Jheri Curl June: Sheila E’s “A Love Bizarre”

Way back at the end of week one of Jheri Curl June, we argued that Prince left jheri curl music behind just after he arguably perfected it with his 1984 masterpiece Purple Rain. And while that’s technically true when you consider Prince’s career strictly as a solo artist/bandleader, it’s not quite the whole truth. Because by the mid-1980s, Prince had turned his patented “Minneapolis Sound” into a full-blown cottage industry of ghostwritten, ghost-produced, and sometimes even ghost-performed jheri-curl goodness; so while by 1985 he had moved on in his own work to stretch himself stylistically (and, eventually, just implode in on himself and resort to desperate trend-chasing), his presence continued to be deeply felt in the jheri-curl “scene” through the music of protégé-avatars like Mazarati, Jill Jones, and of course, Sheila E.

Sheila E rightfully gets props as the most talented of Prince’s many protégées, and it’s purely a testament to her abilities that we say “most talented” rather than “least talentless.” She was really the perfect storm for Prince, who has a notorious history of choosing what women to take under his wing via a combination of happenstance and penile plethysmography: not only is she just as sexy as a Vanity or Apollonia, but she’s also a tremendously accomplished musician in her own right (the “E.” is short for “Escovedo,” as in her father, virtuoso percussionist Pete Escovedo). By the same token, today’s track, “A Love Bizarre,” isn’t just a great song for a Prince protegee; it’s a great fucking song, period, and it stands toe to toe with everything else that came out of the Paisley Park camp in 1985-1986. Indeed, it’s still a staple of Prince’s live repertoire to this day, with or without the woman who made it a hit.

At the same time, though, certain aspects of “A Love Bizarre” indicate storm clouds beginning to gather on the jheri-curl horizon. The video above is taken from the 1985 movie Krush Groove, which co-starred Escovedo alongside up-and-coming rappers like Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys. Supposedly, Sheila and her band were objects of derision for many of the films’ extras–authentic B-boys and -girls from the Bronx–and it’s easy to see why: synchronized dance steps and New Romantic wardrobes may have passed for the cutting-edge of youth culture just a year earlier, but in the face of the hip-hop revolution, they looked as dated and cheesy as…well, the jheri curl. “A Love Bizarre” is, again, a stone classic, but look at the rappers’ names displayed behind Sheila in this video and you’ll see the writing was literally on the wall: by 1985, jheri curl music had already peaked, and it would spend the rest of the decade in recession.

I know that was kind of a bummer note to end this post on, but take heart: we’ll be back tomorrow with another highlight of late-period jheri curl music. Because even when jheri-curl is in decline, it never truly goes away: it lingers behind forever, like a greasy perm stain on a pillow. So cheer up, and check out all 12 minutes of “A Love Bizarre” on the Spotify playlist after the jump!


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