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A.C. [Expanded Edition)
During the 1980s, R&B and new wave pop-rock enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. New wavers like Blondie, the Talking Heads, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Thomas Dolby, the Human League and ABC were influenced by soul, funk and disco, while elements of new wave were incorporated by the Pointer Sisters, Shalamar, Rick James, Donna Summer, the System, Irene Cara and other R&B stars. And no discussion of the 1980s’ fusion of R&B and new wave would be complete without mentioning the Minneapolis school of funk-rock, which was popularized by Prince and also included well known artists such as The Time, Sheila E. (singer/percussionist Sheila Escovedo), Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Ta Mara & the Seen, Jesse Johnson’s Revue and, of course, the prolific singer, producer, songwriter, arranger and multi-instrumentalist André Cymone. Minneapolis native Cymone was an essential contributor to the distinctive Minneapolis sound, and his love of both R&B and pop-rock comes through loud and clear on his third solo album, A.C.
Cymone had an impressive track record when Columbia Records released A.C. in 1985—one that went back to his high school years. Cymone, Prince and Morris Day (who went on to become The Time’s lead singer) were still in high school when, in the mid-1970s, they played together in a local Minneapolis funk-rock band called Grand Central (later Champagne). And Cymone started to make a name for himself internationally when Prince became famous as a solo artist and employed Cymone in his touring band of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Cymone launched his own solo career with his debut album, Livin’ in the New Wave, in 1982 and continued to increase his following with second album, Survivin’ in the ‘80s. But A.C. was the most successful of the three solo albums that Cymone recorded for Columbia.
In 1985, the Minneapolis sound was huge, and A.C. came at a time when it was great to either be from Minneapolis or at least have a strong connection to the city. Fueling the album’s success was the infectious single, “The Dance Electric,” which was written by Prince, became Cymone’s biggest hit and reached #10 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. A.C. contained two other funk-rock singles: “Lipstick Lover” and “Satisfaction,” both of which were Cymone originals and became minor hits. “Lipstick Lover” peaked at #63 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart, while “Satisfaction” made it to #75 on that chart (the album itself climbed to #28 on Billboard’s R&B albums chart). And A.C. is full of album tracks that weren’t hit singles yet enjoyed exposure in dance clubs, including “Book of Love,” “Neon Pussycat” and “Vacation” (not to be confused with the Go-Gos’ 1982 hit). Those selections, with their energetic blend of funk and new wave, were embraced by both R&B-focused dance clubs and new wave-oriented dance clubs.
Indeed, A.C. underscores the fact that Cymone—like Prince, Day, Jesse Johnson and many of their musical colleagues in the Twin Cities—grew up on a variety of funk, soul and rock. In Cymone’s world, musical inspiration came not only from Parliament/Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone, Earth, Wind & Fire, Ike & Tina Turner, Motown Records and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, but also, from the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and the quirky sounds of Blondie and the Talking Heads. With A.C., Cymone continued to send out a message that R&B and rock are, in fact, two sides of the same coin and both have their roots in the blues.
Cymone displays his romantic side on the slow jam “Sweet Sensuality” and the steamy “Pretty Wild Girl,” which has both quiet storm appeal and elements of a rock power ballad. Cymone wrote and produced most of the songs on A.C. by himself but co-wrote “Sweet Sensuality” with keyboardist/producer Hubert Eaves III, who was half of the Brooklyn-based funk/dance duo D-Train and teamed up with singer James “D-Train” Williams on 1980s hits like “You’re the One for Me,” “Keep Giving Me Love” and “Something’s On Your Mind.” Both “Sweet Sensuality” and “Pretty Wild Girl” demonstrate that not everything Cymone recorded was aimed at the dance floor, but more often than not, A.C. is a party album and a highly danceable one at that.
A.C. has been reissued on CD in the past, but FunkyTownGrooves’ expanded edition of A.C. is by far the most comprehensive and generous. Originally a vinyl LP with eight songs, A.C. is now a 31-track two-CD set and boasts a wealth of bonus material that includes a 10-minute extended version of “The Dance Electric,” dance mixes of “Satisfaction,” “Vacation” and “Lipstick Lover” and previously unreleased dub recordings of “Vacation” and “Satisfaction.” Other previously unreleased rarities on this reissue include the bouncy “Telephone,” the funk-rock smokers “Checking You Out” and “On Your Back” and the new wave-ish instrumental “Let Me Kiss the Bride.”
After A.C., Cymone shifted his focus and made producing and/or writing for other artists his top priority. A long hiatus from recording as a solo artist followed A.C., and the mid- to late 1980s and 1990s found him working with major artists who ranged from Tom Jones and new wave star Adam Ant to Jody Watley, Jermaine Stewart, Pebbles, James Ingram and Pretty Poison (Cymone the producer was as hard to pigeonhole as Cymone the singer). But in 2012—no less than 27 years after A.C.—Cymone resumed his solo career with his single “America” and donated the proceeds to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign. Cymone followed “America” up in 2012 with another funk-rock single, “American Dream,” and is reportedly working on his fourth solo album, to be released sometime in 2013.
Many of Cymone’s hardcore fans have lamented his decision to put his own recording career on hold in the mid-1980s, but Cymone obviously wanted to do a lot more producing and was quite successful in that area. Nonetheless, there is no denying that he was at the height of his funk-rock powers on A.C., an album that continues to withstand the test of time after 28 years.
—Alex Henderson, January 2013
Alex Henderson’s work has appeared in Billboard, Spin, Creem, The L.A. Weekly, JazzTimes, Jazziz, AlterNet, Cash Box, HITS, CD Review, Skin Two, Black Beat, The Pasadena Weekly, Black Radio Exclusive (BRE), Music Connection, Latin Style, The New York City Jazz Record and many other well known publications. Henderson (alexvhenderson.com) has also contributed several thousand CD reviews to The All Music Guide’s popular website and series of music reference books.