SKYY-SKYY LINE.

SKYY-SKYY LINE.

By the time Skyy released their fourth album for Salsoul Records, Skyy Line, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records, Salsoul, and indeed music, had changed dramatically. Between 1975 and 1979, Salsoul Records had established a reputation as disco’s premier label. Salsoul Records gained a reputation as an innovative and influential label, who released commercially successful and critically acclaimed albums. Among Salsoul’s success stories were Loleatta Holloway, First Choice, Double Exposure and The Salsoul Orchestra, whose members were crucial to the success of Salsoul.

The Salsoul Orchestra were no ordinary disco orchestra. Quite the opposite. They were the best and were made up of some of the most talented songwriters, musicians, arrangers and producers of the disco era. Lead by Vince Montana Jr,  and featuring the combined talents of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, percussionist Larry Washington and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli, they were crucial to Salsoul’s success. First to leave was Vince Montana Jr, after a dispute with the Cayre brothers over royalties. Gradually, other musicians, including Baker, Harris, Young played less of a part in Salsoul’s music. Norman Harris, who ran Gold Mind Records, a subsidiary of Salsoul was a huge loss. He was more than a songwriter, musician, arranger and producer, he was a talent scout, who discovered First Choice and Double Exposure. By 1979, The Salsoul Orchestra had lost some of its biggest names. Then in 1979, disco almost died.

During 1979, there was a huge backlash against disco. The Disco Sucks movement came to a head on 12th July 1979, at Comiskey Park, Chicago. Spectators heading to a Chicago White Sox game were offered the chance to get in for 99 cents if the brought along a disco record. Later, thousands of disco records were blown up, nearly taking with it the stadium. That night, disco almost died. It was read the last rites and on its recovery, headed underground. After that, disco became hugely unpopular. Labels dropped disco artists who were now, really unpopular, disco labels folded and disco was no longer played on radio. Unlike other labels, Salsoul survived and lived through the turmoil.

Having survived the turmoil surrounding disco’s near death experience, Salsoul as a label, had to adapt to survive. No longer could they continue releasing the same music. So, disco changed, evolving and reinventing itself. Boogie was one of the musical genres that replaced disco. However, one group on Salsoul survived the as attempted assassination of disco and flourished in the post-disco era. They were Skyy, founded by Randy Muller and Solomon Roberts Jr, back in 1973, when disco was just about to stretch its wings.

Back in 1971, Randy Muller was a member of Brass Construction, who’d just released their debut single. Around that time, in Brooklyn, New York he first met four sisters who were known as The Sounds Of Soul. This included Denise, Delores and Bonne Dunning, three sisters who were students at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Bensonhurst. Soon, The Sounds Of Soul were opening for Brass Construction. However, Brass Construction wasn’t the only band Randy was involved with.

Randy Muller while trying to refine Brass Construction’s sound, was working with B.T. Express, managed by Jeff Lane. Jeff asked Randy to arrange the strings on B.T. Express’ 1974 debut, Do It To Your Satisfied. Later in 1974, he arranged Isis’ single Bobbie and Maria. This was just the start of Randy’s career in arranging and production. Later in 1974, he arranged Isis’ single Bobbie and Maria. Still, Brass Construction were without a record deal. That changed in 1975.

Having been searching for a record deal for some time, Randy Muller’s Brass Construction finally, signed to United Artists in 1975. Their first album was Brass Construction, which was produced by Randy Muller. It featured the hook-laden number one single Movin.’ With Brass Construction signed to United Artists, The Sounds Of Soul were out on a limb. Luckily, Randy introduced The Sounds Of Soul  to Solomon Roberts Jr.

Solomon Roberts Jr. was working with guitarist Anibal Sierra. They’d decided to put together a band comprising four female vocalists. The Sounds Of Soul fitted the bill. Unfortunately, the fourth member decided to leave. This left Denise, Deloroes, Bonne Dunning and Sierra. Soon, bassist Gerald Lebon and drummer Tommy McConnel joined the band. Using what he’d learnt working with Brass Construction and B.T. Express, Solomon started honing Skyy’s sound. Needing a name, Solomon hit on Skyy, which he felt not only summed up the seventies, but brought to mind a myriad of moods. When keyboardist Larry Greenberg joined Skyy, the lineup was complete. Now Skyy could record their debut album.

Before Skyy recorded their debut album, Solomon Roberts Jr. and Randy Muller formed their own production company Alligator Bit Him Productions. By the time Solomon and Randy formed Alligator Bit Him Productions, Randy had produced Brass Construction’s first five albums. Randy was an experienced songwriter, arranger and producer and produced Skyy’s debut album. Once Skyy was recorded, Randy and Solomon pitched the album to record companies.

Having pitched Skyy to various record companies, some labels wanted the band, others just wanted The Sounds Of Soul. Then Salsoul heard Skyy and decided that here was an album of unique and innovative music. Soon, Randy and Solomon signed Skyy to Salsoul.

Now signed to Salsoul, First Time Around was released as Skyy’s debut single in 1979. It reached number twenty in the US R&B Charts, while Skyy’s debut album Skyy reached number 117 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty in the US R&B Charts. This was a good start to Skyy’s nascent recording career. However, things would get even better.

1980 saw the release of Skyy’s sophomore album Skyway. It reach number sixty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number seventeen in the US R&B Charts. The lead single from Skyway, High reached number 102 in the US Billboard 100 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. This was Skyy’s biggest hit single so far.

Later in 1980, Skyy released their second album of 1980 Skyyport. It nearly matched the success of Skyway, reaching number eighty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. However, all that would be surpassed by Skyy’s fourth album Skyy Line, which featured their most successful single Call Me.

For what became Skyy Line, Randy Muller wrote Call Me, Girl In Blue and Get Into The Beat. Solomon Roberts Jr. penned Jam The Box and When You Touch Me. He also cowrote Gonna Get On with Gerald Leon, while Tommy McConnel contributed Let’s Celebrate, which was apt given the success coming Skyy’s way.

Once Skyy Line was recorded, Call Me was released in October 1981. Call Me was a huge commercial success, reaching number twenty-six in the US Billboard 100, number one in the US R&B Charts and number three in the US Disco Charts. Then when Skyy Line was released in November 1981, it reached number eighteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Let’s Celebrate reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts and number sixty-seven in February 1982. When You Touch Me was released in May 1982, reaching number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. Skyy Line had transformed Skyy’s career, with commercial success and critical acclaim coming their way. However, why was Skyy Line such a successful album?

Opening Skyy Line is Let’s Celebrate, where the funkiest of rhythm section joins eighties synths before tight, heartfelt and soulful harmonies sweep in. Solomon’s lead vocal is equally impassioned and soulful, expressing a sense of joy, satisfaction and sometimes, disbelief. This is apparent from the lyric: “walking on clouds.” Stabs of horns punctuate the arrangement, while the rhythm section play an important part in the song’s success. Tommy McConnell’s drums provides a steady heartbeat while Gerald Lebon’s bubbling bass weaves its way across the arrangement. Both provide a fitting backdrop for the soulful strains of Skyy as seamlessly, soul, funk and boogie unite.

Written by Randy Muller who produced Call Me with Solomon Roberts Jr, this single gave Skyy the biggest hit of their career. From the opening bars, it’s apparent something special is unfolding. The arrangement marries elements of funk with a disco beat. Above the loping bass line, crisp driving beats and chiming guitars sits a dramatic vocal accompanied by sweeping harmonies. Later, bursts of keyboards and rocky guitars add an element of drama to this career defining track. Not only was Call Me the best track on Skyy Line, but the best track they ever recorded.

A James Brown inspired holler and drum roll signal something funky is unfolding. Girl In Blue has a sassy, P-Funk sound from the get go. A loping bass, hypnotic drums, searing rocky guitars and synths accompany Solomon’s sassy, feisty vocal. He struts his way through the track, with stabs of blazing horns and percussion for company. Solomon delivers a vocal that’s not just sassy, but dripping with confidence against an uber funky backdrop.

Jam The Box is a track with a variety of influences. Funk is the biggest influence, although Talking Heads and boogie can be heard throughout the track. The rhythm section have a foot in two decades. The drums have an eighties sound, while Gerald Lebon’s bass has a seventies sound as it provides the arrangement’s heartbeat. Solomon’s vocal is powerful and confident vocal, as he sings call and response with the former The Sounds Of Soul. Making their first appearance on Skyy Line are Skyy’s trademark Skyyzoos. They play their part in giving this track its infuriatingly catchy sound.

When You Touch Me sees the tempo drop, and soon, a beautiful ballad unfolds. Just an understated combination of chiming guitars, piano and subtle drums combine. Then a dramatic burst of drums signals the arrival of a beautiful, tender female vocal. Harmonies sweep in, complimenting and reinforcing its beauty. Drums add to the drama as the vocal grows in power, beauty and sheer soulfulness. Although very different, it’s a gorgeous track, that shows another side to Skyy.

Gonna Get It On sees Skyy continue to demonstrate their versatility. After the chiming guitars, Skyy throw a curveball, when a real reggae influence enters. The rest of rhythm section enter, and are joined by rasping horns, synths and piano. Solomon’s vocal is needy and sensual, while the Dunning sisters add sweeping, soulful harmonies. The result is a slice of musical sunshine, that demonstrates Skyy’s versatility.

Closing Skyy Line is Get Into The Beat, written by Randy Muller. The tempo is slow, with just the rhythm section, chiming guitars and flourishes of strings producing an arrangement that seems to pay homage to Chic. When a female vocalist enters, her vocal veers between urgent to tender and sensual. It’s the perfect foil to the rest of the arrangement, which brings back memories of Chic at their best, during disco’s glory days.

So what made Skyy’s fourth album Skyy Line such a successful album? Well, by 1981, when Skyy Line was released, Skyy had already released three albums. Skyy had also just released a number one US R&B single Call Me. For newcomers to Skyy’s music, Call Me was the perfect introduction. Soon, Skyy, who’d been a successful band, were on their way to becoming one of the biggest dance groups of  1982. Not only that, but Skyy were now on their way to becoming Salsoul Record’s most successful group of the post-disco era.

Not only were Skyy a successful band, who’d gained a reputation for producing music that was unique, innovative and influential. That was key to the success of Skyy’s music. However, they took this further on Skyy Line. It’s best described as a genre-sprawling album. The nine tracks saw Skyy veer between boogie, disco, soul, funk and on Gonna Get It On, reggae. Some tracks were a fusion of several musical genres, which Randy and Solomon seamlessly combined. That’s what attracted people to Skyy’s music. Masterminded by Randy Muller and Solomon Robert Jr, Skyy released seven albums between 1979 and 1984. However, their most commercially successful and critically acclaimed was Skyy Line, which was recently rereleased by BBR Records. For anyone yet to discover the music of Skyy, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Skyy Line is the place to start. Standout Tracks: Let’s Celebrate, Call Me, When You Touch Me and Get Into The Beat.

SKYY-SKYY LINE.

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