70's Pick of the Week
“Fire” by the Pointer Sisters (1979)
The idea of sister or brother groups is not new. The advantage of this arrangement can be stability. Have you ever heard the expression “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose family”? Well in some cases it works and others not so much. In the case of the Pointer sisters it gave them depth and versatility that saw them endure and reach great success.
Their parents, Reverend Elton and Sarah Pointer encouraged them as girls to listen and participate in gospel music. They told the girls that rock and roll and the blues was “the devils music”. This was not uncommon really. Secretly they sang songs when they were away from their parents until one day the youngest, June, brought home a copy of Elvis’ “All Shook Up”. Her mother had discovered the ‘B’ side of the album with “Crying in the Chapel” so let her pay it.
In 1969 June and Bonnie Pointer from Oakland, California started performing in clubs. They toured and provided backing vocals for artists such as Grace Slick, Boz Scaggs and Elvin Bishop. Over the next few years sisters Anita and then Ruth joined them. In 1972 they switched from Atlantic to Blue Thumb Records (former A&M execs). Their self-titled first album had critical reviews but did not do much commercially. It had a flavour of jazz and be-bop and included a single called “Yes We Can” that went to number 11.
In 1974 they released “That’s a Plenty” which caught the imagination of the country music fans with the song “Fairytale” going to number 13 on the pop chart, 37 on the country chart. This song was written by Anita and Bonnie. They were then asked to sing at the Grand Ole Oprey in Nashville becoming the first female black artists to perform there. “Fairytale” would later be covered by Elvis himself and the circle would be complete.
Originally the group was doing kind of 40’s nostalgia thing and they dropped this in ’77 when June and Bonnie left the group. The new group that would become Anita and Ruth eventually convinced June to return. Now on Planet Records, which was distributed by Electra, they had a string of hits starting with Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” which went to number 2.
The flood gates opened and the songs “Slow Hand”, “He’s So Shy” and “I’m So Excited” all went to the top of the chart. In 1983 they followed by with “Break Out” which contained the dance hits “Jump (For My Love)” (certainly not to be confused with Van Halen’s “Jump”), “Neutron Dance”, and “Automatic”.
As their success waned and June became a grandmother in 1985 the group broke up. Various projects, both solo and individual never did quite as well. There was still a number of reunions including the inclusion of Ruth’s daughter and their closing of the 1996 Olympic Summer Games. The sisters were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005. June passed away in April 2006.