Jermaine Stewart - "Say It Again"

Jermaine Stewart: “Say It Again” (Deluxe Edition)

Which is worse: being a one hit wonder, or having one hit so huge it dwarfs your other work and leaves you branded a one-hit wonder even though you had two other top twenty hits?

Jermaine Stewart falls into the latter category. A former dancer on US TV’s Soul Train, he also danced with Shalamar (having failed an audition to become their lead vocalist) but graduated to a singing career in the mid-80s. After a few minor US hits he was catapulted to stardom by his 1986 single We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off, a song advocating abstinence yet just sufficiently coarse to propel it to number 2 in the UK singles chart, once its title had been purified to simply We Don’t Have To… to appease the BBC (in a similar way to Marvin Gaye’s (Sexual) Healing a few years earlier). The song’s parent album Frantic Romantic enjoyed a quick fumble with the top 50 but further singles Jody and Don’t Ever Leave Me failed to replicate the success and by 1987 Stewart was indeed written off as a one hit wonder.

Stewart’s return to chart success came in January 1988 with the release of Say It Again, a song already recorded by numerous acts in the US, from Shawn Christopher to Lou Rawls. Pitched somewhere between the two versions, with just a hint of reggae thrown into the mix, Stewart’s cover became his second UK top forty hit, eventually climbing to number 7 thanks to a variety of mixes including one that seems to marry Stewart’s vocals to the same backing track that turned Climie Fisher’s simpering ballad Rise to the Occasion into a towering club hit.

Funnily enough, this isn’t the only Climie Fisher connection to Stewart’s third album; the follow-up single Get Lucky, also a top twenty hit, was the result of a short lived songwriting partnership between Simon Climie and former Hot Chocolate frontman Errol Brown. Naturally both these hits are included on Stewart’s third album Say It Again, now expanded and reissued by the good people at Cherry Pop. Brown and Climie are by no means the only famous names drafted in to help deliver Stewart from the realms of the one hit wonder: Prince cohort André Cymone co-wrote and produced five of the album’s twelve tracks, James Ingram and Deniece Williams are among those providing backing vocals, and three tracks are co-written by Stewart’s old Shalamar buddy Jody Watley (including one in collaboration with Bruce Woolley, and if you ever wondered what a collaboration between Shalamar and the Buggles might sound like, sadly it’s not as fantastic as you might have imagined).

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With so many big name acts sticking their oars in, the album is something of a grab-bag of late-80s dance-pop subgenres. All the required elements are present and correct: earth-shattering drum samples, taut synth-bass, squalling guitar solos (remember when you could have guitars on a dance record?) and 100% of your daily requirement of recreated James Brown samples to avoid any awkward legal action. Luckily there are also a lot of catchy tunes: Call It A Miracle would have been a perfect fit on daytime Radio 1, the inevitable mid-tempo ballad Eyes is pretty, Dress It Up sounds like someone asked Larry Blackmon to sketch out a Janet Jackson song from memory and, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I found myself singing the chorus of Don’t Have Sex With Your Ex in the shower this morning.

Naturally Cherry Pop have done a fine job of expanding the album to two CDs with a plethora of B-sides, extended mixes and radio edits, including the aforementioned Climie Fisher rip-off mix of Say It Again in extended and radio edit form, and the excellent radio mix of Don’t Talk Dirty To Me which, despite tapping into the same sentiments as We Don’t Have To…, only reached number 61 and became Stewart’s last single to reach the top 75 before his untimely death in 1997. This album is a fine snapshot of his work, even if it doesn’t include his “one hit”.


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