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Last year, I joined Popdose‘s Jeff Giles and Robert Cass for a column called “‘Face Time,” in which we discussed essential (and some non-essential) cuts in the catalog of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of the ’80s and ’90s. ‘Face and his partner Antonio “L.A.” Reid were one of the big 3 production teams that ruled pop and R&B during that era. There was also Teddy Riley and his New Jack Swing camp, and perhaps most notably, Minneapolis’s James “Jimmy Jam” Harris III and Terry Lewis. The former members of Prince offshoot band The Time turned out to be legends in their own right, composing and producing hits for a who’s-who of the music industry and proving to be as (if not more) influential than their purple-clad benefactor.

So in 2014, the three of us (and a new team member, fellow Popdose editor/Popblerd podcast co-host Michael Parr) are back to talk all things Flyte Tyme. YOUNT!!!

Cherrelle-“I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On

(Written and produced by Jam/Lewis, from 1984’s Fragile)

MJ: This is one of those situations where I can’t decide whether the original or the cover is the better version.

(note: singer Robert Palmer covered “Turn You On” in 1985 on his album Riptide. The following year, it soared to #2 on the pop charts and is considered by some to be the definitive version of the song.)

JG: Well, the cover has less of a creep factor.

MJ: How so?

JG: Actually, you know what? Strike that. I was thinking about the story (myth? legend?) that the original was performed by an underage singer. I can’t find a link backing me up at the moment.

(After we did some research, we realized that Cherrelle was of age when she recorded “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On.)

I do like the way Palmer’s cover flips the expected narrative, though.

MP: Is it bad that, until recently, I had no idea that Palmer wasn’t the original artist?

That said, the Cherrelle track seems a bit under the purple shadow that Jam & Lewis lived for the better part of that decade. The ingredient that separates (the cover) is the bass line, which bounces and swings with more of an Bernard Edwards feel than a straight funk vibe (former Chic member Edwards played bass on and produced Palmer’s cover.)
MH: I think the production on Cherrelle’s version is killer. Palmer’s version is much less excitable, but his delivery works. Particularly because he’s British…it’s a very “stiff upper lip” take on the topic.

RC: The original is pretty straightforward to me in terms of its beat, whereas Palmer’s version skitters to and fro in a way that makes it both laid-back and full of nervous energy all at once. Do I know what I’m talking about? No, but I do know that this song worked its way under my skin back in fifth grade whenever it came on the radio.

Jeff, do you remember if Palmer’s version was used on an episode of Moonlighting? This is very important. Please stop whatever you’re doing, including being a father, to answer this question for me.
JG: Voila!
MP: Cherrelle’s version smacks of an Apollonia/Vanity 6 track, straight down to the naughty—but not too naughty—girl act.

MJ: I don’t know, guys. I think “Turn You On” sounds like Minneapolis, but doesn’t necessarily sound like _Prince_.

It’s also much more coy/subtle than a Vanity/Appolonia track would’ve been.

JG: I see where you’re coming from, Mike. Those hand-buzzer synths are what do it for me — you can get none more Minneapolis than that sound right there.

I think this kind of a precursor to the work they did with Janet, in terms of the arrangement and production acting as more of a buttress than a background for or a complement to the vocals. Cherrelle is a secondary presence here, and she doesn’t sound like she has any connection whatsoever to the song. Janet’s vocals for Control had more flavor than this, but they were still in the passenger seat — Jam & Lewis knew how to write songs that put a spotlight on the artist without asking them to stretch.

MJ: Which is kinda what a producer’s supposed to do.
JG: Depends on the artist. Some need to be pushed, some are better off being protected.
MP: Jam & Lewis definitely didn’t dwell in that world for long—as Cass pointed out, they were pretty much established in their own thing by the following year. Either way, this track is definitely a classic slice of Minneapolis.
buy “I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On” on Amazon mp3:

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