Some of you know that I am working on a book-length companion piece to this series; an encyclopedia of ’80s soul and hip-hop, if you will. I’ll be the first to tell you that, book-writing credentials aside, there have been facts and songs I’ve uncovered in my research that I’m experiencing for the first time. The Bar-Kays’ “Dirty Dancer” is one of them.

Not that I’m unfamiliar with The Bar-Kays. They were a fixture on Black radio for a minute, rebounding from tragedy early in their career (most of the original ‘Kays perished in the same plane crash that took their mentor/boss Otis Redding) and standing near the forefront of the big-band funk sound that dominated the late ’70s.

They hung in for most of the ’80s, adding synthesizers to their funk and scoring a huge hit with “Freakshow On The Dance Floor,” which was prominently featured in the movie Breakin‘.

You may not be familiar with their song “Dirty Dancer,” which was a solid R&B hit in 1984, but if you take a listen, you’ll very quickly realize something…

…”Dirty Dancer,” uh, shall we say, borrows liberally from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” which was a smash the year before. Down to Michael’s vocal hiccups, man.

Actually, screw it: “Dirty Dancer” is a bald-faced copy. So much of a copy, in fact, that I actually laughed the first time I heard this song, imagining the balls The Bar-Kays must’ve possessed to actually go through with releasing this song. Thankfully, MJ didn’t go all Huey Lewis/Ray Parker Jr. on their ass and file suit. Of course, as Michael has been accused of “borrowing liberally” himself, maybe he just decided to not open himself up to any negative feedback.

Still, what balls!!


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