After releasing here fourth and final album for Motown It Must Be Magic in 1981, Teena Marie signed for Epic Records in 1982, where she’d release five albums. Her time at Motown was the most successful period of her career, resulting in a gold album for her final Motown album, It Must Be Magic. This had come after a rapid improvement in Teena’s popularity over her first three Motown albums. Starting with her debut album, 1979s Wild and Peaceful, which only reached number ninety-four in the US Billboard 200 and number eighteen in the US R&B Charts, Teena’s popularity would quickly grow. Then, Teena hit a rich vein of form, with 1979s Lady T reaching number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. Irons In the Fire fared even better, reaching number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. However, Teena’s final album for Motown, 1981s It Must Be Magic written and produced by Teena, proved the most successful. It was released to critical acclaim, reaching number twenty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, giving Teena her first gold album. Then in 1982, Teena and Motown became embroiled in a legal battle over her contract with Motown, regarding the release of new material. This lead to a landmark legal ruling, “The Brockert Initiative.” which made it illegal for a record company to keep an artist under contract without releasing any new material. Should that happen now, artists are able to sign with another label and release new material. Now freed from the shackles of her Motown contract, but having spent over one million dollars doing so, Teena Marie would sign with Epic, while founding her own publishing company. A year later, in 1983, Teena released her first album on Epic Robbery, which will be rereleased by SoulMusic.Com on 16th April 2012. Before I tell you about Robbery, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.
Robbery features nine songs, eight of which Teena wrote herself, while she cowrote with P.J. These nine songs make up a concept album, about how a seemingly perfect man can put his loyal, loving woman through during their relationship. It’s full of the problems, and ups and downs of their relationship, with more far more downs than ups. He’s turned into a cheating, deceiving Casanova, whose generally, leading a double life that makes his partner miserable. She in turn, is tempted and tantalized by playboys willing to mend her lonely, broken heart. These nine songs take you through their tumultuous relationship, without ever knowing what will happen next. Teena had personal experience of such a relationship, having allegedly had an affair with Rick James, that lead to a short-lived engagement. Unknown to Teena, Rick James was already in a relationship. Once she discovered this, their affair ended, resulting in a tumultuous friendship afterwards. This gave Teena the inspiration to write one of her best know tracks, Casanova Brown, which features on Robbery.
With nine tracks to record, the recording sessions took place at two studios, Ocean Way Recording Studios in Los Angeles and Record One Studios, Sherman Oaks, California. Like her previous album It Must Be Magic, Teena produced Robbery herself, while arranging six of nine tracks. A number of famous musicians played on Robbery, including keyboard players Patrice Rushen and John Bokowski, percussion player Paulinho da Costa, bassist Stanley Clarke plus drummer and former member of the Average White Band Steve Ferrone. Paul Riser arranged both the string and horns. Having assembled such a talented team of musicians, recording took place during 1982 and 1983. When the nine tracks were recorded, Robbery was set for release later in 1983.
On the release of the first single, Fix It, it only reached number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts. Then when Robbery was released, it only reached a disappointing number 119 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. Midnight Magnet was the second single, reaching only thirty-six in the US R&B Charts, while Dear Lover stalled at number seventy-seven in the US R&B Charts. Although Robbery never matched the success of her final Motown album It Must Be Magic, a year later, Teena Marie would release her second album for Epic, the platinum selling Starchild. However, although Robbery wasn’t the commercial sucess Teena and Epic must have hoped for, it was an ambitious, accomplished album, full of some great music, as you’ll discover when I tell you about the music on Robbery.
Opening Robbery is the title-track Robbery, which although about theft of another kind, may be thinly veiled reference to some of the music business’ former practice. That is merely speculation. Against a backdrop of cop cars with sirens screaming, the track opens, giving way to dramatic synths and drum machines, before Teena’s punchy vocal enters. A slap bass, rocky sounding dual guitars, with both lead and rhythm guitar played by Keith Alexander are key to the arrangement. Meanwhile, Teena wants an APB sent out for the thief who stole her heart. Her vocal is a mixture of emotion, drama and anger, enveloped by searing guitars that dominate the arrangement. Their sound replicates and reflects the emotion, drama and anger in her voice. Although this is quite different from Teena’s usual sound, this track works well, resulting in a dramatic track laden with frustration, anger and heartache.
Playboy is a quite different track from the previous one, with the rocky sound replaced by a more familiar funky sound and style. Key to this are the rhythm section, comprising drummer Steve Ferrone, who’d recently left the Average White Band and bassist Anthony Jackson, who created the bass line on The O’Jays’ For the Love of Money on their Ship Ahoy album. Together, Steve, Anthony and guitars lay down a funky groove while synths and punchy horns combine, before Teena’s vocal enter. Her rapid-fire delivery of the lyrics is impassioned, while the arrangement that combines funk and soul. Later, backing vocalists briefly interject, while blazing horns punctuate the arrangement and Teena’s vocal soars mixing emotion and frustration, as she admits succumbing to the charms of one of the baddest guys in town. When combined with the arrangement, the result is a hugely catchy track, one that fuses soul and funk, that’s written, arranged and produced by Teena.
Shadow Boxing is one of the most beautiful tracks on Robbery. It truly is a classic love song, delivered beautifully by Teena, allowing you to hear just how talented and versatile a vocalist she was. Again, there’s a change in style, with the tempo slower, and just a wistful, thoughtful acoustic guitar accompanying Teena’s emotive and impassioned, powerful vocal. Then drums and keyboards enter, while swathes of the lushest strings and backing vocalists are the perfect accompaniment to Teena’s vocal. As Teena’s vocal grows in power, drums add to the drama to the arrangement. Later, a dramatic breakdown, features crystalline rocky guitars and percussion, that’s reminiscent of Santana, before punchy blazing horns enter. Following this is the finishing touch, the addition of a hugely seductive and sultry saxophone solo. However, what makes this such a standout track, is Teena’s vocal. Her delivery is a combination of power, passion combined with sadness and joy.
Midnight Magnet is a mid-tempo track and was the second single released from Robbery, stalling at number seventy-seven in the US R&B Charts. Listening to the track, it should’ve fared much better, given its quality and lyrics, which are some of the best on the album. Opening with the rhythm section, a wash of synths and funk guitars, Teena’s vocal is thoughtful and dramatic, which given the lyrics. They’re about a woman driven to the depths of despair, and ultimately insanity after the became involved with the wrong guy. Teena cowrote the track with Penny Johnson, Rick James’ sister. Later, a trio of guitars, a dark, haunting bass and menacing synths combine as Teena sings about the woman’s descent into insanity. Here, Teena’s delivery of thoughtful, sobering lyrics and a dramatic arrangement result in a track that deserved to fare much better than it did, when it was released as a single.
Fix It was the lead single from Robbery, which reached number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts. Some people have criticized the fuller, busier production style, and said Teena’s vocal is hard to make out. Listening to the track, the production style is neither over busy, nor is Teena’s vocal hard to make out. Quite the opposite, the arrangement is similar to many other early eighties tracks, while Teena’s vocal is delivered quickly. The tempo is really quick, as a wash of synths, chiming guitar, funky rhythm and cascading synths open the track. They give way to Teena’s vocal which is quick, accompanied by punchy backing vocalists. Later, a funky arrangement unfolds, while strings dance and cascade, as Teena warns of the Fix-It man, who’ll say all the right things, but leave you lost and lonesome.
Ask Your Momma has some of the best lyrics on Robbery, as Teena sings of the needless problems couples within interracial relationships face. After a thoughtful spoken word introduction, things quickly change. The tempo quickens, with the rhythm section, synths and cascading strings accompanying Teena’s vocal. Her vocal is full of emotion, as the rhythm section, stabs of synths and strings drive the track along. Key to the song’s success are the lyrics, Teena’s impassioned delivery. It’s full of frustration, accomompanied by an arrangement that’s sympathetic to the lyrics. Similarly, the quicker tempo adds to the drama, sadness and beauty of the track.
Dear Lover is very different from the previous track, with the tempo slower, while piano, a slow rhythm section and beautiful, lush strings accompany Teena’s powerful, passionate vocal. Accompanying her, are backing vocalists whose voices soar soulfully, as Teena sings of two lovers who when circumstances mean they must be apart, grow even closer. Teena’s vocal is one of her most impassioned on Robbery, while the addition of piano and strings is a masterstroke, as are the way the drums add an element of drama to what is easily, one of the the most beautiful, and best tracks on Robbery.
After such a beautiful and impassioned performance on the previous track, Stop the World has a hard act to follow. It’s a mixture of percussion and steel drums that give the track a calypso feel and sound. When Teena’s vocal enters, it’s laden within emotion and heartache, as she sings of the man she loved, but let go. Backing vocalists and lush strings enter, contrasting with continuing calypso sound. Later, Teena’s voice grows in power, full of sadness and sorrow, before she vamps her way through a breakdown. Accompanying her are a funky rhythm section, sultry saxophone and beautiful strings. These additions are just the finishing touches to a stunning track, one tinged with sadness and regret, and one many people will be able to relate to.
Closing Robbery, is a track that many people will know, Casanova Brown, the slowest track on the album, and one with a real jazzy sound. Here, Teena’s accompanied by just the piano and strings, while Stanley Clarke plays stand-up bass. This allows her vocal to take centre-stage, with her voice full of sadness, regret and sometimes, defiance at her dalliance with a man who two-timed her, treating he badly in the process. Then after two minutes the tempo increases slightly, but the jazz influence is still present. For six minutes, you’re almost spellbound, at both Teena’s vocal and the understated, classy jazzy arrangement. When they’re combined, the result is a beautiful, powerful and emotional musical journey, that demonstrates brilliantly, just how talented and versatile a singer Teena Marie truly was.
Although Robbery, Teena Marie’s debut album for Epic, never matched the huge commercial success of its predecessor It Must Be Magic, this certainly wasn’t because of the quality of the music. On Robbery, there are some great tracks, including Playboy, Shadow Boxing, Ask Your Momma, Dear Lover, Stop the World and Casanova Brown demonstrating not just Teena’s talents as a singer, but as a songwriter, arranger and producer. It’s on the ballads that she really flourishes and stands out, bringing the lyrics alive on Shadow Boxing, Dear Lover, Stop the World and Casanova Brown. Robbery was an ambitious album, given it was a concept album, meaning the nine songs had to have a thread that ran through them. Teena managed this, coming up with an album about how a seemingly perfect man can put his loyal, loving woman through some tumultuous times during their relationship. The way Teena sings some of these songs are as if she’s lived and breathed them, but lived to tell the tale. That’s what makes these songs so emotive and realistic. Concept albums are always notoriously hard for an artist to carry off, but Teena Marie manages this, resulting in an accomplished, compelling and emotional musical journey through this tempestuous relationship. While Robbery wasn’t the biggest selling album Teena ever had, the follow-up would become the most successful album Teena Marie would ever release. Starchild, released in 1984 which would give Teena her only platinum selling album. However, the album that started Teena Marie’s career at Epic off was Robbery, a highly accomplished and compelling album, which features some great music and will be rereleased by SoulMusic.Com on 16th April 2012. Standout Tracks: Shadow Boxing, Dear Lover, Stop the World and Casanova Brown.