, Full Force produced and wrote music for such well known artists as Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, UTFO, Samantha Fox, The Force MDs and more. They are featured prominently on all of the albums I am about to discuss.
Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam
I have three of the four albums Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam recorded for Columbia Records, two of which made Platinum on US charts and one Gold. My favorite album of the trio in my possession is the self-titled album, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, originally released in Europe before DJs in the United States picked up on the album and launched it to its Platinum status. Featuring only eight songs, the first single released from the album was I Wonder If I Take You Home, a song remembered not just for its musical style, but for the lyrics. The track starts off with guitars, percussion lays down the beat and the keys kick it up a notch. Lisa Lisa comes in singing to her boyfriend about his request to spend the night and expresses her worries about doing so. The important message: "If you really loved me, you'd wait." The song features terrific vocal blending and a slamming musical track.
This track was followed by You'll Never Change, Lisa Lisa's rant to her boyfriend about his ways and his resistance to change. The ending of this song is awesome as the music ends and the couple talks. He tells her that she is right and he's ready for a change. Lisa Lisa thanks him, telling him that the only change he now needs to make is his address, because she is leaving him. Next up is All Cried Out. There's no awesome beat here - this is a dramatic change from the Lisa Lisa norm. Pianos are key (no pun intended) in this ballad about a love that has come to an end. The vocals are awesome and appear to be heartfelt as Lisa Lisa shows her full range as a singer.
The fourth track, This Is Cult Jam, showcases each member's abilities both musically and vocally with both rap and R&B making an appearance. This is followed by another incredible hit, Can You Feel the Beat. In this song, Lisa confesses her deepest feelings of love...with every beat of her heart. The percussions and keys in this track are awesome. Behind My Eyes follows with a heavy percussion sound during which Lisa Lisa vows that her ex will never see the tears she cries over the love she has just lost.
Next up is Private Property in which Lisa Lisa confesses that she is a one-man type of gal. We finish up the album with Take Me Home, the boyfriend's rap answer to Lisa Lisa's worries about taking him home.
After purchasing some of the tracks from their original album on 45rpms, I purchased the entire album on cassette tape and eventually CD. There would be no question after the love I had for every track on their first album that I would by Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's second album, Spanish Fly.
The album starts off with a hit single track Everything Will B-Fine. Once again things start off with guitars, followed by a slamming percussion beat and keys to bring things up a notch. Everything Will B-Fine is a message to her new flame that despite the pain of past relationships, as long as they stay dedicated to one another, this new relationship will work out just fine. The vocal blending on this track is beautiful.
Next up is another of the band's hits, Head to Toe which speaks of a surprising new love developed between two close friends. Once again, the blend of vocals and the beats are awesome and the lyrics are catchy and fun. You can't help but smile to this one as you sing along. But then, Lisa Lisa shows off that Latin temper in A Face in the Crowd. This song can be taken one of two ways. As Lisa Lisa sings to a performer who has made the big time, mystified by the idea that she could have just been played, one has to wonder. The performer sounds like a jerk, but could it be that Lisa Lisa is a stalker?
Just as in the first album, Spanish Fly contains a ballad that went to the top, Someone to Love Me for Me. This song, a duet between Lisa Lisa and members of Full Force, speaks of the difficulty successful people have in finding someone to love them for who they are and not for their fame: "And if I want satisfaction / I can have anyone that I see / But why should I settle for less / When I need you to love me for me." The song comes to a close just after Lisa Lisa offers us a message about real love: "Well, I would like to say to all the lovers of the world - If you are in love with someone, I mean really in love with someone, make sure that you hold on to that person. Make sure that person loves you for who you are and not for the materialistic things that surround you." I think this song became so successful not just because of the power of Lisa Lisa's vocals on the track, but for the message the lyrics contain which can anyone could relate to.
Following this ballad is a poppy tune, I Promise You, in which Lisa Lisa and Spanador present themselves as new lovers who promise each other the world in their relationship. A Fool Is Born Everyday is a warning to all those looking for love in all the wrong places. This is the first song in which some of Lisa Lisa's heritage comes into play with the teeniest bit of Spanish in the lyrics.
Up next is another hit, Lost in Emotion featuring memorable keys and percussion. Here, Lisa Lisa finds herself possibly falling for someone, opening herself up to them and telling them things she doesn't even tell her best friends. Could it be that she's falling in love? The last song on the album is Playing with Fire, a harder track in which Lisa Lisa warns off a potential suitor.
Basically, this album has eight songs, despite its ten track length. The fifth and tenth track are just silly talk used as time filler...a waste of time, if you ask me. It's nice that the band had fun making the album and were able to clown around a bit, but I would have preferred one or two more tracks of song than two tracks of silliness.
Although Spanish Fly is not as raw and beat-oriented as their first album, it contributed to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's fan base by appealing to a larger spectrum of listeners. Lisa Lisa shows off some new talents by rapping a bit and Spanador shows he has some vocal talent in addition to his guitar riffs. There is a lot more harmonization present in this album as well. And if you listen carefully to the lyrics, you will catch snippets of lines from songs on the first album, perhaps a nod toward that album's success.
Straight Outta Hell's Kitchen
I don't know how I missed out on Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam's third album, Straight to the Sky, but I found their fourth (and last on the Columbia label), Straight Outta Hell's Kitchen by accident. I had been searching through CDs, literally stumbled on this 1991 release and snatched it up. Unfortunately, although it had some promising tracks, I found I wasn't to hot for this album. I think it's because the musical style of the band had changed to fit the 90s. The music was slower with more sampling (like a snippet of Body Rock from K7 1993 album Swing Batta Swing) to coincide with the styles of Taylor Dane, Salt-N-Peppa, Samantha Fox, etc.
Lisa Lisa still proves she has a great voice. The abilities of the band are still there and the album contains some good songs, mostly at the beginning. There's Something 'Bout Love with that incredibly catchy hook: "Something about love / I said you're the one I'm always thinking of." This is followed by Let the Music Play, featuring a music track sampling that you will all find familiar. Then there is one of their last hits as a group, Let the Beat Hit 'Em.
The most important track on this album is the seventh, Let It Go. The opening moments on that track features a mix of earlier songs from the band, showing its progression to this album. It is in this track that you can best see the gradual change in style the band took, which I believe led to their downfall. It was the style they presented us with in the 1980s that made them unique. By slowing things down and conforming to the music norm of the early 90s, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam lost some of that fire that made them special.
So, what led me to write this article? The fact that I've worn out my Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam tapes, still have the vinyl records and still play the CDs with gusto. And every time I catch one of their songs on the radio, a grin appears on my face from ear to ear and that radio gets cranked as loud as it can. No matter how long I go without listening to a Lisa Lisa track, the moment one comes on, I can always remember every single line of lyrics and that music always makes me want to move my feet.
The fact is, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam wasn't just a band, it was an iconic event for me and anyone else growing up in that era. They represented something new to us...a new flavor of music and a shot in the arm propelling us confidently toward the independence from our parents that was inevitable. This music helped define us...it moved us to believe in ourselves, especially those of us who knew the background story behind the band's development. If you knew that, then you knew to hold on to your dreams - it made those dreams seem suddenly attainable.
Most of all, this music made you move. It made a shy young girl dance and sing in front of other people, something that would have been highly unlikely in the past. It introduced me to freestyle and rap, something I had never known before, but came to love and awakened in me a love for dancing...something that always surprises people when expressed.
Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam introduced a new style of music to the world, one that still lives on through sampling and remakes, through music videos on YouTube (which I had a lot of fun watching while writing this article) and through the people who lived with and loved their music all these years and I can't think of a band more deserving of a Turn Back the Clock feature article than this one.