Moonwalking its way into UK hearts, Friends was the soul sound of 1982.
Daryl Easlea 2010
Shalamar’s sixth album, Friends, had been out for several months in the UK when their label Solar (the Sound of Los Angeles Records) released A Night to Remember as a single in June 1982. To promote it, backing vocalist and dancer Jeffrey Daniel appeared alone on Top of the Pops. His performance was to prove as jaw-dropping for that generation of viewers as David Bowie, Sparks or the Sex Pistols had been to their elders.
Daniel’s afro, so voluminous on the cover of the album, had now been straightened into a severe post-new romantic wedge, and he was wearing a t-shirt with Roy Lichtenstein designs on it. There, in front of a UK tea-time audience, he introduced body-popping to a generation. He mimed that his hands were at a wall as he looked round the side of it; he collapsed down on his legs. He poured himself an imaginary drink. And then he moonwalked. Before you think people didn’t get out much in 1982, this was something very special.
Thanks to Daniel, Shalamar – completed by Jody Watey and Howard Hewett – were hot. If all of his capers had happened in a vacuum they could have meant nothing, but they supported an album of supreme, shiny pop soul. Friends remains a testament of producer Leon Sylver III’s musical ability. He arranged most of the music and vocals and added its watertight bass throughout. It is a joyous work, that although very much of its time, still manages to sound extremely contemporary.
Don’t Try to Change Me and the sumptuous ballad I Don’t Wanna Be the Last to Know are the standouts. Over a clanking, recorded-loud drum machine, Watley enjoys a fine vocal showcase on the latter. But for most, the album was about its three big hits – Friends, There It Is and A Night to Remember.
As central to 1982 as ABC’s The Lexicon of Love or Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream, Friends reached number six in the albums chart and spent well over a year in the listings. And, for people of a certain age, it is almost impossible not to lift your right elbow up in a herky-jerky motion when you hear Ernest ‘Pepper’ Reed’s guitar introduction of A Night to Remember. Lovely.