Monday, October 17, 2011

Johnny Yen's One-Hit Wonders: "Pillow Talk" by Sylvia

I'm apologizing for maybe the dozenth time for my dearth of blogging the last year or so. You've heard all the excuses already-- the second and final year of nursing school, now having two kids in high school, the unexpected move and the exhaustion from learning my new nursing job. No excuses today. I finished with my training on Friday-- on the floor by myself tomorrow. I'm in the last day of a three-day weekend. It's a beautiful, cold, sunny October day here in Chicago. I've got Little Steven's Underground Garage streaming on the computer, playing great tunes. No more excuses. Back to blogging.

Just to remind about the "One-Hit Wonders:" speaking of Little Steven, he once pointed out that it's harder to create an immortal three-minute song than to create an elaborate orchestra piece. Rock and roll One-hit wonders have fascinating stories; the stars align for just a moment in the universe, the elements come together, and a rock and roll gem is created.

I keep a list of future "One-Hit wonders" on my computer. The little Mac Powerbook that got me through two years of nursing school prerequisites and two years of nursing school itself crapped out just after the move. Fortunately, my friend Greg had shown me how to use "Time Machine," and I was recently able to retrieve my list. I decided my next one would be either Sylvia's "Pillow Talk" or the Kingsmen's "Louie, Louie." Recent events prompted me to do the former.

Sylvia Robinson's "Pillow Talk" was her only solo hit, but not the only hit song she was involved with. Born Sylvia Vanderpool, her first brush with the Top 40 was at the dawn of the rock and roll era, 1956, as half of "Mickey and Sylvia," with the song "Love Is Strange," which was written by rock and roll legend Bo Diddley, along with Jody Williams. Ms. Robinson continued until 1959 as half of the duo, when she went solo and married Joe Robinson.

She wrote the song "Pillow Talk" for Al Green who passed on it for "religious reasons," and ended up doing the song herself, releasing it in 1973. It hit Number 3 in the Billboard pop chart and #1 in the Soul charts. In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer; Ms. Robinson's smoky, sexy voice was made for the song. The "climactic finish" anticipated Donna Summers' "Love To Love You" a few years later. The song is also cited as one of the first disco hits.

Robinson never had another chart hit of her own, but was hugely influential in the record business. She continued to write and produce music, founding Sugar Hill Records in the 1970's; Sugar Hill was a pioneer in hip-hop music. Working with Nile Rodgers and the Sugarhill Gang, she released "Rapper's Delight," the first big rap record. She also co-wrote and produced the socially aware rap song "The Message," by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

Ms. Robinson eventually divorced Joe Robinson, but remained in the record business. After Sugar Hill Records folded, she formed Bon Ami records, which had success with the group "Naughty By Nature."

Sylvia Robinson passed away recently, dying of congestive heart failure in Seacaucus, New Jersey at the age of 75.


Churlita said...

Weird. I've never heard of that song. But of course, I do love all the old school hip hop she was associated with.

dmarks said...

I remember that song well.

Pat Tillett said...

Hey there! I'm catching up and glad to hear that you are just about out there on the floor by yourself now. Congrats on that. It's been a journey! I know the song and the performer, although she had a hit, it's too bad to only get a glimpse of celebrity and then it's gone....