ROSE ROYCE-ROSE ROYCE III: STRIKES AGAIN.

ROSE ROYCE-ROSE ROYCE III: STRIKES AGAIN.

When Norman Whitfield decided to set up his own record company Whitfield, after spending ten years at Motown as their psychedelic kahuna, one of his first signing were Total Concept Unlimited, an eight-piece band from Los Angeles. Norman became the group’s mentor, signing them to his label and shaping their nascent career. Soon, the band were known as Magic Wand, working with Yvonne Fair and Undisputed Truth as their studio and live backing band. During a tour backing Undisputed Truth, Joe Harris the lead singer of Undisputed Truth met Gwen Dickey after a concert in Miami. Gwen was a member of The Jewels, a local Miami band. Joe Harris told Norman Whitfield about her and soon, Gwen was heading to Los Angeles, to audition as lead singer of Magic Wand. Quickly, it became apparent that here was what Magic Wand needed, an enchanting lead singer. Now he’d found the final piece to the Magic Wand jigsaw, Norman gave Gwen the stage-name Rose Wand and set about recording the group’s debut album. Then fate decided to intervene. Film director Michael Schultz asked Norman to write the score for his next film Car Wash. Having sampled the atmosphere surrounding the film set, Norman set about writing the film score and changed the band’s name one more time. They became Rose Royce, the name giving the group an aura of riches, success and fame. This rubbed off, with Car Wash giving Rose Royce three hit singles in 1976, with Car Wash reaching number one in the US, while I Wanna Get Next To You and I’m Going Down reached the top ten in the US R&B Charts. A year later, Rose Royce released Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom which was certified platinum in the US and gold in the UK. Following such a successful album wasn’t going to be easy, but in 1978, Rose Royce released Rose Royce III: Strikes Again. Could Rose Royce III: Strikes Again repeat the success of its predecessor Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom?

For their third album, Rose Royce III: Strikes Again Norman Whitfield wrote four new tracks and cowrote What’s Wrong With Me with Rose Royce. Miles Gregory contributed two songs for the forthcoming album, Rose Royce III: Strikes Again. One of these would be a song that became synonymous with Rose Royce, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. The other two tracks Angel In the Sky and Help were written by Billie Calvin and Robert Daniels respectively. Interestingly, apart from What’s Wrong With Me the members of Rose Royce didn’t contribute any other songs for Rose Royce III: Strikes Again. With nine tracks written, Rose Royce and producer Norman Whitfield headed to the studio.

Recording of Rose Royce III: Strikes Again took place at four studios in Los Angeles. Sound Factory West, One Step Up, Westlake Studios and Fort Knox Studio were all used to record the nine tracks. Accompanying Rose Royce were drummer Walter Downing, bassist Mark Kenoly and guitarists Wah-Wah Watson and Cornelius Grant. Joining them were percussionist Jack Ashford, organist Walter Downing and keyboard player Mark Davis. Together with Rose Royce, the nine tracks were recorded, with the album due for release in August 1978.

On the release of Rose Royce III: Strikes Again in August 1978, the album reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. This gave Rose Royce the first gold disc of their career. Over in the UK, the album reached number seven, resulting in it being certified gold. Three singles were released from Rose Royce III: Strikes Again. The first was I’m In Love (and I Love the Feeling), which reached number five in the US R&B Charts and number fifty-one in the UK. Then came a track that became synonymous with Rose Royce, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. It reached number thirty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US. In the UK, the single climbed all the way to number two, giving Rose Royce their biggest UK hit single. First Come, First Served was the third and final single released from Rose Royce III: Strikes Again, reaching number sixty-five in the US R&B Charts. Although Rose Royce III: Strikes Again hadn’t matched the commercial success of its predecessor Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom any album that’s certified gold in the US and UK must be regarded as a huge success. However, why was Rose Royce III: Strikes Again so successful? That’s what I’ll tell you once I’ve told you about the nine tracks on Rose Royce III: Strikes Again.

Opening Rose Royce III: Strikes Again is Get Up Off Your Fat, the first of four consecutive tracks written by Norman Whitfield. An intriguing slice of funk opens with a funky equivalent of the carnival crier encouraging you to “see the funkiest band in all the land.” Rose Royce’s rhythm section and driving guitars dominate the arrangement, mixing funk and rock, while Gwen Dickey’s vocal is almost absent. She’s replaced by the male members of the band, whose tougher vocal suits the arrangement. Later, her vocal makes a brief appearance, but is then replaced by prolonged, grandiose, flourishes of piano which close the track. Although the sound is tough and funky, Rose Royce don’t quite live up to their boast of being “the funkiest band in the land,” but give it a good shot.

Do It, Do It sees the funky side of Rose Royce continuing, with a pounding slap bass and sharp bursts of blazing horns combining, a glorious slice of funk is underway. Maybe Rose Royce can walk the walk, rather talk the talk here, transforming themselves into “the funkiest band in the land.” Gwen’s vocal is again absent, with the male members of Rose Royce taking centre-stage, delivering a vocal that suits the funky arrangement. Sizzling guitars, stabs of braying horns and the funky rhythm section combine with keyboards percussion. The result is a track that sounds as if belongs on album by Kool and The Gang, with shades of Earth, Wind and Fire and early Commodores for good measure. This allows Rose Royce to do what they always wanted, play some funky music, and then some.

I’m In Love (And I Love The Feeling) sees Kenny Copeland take over the lead vocal on a track that’s much slower and soulful. His tender, heartfelt vocal is accompanied by cascading, shimmering strings as the rhythm section provide an understated backdrop. The rest of the group add equally tender harmonies, while the lushest of strings compliment their harmonies. Norman Whitfield’s production is key to the track’s soulful sound and success, with Kenny’s vocal perfect for the beautiful lyrics written by Norman. Of the tracks so far, this is the best by far.

First Come, First Serve was the third single released from Rose Royce III: Strikes Again and sees Gwen Dickey make her grand entrance. This she does against an arrangement that features the Bentley Rhythm Ace, first heard on Sly and The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On. Here, Norman Whitfield’s favored percussive makes its swan-song. It rumbles along, with punchy blazing horns handclaps and backing vocals accompanying Gwen’s vocal on this heavy slice of funk. However, good as her vocal is here, she’d surpass it on the album’s next track, accompanied by Norman Whitfield’s newest secret weapon.

It’s as if everything was building up to the best track on Rose Royce III: Strikes Again, Love Don’t Live Here Anymore. Here, UK composer and arranger collaborates with Norman Whitfield, on a track penned by Miles Gregory. Giving the track it’s unique sound are the keyboards and the electronic LinnDrum machine, which replaced the Bentley Rhythm Ace as Norman’s favorite percussive device. It’s accompanied by slow, shimmering strings and the bass, which provide the perfect, atmospheric backdrop for Gwen’s haunting, heartfelt vocal, laden with emotion and hurt. Of all the tracks she sang on, this is her best performance, on a track that deserves to be called a classic.

Angel In The Sky is another track where Gwen Dickey showcases her vocal prowess. This was the track that opened Side Two of Rose Royce III: Strikes Again and is the polar opposite of the track that opened Side One. The track is much more Rose Royce in sound. Just piano and subtle hi-hats accompany Gwen’s impassioned vocal. Lush strings sweep, cascading and swirling, while percussion and piano accompany her beautiful vocal. Her delivery is heartfelt and tender and when combined with Norman Whitfield’s arrangement results in the second best track on the album, after Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.

As Help gets underway, the arrangement seems not unlike the previous one. Just piano and percussion combine, with the hi-hits crashing subtly. When the vocal enters, it’s not Gwen who delivers it. Instead, it’s guitarist Kenji Brown who takes over the lead vocal. Soon, the arrangement and his vocal has grown in power and drama, with swathes of strings and the rhythm section accompanying his vocal. While sharp bursts of strings are unleashed, backing vocals accompany them and Kenji’s vocal grows in power and emotion. By the end of the track, it’s a very different to the one that began, but one that’s full emotion and drama and shows Kenji Brown to be a talented vocalist.

Chiming, jazz-tinged guitars and percussion open Let Me Be The First To Know, while the rhythm section provides the track’s heartbeat. Kenny Copeland’s vocal is accompanied by layers of the lushest strings, providing the perfect accompaniment to his impassioned delivery. Tender harmonies are the finishing touch to this results very beautiful arrangement, that’s much more Rose Royce than their funky side.

Closing Rose Royce III: Strikes Again is That’s What’s Wrong With Me, a very different sounding track. Rose Royce cowrote the track with Norman Whitfield,  and it’s not the easiest song on the album. Funk and rock are fused, with searing, sizzling guitars, keyboard and the funky rhythm section accompanying Gwen’s vocal. Her delivery is tougher, sassier matching the arrangement. The arrangement speeds up and slows down, much like a merry-go-round. Later, there’s even a psychedelic side to the track, with Norman Whitfield donning the persona of psychedelic kahuna. For nearly seven minutes, Rose Royce and Norman Whitfield produce a track that although technically, is flawless, isn’t the easiest to listen to and leaves the listener wondering, will the real Rose Royce step forward.

Having just remarked that Let Me Be the First To Know was much more Rose Royce in sound than the funky side of Rose Royce, they close the album with a track that not only sees their funky side return, but somewhat confuses the listener. The reason for the confusion is the fusion of funk, rock and psychedelia isn’t the easiest  to listen to, and is the polar opposite of the tracks that preceded it. It’s as if on some of the tracks on Rose Royce III: Strikes Again, the group are struggling to establish their identity. Much as they’re a good band playing funk, they’re a much, much better group when they reveal their soulful side. Tracks like I’m In Love (And I Love The Feeling), Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, Angel In The Sky, Help and Let Me Be The First To Know demonstrate the beautifully, soulful side of Rose Royce, which they do so well, and which people will always remember them for. However, you always feel that they’re always a frustrated funk band waiting to escape. Luckily, when the funky side escapes, they’re able to carry it of with aplomb. Sometimes, like on the two tracks that bookend the album, Get Up Off Your Fat and That’s What’s Wrong With Me, which demonstrate a very different, tougher funky side of the band, this doesn’t work as well as on Do It, Do It or First Come, First Served. To me, Rose Royce are at their very best on tracks like Love Don’t Live Here Anymore and Angel In The Sky, with Gwen Dickey delivering the two best vocals on the album. Her vocal on Love Don’t Live Here Anymore was key to the success and sound of this classic track. Overall, Rose Royce III: Strikes Again is an album of quality music, with the soulful side of Rose Royce what makes this such an enjoyable and timeless sounding album. Standout Tracks: I’m In Love (And I Love The Feeling), Love Don’t Live Here Anymore, Angel In The Sky and Help.

ROSE ROYCE-ROSE ROYCE III: STRIKES AGAIN.

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