TEENA MARIE-NAKED TO THE WORLD.
TEENA MARIE-NAKED TO THE WORLD.
Having left Motown after a bitter and prolonged legal dispute, Teena Marie signed for Epic Records, releasing five albums. She’d enjoyed commercial success at Motown, releasing three albums that were certified gold between 1979 and 1981. These were Lady T in 1979, 1980s Irons In the Fire and 1981s It Must Be Magic. Two years later, once she’d extricated herself from her Motown contract, Teena released her debut album for Epic Robbery in 1983. It didn’t match the success of her Motown albums, reaching just 119 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. She got her career back on track with 1984s Starchild, which was certified gold. Then two years later, in 1986, came her concept album Emerald City, which reached just number eighty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty in the US R&B Charts. This must have disappointed both Teena and everyone at Epic. What they needed was another successful album, something more akin to the platinum certified Robbery. However, another problem had arisen during recording of Emerald City. Teena and Allen McGrier’s friendship had hit the buffers somewhat. Teena was encouraged to try to get their relationship back on track. Allen had one condition, that they received a production credit on the next album. Considering Allen played an important part in the production process, this was only fair. That Teena and Allen were able to reconcile their differences, was fortuitous. One of the songs they cowrote for Naked To the World, which was rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 25th June 2012, would give Teena her only number one US R&B single. Not only that, but Naked To the World proved a bigger commercial success than Emerald City, Teena’s concept album.
With Teena and Allen McGrier’s friendship back on track, they settled down to write some tracks for Teena’s eighth album and fourth for Epic, Naked To the World. Teena and Allen cowrote two tracks Call Me (I Got Yo Number) and Ooo La La La. Another of Teena’s regular songwriting partnerships would also proved fruitful. Along with Penny PJ, Johnson, Rick James younger sister, Teena wrote Work It. The other seven tracks for Naked To the World were written by Teena. Now she had ten songs ready, Naked To the World was ready to be recorded.
Along with Allen McGrier, who was responsible for bass, synths and drum programming, Teena and the rest of her band headed to Smoketree Ranch where the ten tracks were recorded. Jimmy Stewart played keyboards and piano, Nikki Slick lead and rhythm guitar and Danny LaMelle played alto and tenor saxophone within Teena’s band. Brenda Lee Eager sang lead and backing vocals. Among the guest artists were guitarist Michael Landua, plus Rick James. He would sing two duets with Teena on Call Me (I Got Yo Number) and The Once and Future Dream. Together with a horn and string section the ten tracks that became Naked To the World were recorded. Next step was the release of Naked To the World. Would it far better than Emerald City, Teena’s previous album?
Before Naked To the World was released, Ooo La La La was chosen as the lead single from the album. It would reach number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100, but number one in the US R&B Charts, giving Teena her only number one US R&B single. When Naked To the World was released, it improved on Emerald City, reaching number sixty-five in the US R&B Charts and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. Work It was chosen as the second single, reaching number ten in the US R&B Charts. Overall, Naked To the World had proved a success for Teena and everyone at Epic Records. The album had sold well, Ooo La La La had reached number one in the US R&B Charts and Work It gave Teena a top ten US R&B single. This was nearer to the success of both Robbery and Teena’s Motown days. However, what made Naked To the World so popular and successful? That’s what I’ll tell you, after I’ve told you about the music on Naked To the World.
Opening Naked To the World is Trick Bag, one of seven tracks written by Teena. This sees Teena return to her fusion of funk and rock from Robbery. In the song, she’s in a relationship with someone who won’t commit to her. It’s one of two tracks written by Allen McGrier and sees the rhythm section and jagged, rocky guitars and washes of synths combine dramatically before Teena’s vocal enters. Her vocal is laden with emotion and frustration, at the lack of commitment in her relationship. Sharp bursts of backing vocalists add to the drama and frustration, while a funky bass is key to the rhythm section that, along with the synths drives the track along. Michael Landua’s sizzling guitar solo later in the track is just the finishing touch to a track that bursts into life, making an impact and lasting impression, grabbing the listener’s attention in the process.
Call Me (I Got Yo Number) is the first of two tracks where Rick James duets with Teena. The tempo is slower, the rhythm section adding a funky backdrop, while synths and chiming guitars combine. When Teena and Rick duet, there’s an energy and atmosphere between them. Teena’s vocal is almost angry, frustrated and sometimes sneering. Rick’s vocal is impassioned and emotive. They’re the perfect foil, each feed off the other. Then when they unite, they’re vocals compliment each other perfectly. Later, Teena almost raps her vocal, producing a peerless performance, that sounds almost personal. So good is the track that you wonder, why it wasn’t released as a single?
Ooo La La La gave Teena her only number one US R&B single. Like the previous track, it was a track Teena cowrote with Allen McGrier. Whether it’s just coincidental. this is another of the real highlights of Naked To the World. It’s a very different Teena we hear. The tempo is slower, with the rhythm section providing the track’s heartbeat, while a sultry, seductive saxophone drifts wistfully above the arrangement. Synths don’t play such a big part in the arrangement. This really helps the track. Here, Teena’s vocal is one of the best on the album, delivering it with real feeling, in way that’s totally heartfelt and quite beautiful. No wonder the track was such a huge success for Teena, reaching number one in the US R&B Charts.
Crocodile Tears sees a return to the previous sound that’s almost become Teena’s trademark sound, where funk and rock combine. The track is much more reliant on synths, with pounding drums also key to the funky sound. Teena’ vocal is quite different, tinged with passion, but mostly humor. Meanwhile the band fuse funk and soul, with the rhythm section adding a funky backdrop for Teena’s vocal, which sometimes, sounds not unlike Madonna’s. Interestingly, during the recording of this track, Teena’s band were almost exhausted, so much so, a doctor had to be called. After this, they let the tape run, with the result a compelling combination of funk and rock, tinged with humor, drama and passion from Teena.
Opus III – The Second Movement is just a seventy-second track, where Teena’s soaring vocal has just keyboards, percussion and sound effects for company. This is something of an opportunity, as Teena’s delivers a hugely effective, impressive vocal that’s one of her best on the album. If the song had been worked on, it could’ve been something bigger, something truly memorable, rather than a tantalizing teaser of a track.
Surrealistic Pillow sees Teena pay homage to a 1967 Jefferson Airplane album. Her lyrics have a surreal quality, full of i, lysergic imagery. Her vocal is delivered at a breakneck speed, drums cracking, rocky guitars and a myriad of synths providing a backdrop for her vocal. She delivers her vocal quickly, in a rocky style where emotion and frustration are comfortable bedfellows for her Surrealistic Pillow. This track has Teena’s name written all over it, with the vocal and arrangement unmistakably Lady Tee, but the lyrics reveal another quite different, intriguing side of Teena Marie.
Rick James makes his second appearance on The Once and Future Dream. This is a much slower track, with Teena’s vocal elegant and heartfelt. Synths and the rhythm section provide the perfect backdrop for her vocal. It’s thoughtful and spacious, perfect for both Teena and Rick’s vocal. Their vocals are equally emotive, with each of them giving something of themselves. They do this against a backdrop where keyboards, lush strings and percussion are key to the sound. Later, a rasping saxophone solo is just the finishing touch to this gorgeous track. Of the seven songs Teena wrote on Naked To the World, this is the best. Quite simply, it’s a beautiful, heartfelt romantic song, about true love and devotion.
Work It was the second single from Naked To the World, reaching number ten in the US R&B Charts. A funky rhythm section, washes and stabs of synths combine, before signaling the arrival of Teena’s vocal. It’s quite different, lighter, more relaxed and without the intensity of previous tracks. There’s even some more of the humor found in Crocodile Tears, with Teena delivering her vocal with a swagger. Her bravado is accompanied by an arrangement where synths and the rhythm section are key to its sound and success, while rasping horns occasionally make brief, welcome appearances. What made the song a successful single was its poppy sound, with catchy lyrics and more than a few hooks.
The Ball is another uptempo track, where synths play an important part in what’s essentially a funk jam. All that’s needed are a wash of synths, funky rhythm section and bursts of rasping horns, that sound as if they belong on an Average White Band album. Add to this Teena’s vocal, delivered in sharp bursts, while backing vocalists accompany her. Here, three synths are combined, to give the track its multilayered sound, which along with Teena’s dramatic vocal is key to this funky jam.
Naked to the World closes with the title-track, Naked to the World. It’s a slow, heartfelt ballad, something Teena does so well and something I’d have liked to hear much more of. Her vocal is powerful and passionate, soaring above an arrangement where lush strings are added to an arrangement that relies much less upon synths. Instead, keyboards, piano and the rhythm section are augmented by percussion. Adding to the emotion of Teena’s vocal are rocky guitars that neither overplay or overpower her vocal. They’re played with a subtly, while towards the end of the track, the arrangement builds and builds. It seems Teena and her band are determined to end the album on a high. This they do, closing Naked To the World on real high, with one of the best tracks on the album.
Teena Marie’s decision to patch things up with Allen McGrier before Naked To the World was recorded proved to be a wise one. It was one of the collaborations between Allen and Teena Ooo La La La that resulted in a number one US R&B single for Teena. This would be the only number of her career. Both of the tracks they cowrote Call Me (I Got Yo Number) and Ooo La La La are among the album’s best tracks. The two collaborations with Rick James featured an energy that’s almost palpapable, so much so, that you can feel the energy and electricity. The title-track that closes the album, Naked To the World sees Teena delivering a beautiful heartfelt ballad. It’s a case of keeping the best to last. Overall, Naked To the World was much more akin to Robbery than Emerald City. With its combination of funk and rock, Teena’s large and loyal fan-base loved the album. This meant that Naked To the World, which was rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 25th June 2012, saw Teena deliver an album full of some quality music. While Emerald City divided opinions, her fans were united about Naked To the World, Lady Tee was back with a bang on Naked To the World. Standout Tracks: Call Me (I Got Yo Number), Ooo La La La, The Once and Future Dream and Naked To the World.
TEENA MARIE-NAKED TO THE WORLD.