SWITCH-AM I STILL YOUR BOYFRIEND.

SWITCH-AM I STILL YOUR BOYFRIEND.

When Switch moved from Motown imprint Gordy, to Total Experience Records in 1982, great things were forecast for them. Total Experience had beaten other labels to the signing of Switch and announced their signing of Switch in a December 1982 issue of Jet magazine. There was talk of Switch contributing a track to the Flashdance and Stayin’ Alive soundtracks. Alas, that wasn’t the case. Indeed nineteen months would pass before Switch released their only album for Total Experience Records, Am I Still Your Boyfriend, which was recently released by BBR Records. Not only would Am I Still Your Boyfriend prove to be their only album for Total Experience Records, but would prove to the be their sixth and final album. However, why did Am I Still Your Boyfriend prove to be their only album for Total Experience Records and their final album?

Before becoming Switch in 1976, and releasing five albums for the Motown and Gordy labels, Switch were originally called White Heat and Hot Ice. The original lineup included brothers Tommy and Bobby DeBarge and Greg Williams from Grand Rapids, Michigan plus Akron, Ohio natives Jody Sims, Eddie Fluellen and Phillip Ingrams, brother of James. Greg, Bobby and Jody had been members of Barry White’s band and through Barry, White Heat released their eponymous-titled debut album White Heat. It was produced by Barry White and released in 1975. When White Heat wasn’t a commercial success, Barry dropped White Heat. After this, White Heat changed their name, and this wouldn’t be the last time they did this

After the disappointment with White Heat being dropped, they changed their name to Hot Ice. Soon, Hot Ice met Bernd Lichters of Burndsman Records and Hot Ice headed back to the studio in Ohio. They recorded eight songs which became Pall Mall Groove. Initially, Pall Mall Groove was only released in Germany in 1977 and two years later in the America as Smash. By the time Smash was released in America on the Source label, Hot Ice had changed their name again and Switch were born.

Needing a another new name, in a eureka moment the name Switch seemed fitting. After all, band members could seamlessly switch instruments. Having had two false-starts to their nascent career, the members of Switch hoped their new name would prove third time lucky for them. That proved to be the case. Jermaine Jackson, formerly of The Jackson 5, heard Switch and was impressed by their music and how they could switch between instruments. Luckily for Switch, Jermaine was married to Hazel Gordy, daughter of Berry Gordy Jr. Within a matter of days, Switch were signed to Motown imprint Gordy and recording of their debut album began.

Switch’s debut album Switch was released in 1978 and their luck had changed. Their debut album reached number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number six in the US R&B Charts. A year later in 1979, Switch II was released, reaching number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. It seemed that Switch could do no wrong with their fusion of soul, funk and disco. Then music changed.

By the time Switch released This Is My Dream in 1980, music had changed. Disco was no longer as popular after the Disco Sucks backlash. It was against this changing musical landscape that This Is My Dream was released and only reached number eighty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts. After the disappointment of This Is My Dream, 1981s Reaching For Tomorrow saw an improvement in Switch’s fortunes. Reaching For Tomorrow number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. That improvement proved to be temporary. 

When Switch released Switch V in 1981, it reached number 174 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Switch V would prove to be Switch’s swan-song for Gordy. The group felt Motown were no longer giving Switch the support they had been. This alerted other record labels who considering Switch’s track-record would prove keen to sign Switch. Then Switch didn’t look such an attractive proposition for labels when Bobby and Tommy DeBarge plus Phillip Ingram left the group. Total Experience Records weren’t deterred. They thought that Switch still had a future and signed them in 1982. Nineteen months later and with a new lineup, Switch would release their swan-song Am I Still Your Boyfriend?

Now signed to Total Experience Records, their new label forecasted great things for Switch. There was talk of Switch having songs on Flashdance and Stayin’ Alive soundtracks. That never transpired. Instead, Gregory Williams search continued for new members. Eventually, and through a friend of Jermaine Jackson, John McLain head of A&R at A&M suggested guitarist Gonzales Ozen. Soon he was signed as a member of Switch. So too Renardo Gallo, who was lead singer of Oakland group Radiance. He was recommended by Norman Connors. Better still, he sounded like ex-singer Bobby DeBarge. Phil Upchurch was the last piece in Switch’s jigsaw, standing in for the departed Tommy DeBarge. WIth the new lineup, work began on Am I Still Your Boyfriend?

Many of the tracks on Am I Still Your Boyfriend were penned by Total Experience personnel. Oliver Scott wrote I’m So Satisfied, Am I Still Your Boyfriend and I Won’t Give Up. He cowrote three other tracks, including It’s All Up To You with Gonzales Ozen. Another staffer Jonah Ellis penned Switch It Baby and I Just Can’t Pull Away. Of the few tracks written by members of Switch, Eddie Fluellen contributed Forever My Love. With the eleven tracks written, recording of Am I Still Your Boyfriend took place in five recording studios.

Recording took place at Total Experience Recording Studios, plus sessions at Sound Lab, Artisan, Golden Sound and Lion Share. Similarly, five separate producers or production teams worked on the eleven tracks that became Am I Still Your Boyfriend. Once the various sessions and production teams finished Am I Still Your Boyfriend, it was scheduled for release nineteen months after the signing of Switch was announced in Jet magazine. 

Three months before Am I Still Your Boyfriend was released, Switch It Baby was released as a single in April 1984, reaching number fifty-five in the US R&B Charts. On the release of Am I Still Your Boyfriend in July 1984 it failed to chart in the US Billboard 200 and US R&B Charts. It only reached number fifty in US Cashbox charts. When I’m So Satisfied was released in July 1984 it failed to chart. This brought an end to Switch’s career. After six albums, Am I Still Your Boyfriend proved to be their swan-song. Did Switch bow out on a high with Am I Still Your Boyfriend?

Opening Am I Still Your Boyfriend is the second single I’m So Satisfied. It features the classic Switch soulful sound. It’s a slow track with a gentle, melodic sound. Synths, rhythm section and guitars combine, before Renardo Gallo makes his debut as Switch’s vocal. His vocal is tender and heartfelt, accompanied by equally tender, heartfelt harmonies. Wit the rhythm section, synths and guitars provide a backdrop for Renardo’s vocal, it grows in strength and emotion. Rasping horns provide the finishing touch to a track that’s deeply soulful and demonstrates that even after losing three members, Switch were still a musical force to be reckoned with.

Switch It Baby has a very eighties sound, with synths and crispy drums combining before the track takes on a funky sound. Key to this is a slapped bass solo, before a soaring, near falsetto joins washes of synth. When Renardo’s vocal enters, it’s sassy and feisty, with punchy, cascading harmonies for company. Later, a chiming guitar punctuates an arrangement that’s a fusion of eighties electronics and funk.  Add in the vocal and harmonies and the result is a catchy and memorable track.

There’s a harder, funkier edge to It’s All Up To You. Rocky guitars join the rhythm section in creating an arrangement that’s influenced by P-funk. Keyboards, piano and rasping horns add to the drama. Renardo’s vocal is slow and deliberate and the harmonies reflect the drama of the arrangement. Later, searing, sizzling rock-tinged guitars add the finishing dramatic touch as Switch mix, P-funk, soul and rock.

Lovers Don’t Hold Back sees Switch return to what they do so well, deliver soulful music. The arrangement has an understated sound, with just slow, deliberate drums, percussion and keyboards accompanying a beautiful vocal from Renardo. Harmonies cascade above the arrangement, as Switch unite to create one of the most beautiful songs they’d ever record.

Keeping Secrets sees the tempo increase and the style change. In comes a more electronic sound and one of Switch’s trademark soulful deliveries. Pounding drums, percussion and synths combine with keyboards and distant riffing guitars. They’re joined by impassioned harmonies, before a burst of keyboards announces the arrival of Renardo’s vocal. It’s tinged with sadness and emotion. He brings meaning to the lyrics and getting across their subtleties and nuances as soul and eighties electronica are combined.

Although Treason has a real electro-funk sound, this is electro-funk with a difference. The rhythm section and synths combine to create a pounding, funky beat before Renardo’s edgy vocal enters. Then comes something quite different. Lush strings join. They sweep and swirl, providing a contrast to the synths and rhythm section. Bursts of harmonies punctuate the arrangement, as Renardo’s vocal grows in power. While quite different from Switch’s earlier music, it demonstrates Switch’s versatility and their determination not to stand still.

The title-track Am I Still Your Boyfriend sees combine their tight, soulful harmonies against an electro-funk backdrop. Blazing horns, synths and Switch’s rhythm section are joined by keyboards and harmonies. They give way to Renardo’s impassioned vocal. Close harmonies sweep in, while stabs of keyboards drift in and out. Supplying the funk are pounding drums and bass that help drive the eighties arrangement along. What makes the track is the interplay between the vocal and harmonies, which are among the best on Am I Still Your Boyfriend?

Just Can’t Pull Away was penned by Total Experience staffer Jonah Ellis, who wrote songs for many of the label’s artists. Sharp, jaggy synths combine with crispy drums and chiming guitars to create a dance-floor friendly track. It’s one of these tracks that could only have been recorded in the early eighties. It has that unmistakable sound where eighties electronic music and funk collide. Renardo’s delivery is urgent and edgy, while the arrangement is filled with beeps, squeaks, crisp drums and drama.

Oliver Scott another Total Experience staffer was a talented songwriter. Proof of this if any was needed is I Won’t Give Up which be wrote. It’s by far one of the highlights of Am I Still Your Boyfriend. The tempo is slow, with the interplay between Renardo’s tender, heartfelt vocal and the tight, soaring vocals peerless. Just synths, rhythm section, stabs of keyboard and guitar accompany Switch as they roll back the years, delivering a song that’s reminiscent of their early years at Gordy. For me, the soulful side of Switch is their best side.

Spend My Life With You sees the soulful side of Switch continue. Renardo’s half-spoken vocal is accompanied by piano, hi-hats, guitars and drums that create a subtle backdrop. Tight harmonies replace the vocal, before it makes a welcome return. It’s tenderness and subtlety personified. Lush strings prove another welcome addition. As his vocal drops out, harmonies replace them. They too have a tender, understated sound. Both the harmonies and Renardo’s vocal seem to drive the other to greater heights of soulfulness. In doing so, they play their part in another of Am I Still Your Boyfriend’s highlights.

Closing Am I Still Your Boyfriend is Forever My Love. It’s a two-minute demonstration of Switch’s ability to deliver tight, tender and beautiful harmonies. Synths, keyboards and the rhythm section create an arrangement that grows in beauty and drama. All too soon, the track is over and so is Switch’s brief spell at Total Experience Records and indeed Switch’s recording career.

After releasing six albums Am I Still Your Boyfriend proved to be Switch’s swan-song. They’d come through changing labels, losing three members and a three year spell without releasing an album. Another change was music itself. Music had changed in the six years since Switch released their debut album Switch. Disco was no longer flavor of the month and synths and drum machines were playing a bigger part in music. With music changing, Switch had to change. Their music had to adapt and evolve. In many ways, Total Experience Records was the perfect label for Switch. They were enjoying a reputation as one of hottest labels of the early to mid-eighties. 

Signing to Total Experience Records meant access to some talented producers and songwriters, including Lonnie Simmons, Oliver Scott and Jonah Ellis. This trio hooked up with the new lineup of Switch and the eleven tracks that became Am I Still Your Boyfriend. Although Switch lost their original vocalist, Renardo Gallo delivered some deeply soulful vocals on Am I Still Your Boyfriend. Indeed, Switch are at their best when revealing their soulful side of music on Am I Still Your Boyfriend. On the other tracks, Switch mix eighties electronica and funk. This fusion of styles and genres is something Total Experience Records had previously proved successful. Unfortunately, this didn’t prove commercially success for Switch. Am I Still Your Boyfriend which was recently rereleased by BBR Records neither matched the success of Total Experience’s previous releases nor Switch’s earlier albums. Following Am I Still Your Boyfriend, Switch continued as a band until 1987, but didn’t release any further albums. So Am I Still Your Boyfriend was Switch’s swan-song, a swan-song that showed the many sides of Switch and their music. Standout Tracks: Lovers Don’t Hold Back, Am I Still Your Boyfriend, I Won’t Give Up and Spend My Life.

SWITCH-AM I STILL YOUR BOYFRIEND.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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