Jody Watley

Jody Watley

MCA, 1987

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


Of all the soul divas I am covering this month, Jody Watley is the only one who still enjoys success on the dance chart today. With her positive attitude and business savvy, she has been able to change with the times and is encouraged by the indie spirit of the current music scene. In the interview I did with Jody in 2005 for my book Flashbacks To Happiness, Jody was mindful of the changes that each era brought with it, both positive and negative.

“Today, unfortunately, there is no such thing as artist development. This means that artists are less likely to experiment,” Jody lamented. “There is immense pressure to focus solely on sales, rather than on individuality, artistic freedom and career longevity.” Jody goes on to say that the music industry is now being controlled by accountants and lawyers, with the focus being on money and instant hits. What many artists are doing as a result is becoming more entrepreneurial and taking charge of their own careers – which is precisely what Jody Watley is now doing. With her three decades of experience, Jody has been able to use the Internet and satellite radio to her advantage in getting her music directly out to the people.

Looking back to her mega-selling debut album from 1987, Jody says, “It has been great to have so many major hits and to have such an impact in being at the helm of a lot of trend-setting styles!” With her songs, she explains how she tried to have them convey something personal, whether it be betrayal (“Friends” from my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Larger Than Life), independence (“Looking For A New Love,” her first #1 dance hit) or vulnerability (“Don’t You Want Me,” her second #1).

Jody mentions how influential the British music scene was to her solo career, after previously being in the group Shalamar. In fact, she was even a part of the Band Aid charity effort over in England, lending her voice to the memorable single “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” Back then, Jody remembers the music of the ‘80s as being very lighthearted, which was reflected in how freely people were going out dancing, dressing outrageously, having a good time and being over-the-top. “I was way ahead of the times in many ways. Yet beyond the glamour, I was an artist who wrote and co-produced my own material – and I continue to do so.”

And what material it was. Granted, with drum machines and outdated synths providing the musical backing, it isn’t exactly material that has aged all that well. But back then, this was fun music to dance and show off to. On her first album, Jody wasn’t afraid to be experimental by singing in a lower register on “Still A Thrill” or going toe-to-toe with none other than George Michael on the killer anti-drug track “Learn To Say No.”

Free and fearless are two words that can be used to describe her breakthrough album. 

For a debut solo effort to spawn five singles – which is half the album, thank you very much – is no easy feat. And there ain’t a ballad to be found to disrupt the album’s up-tempo flow either, which is perhaps why Jody is still going strong in the dance category she helped to define. However, there are two tracks within the set list that aren’t quite as strong, namely the embarrassingly titled “Love Injection” and the clumsily arranged “For The Girls,” though with so many hits to make up for it, one hardly notices.

What is far more noticeable is the fact that so many of these songs sound the same, making it all seem like a one-note affair. Thankfully, Jody broadened her musical palette even further on the follow-up Larger Than Life, incorporating more slow songs to demonstrate her range as a vocalist and to prove that she was more than just a disposable disco dolly.

Rating: B-

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