SISTER SLEDGE-WE ARE FAMILY.

SISTER SLEDGE-WE ARE FAMILY.

In a recent article about, Chic’s second album C’est Chic, I mentioned how Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards had written, arranged and produced We Are Family, Sister Sledge’s third album. This was released in January 1979 in the US and April 1979 in the UK and became the group’s most successful ever album. It reached number three in the US Billboard 200, and number one in the US R&B Charts and was certified platinum. Meanwhile, in the UK, the album reached number seven in the album charts. Before We Are Family was released, sales of their first two albums were moderate. Neither of their first two albums, Circle of One released in 1975 nor Together in 1977, had entered the US Billboard 200. The extent of their chart success was Circle of One reaching number fifty-six in the US R&B Charts. That was the extent of their chart success, until of course they met Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. At last, success came the way of Sister Sledge, who had been formed in 1972, featuring four sisters, Kim, Debbie, Joni and Kathy Sledge. They were discovered by Charles Simmons in Philadelphia, where the sisters had grown up. Like many singers, their first exposure to music had been singing in their local church. However in 1979, when We Are Family was released, their worlds were turned upside down, with the success of the album We Are Family and the three singles taken from it. Having told you the background to the album, I’ll now tell you what it sounds like.

We Are Family opens with the first single taken from the album, He’s the Greatest Dancer, which reached number nine in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the R&B Charts. The track begins with the rhythm section and guitar combining, before piano and strings enter. For nearly one minute, bassist Bernard Edwards and guitarist Niles Rodgers are at the heart of the arrangement, with Niles’ guitar playing outstanding, and Bernard’s bass playing almost as good. Together with Tony Thompson on drums, and The Chic Strings, Chic have provided the perfect backdrop for Kathy Sledge’s vocal. When she sings, she certainly doesn’t disappoint. There is a confidence in her voice, which sounds really natural, as she sings the lead vocal, backed by her three sisters who sing tight vocal harmonies. Behind the vocals, The Chic Strings sweep in and out of the track, their sound really lush. While the strings play, Niles on guitar, gives a masterclass, playing quick, funky licks, ably assisted by the rhythm section and piano. For just over six minutes, Sister Sledge, with the help of Chic produce one of the classic songs of the disco era. It’s track that has everything, a fantastic vocal and outstanding arrangement, thanks to the skills of Bernard and Niles. Thirty-two years later, He’s the Greatest Dancer, sounds just as good as it did the first time I heard it in 1979.

Lost In Music, which was the third single from the album. Remarkably, it failed to trouble the US Billboard 100 and only reached number thirty-five in the R&B Charts. That to me, seems strange given how good a track it is. It opens with the rhythm section, guitars and piano combining before the strings subtly sweep in. As the arrangement builds up, like the previous track, it’s Niles on guitar and Bernard on bass who are at the heart of the arrangement, driving it along, ably assisted by Tony on drums. When the vocal enters, the sisters vocal sits right atop the arrangement. Later, Joni sings the lead, her voice confident, with a lightness in the vocal, as she brightly sings the lyrics, with her voice sometimes, soaring high. Her sisters almost sing call and response with Joni, and then, when her vocal drops out they take centre-stage. Meanwhile, the arrangement is what you’d expect from Bernard and Niles. It mixes, lush strings, with funky guitar, bass and drums, with dramatic interjections from the piano. The combination of another great arrangement and confident, bright sounding vocal from Joni and her sisters, result in another dancefloor classic from Sister Sledge.

After two quick tracks, Sister Sledge change the style and tempo with Somebody Loves Me, a much slower ballad, where Kathy gives a thoughtful, and sometimes dramatic vocal. It begins with piano and drums combining, with strings subtly playing in the background, before Kathy’s vocal appears. Here, she demonstrates her versatility as a vocalist, singing the lyrics with a tenderness, accompanied by her sisters who similarly, sing with a lovely gentleness. The lyrics are about love, and in the song, Kathy has to question whether the love she’s experiencing is real. As she sings, strings subtly play while the piano takes the lead, with the rhythm section and guitars not playing as prominent a role. Instead, they leave the piano and vocal to take centre-stage. This combination, plus the slower tempo, works really well. However, to me, it’s the tenderness and beauty of the vocal that makes this such a beautiful track. 

Niles’ guitar playing opens Thinking of You, a track that was released as a single in 1984. However, by then, Sister Sledge weren’t as popular as they had been, when this album was released. As a result it failed to chart in the US, but reached number four in the UK. After a combination of guitar, subtle percussion, rhythm and string sections Kathy’s vocal enters. Her voice is slightly deeper, with a huskiness present, as her sisters accompany her. When the track progresses, her voice takes on a joyous sound, all the time backed by an arrangement that mixes soul, funk and disco. Wave upon wave of strings, lush and sweet, enter, with Niles and Bernard adding some funk to Kathy’s soulful vocal. Later, a piano plays adding the finishing touches, to yet another brilliant track that’s perfect for any dancefloor.

The title track, We Are Family reached number two in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the R&B Charts, selling over a million copies. In the UK, it reached number seven in singles’ charts. Since then, it has been covered by a number of artists and featured in various films and television programs. Like other Sister Sledge tracks, it’s a track that’s perfect for the dancefloor. Guitars, piano, rhythm and string sections and handclaps combine to produce an utterly joyous feelgood sound as the track opens. When Kathy sings the vocal, she and her sisters sound similarly joyous. Behind them, strings sweep dramatically in and out of the track, as a piano continually adds to what’s already a track laden in drama. Niles and Bernard meanwhile, add their magic touch to the track. Bernard’s bass especially, is funk personified, and is prominent in the mix, helping drive the song along. By the time he plays his brilliant solo, Kathy’s vocal is hugely powerful, full of joy and character, while behind her, her three sisters sound as if they too, are having a great time. For nearly eight and a half minutes, Sister Sledge take you on a joyous journey, courtesy of one of the most uplifting, feelgood tracks of the disco era. Brilliant.

After such a rousing, anthemic track as We Are Family, Sister Sledge give the listener a rest, with a much slower track Easier To Love. Like other tracks on the album, it features a lovely lush and full arrangement. Strings and rhythm section and guitars play before Joni takes over the vocal duties. She has a voice that that’s strong, confident and laden in soul, as she sings lyrics with a message. In the lyrics she encourages people to love each other, instead of hating one another. Behind her, a lovely arrangement sweeps along, with strings at the heart of the arrangement. Everything else, it seems plays a supporting role. However, Bernard and Niles playing is still just as good, it’s quick, intricate and just a bit funky. Here, her sisters backing vocals are louder and more forceful, in keeping with Joni’s much stronger and forceful vocal style during parts of the track. By the end of the track, a combination of a lovely lush arrangement, Joni’s soulful yet strong vocal and some really good lyrics, make this another great track from the sisters, albeit one that’s very different from many of the other tracks on the album.

Debbie sings the lead on You’re A Friend To Me which begins dramatically, with rhythm and string sections, percussion and guitar before the sisters sing. After that, Debbie takes the lead. Her voice is clear, her control excellent as her voice rises and falls, when she sings the lyrics about love and relationships. Behind her, the arrangement is much more subtle, with piano and guitar playing important parts, before the rhythm and string sections rejoin. As the song progresses, the arrangement builds, becoming fuller, but never overpowering Debbie’s vocal. Like Kathy and Joni, Debbie has an excellent voice, and this was the perfect track for her voice.

We Are Family closes with One More Time, a much more uptempo track, with a fuller arrangement. It begins with the rhythm and string section, guitar and piano playing before the four sisters unite, singing tight vocal harmonies. This demonstrates how soulful their combined vocals are. Kim gets the chance to sings the lead on this track, and her voice is quite high, with a good vocal range, as she sings the lyrics. It’s a track that’s perfectly suited to the dancefloor, and benefits from having a fuller arrangement. The arrangement sweeps along, with rhythm section helping to drive the song along, while strings, piano and guitar play. Waves of music rise and fall, dramatically, with the arrangement sounding almost grandiose in parts. By the end, you can’t help but be swept along by the beautiful lush sounding music, which features a good vocal by Kim, who at last, gets her chance to shine.

Seven years after the group were formed, and having released two previous albums, Sister Sledge at last, found the success their talent deserved. We Are Family was their most successful album, reaching number three in the US Billboard 200 and number seven in UK album charts. Sadly, after that, their albums never sold as well. Even the follow-up to We Are Family, Love Somebody Today, released in 1980 and produced by Niles Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, only reached number thirty-one in the US Billboard 200. However, in 1979 they were one of the most successful groups in the US and produced some of the best tracks of the disco era, including He’s the Greatest Dancer and We Are Family. Although these tracks were released in 1979, they sound just as good today, and that’s thanks to four hugely talented sisters from Philadelphia Kim, Debbie, Joni and Kathy Sledge. During a recording career, that spanned twenty-eight years, they recorded ten albums. My favorite of these albums is We Are Family, and if you’re a fan of either Sister Sledge, Chic or disco music, this is an album that belongs in your collection. Once you’ve heard it, you’ll fall in love with this infectious music, that’s melodic and full of hooks. Standout Tracks: He’s the Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music, Thinking of You and We Are Family. 

SISTER SLEDGE-WE ARE FAMILY.

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