Jheri Curl June: Surface’s “Falling in Love”

For the past nine years, we’ve harped on a lot about the sonic signifiers that make Jheri Curl Music what it is: your clean bass and rhythm guitar, your programmed drums, your layered synths, and so on. But one sound we’ve never had cause to mention is the flute… that is, at least, until now.

“Falling in Love” was the debut single by the New Jersey-based group Surface: a vehicle for EMI Records staff songwriters David “Pic” Conley and David Townsend, with Conley’s girlfriend, Karen Copeland, on vocals. It is, at first glance, little more than a pleasantly chill midtempo J.C.M. trifle–imagine an S.O.S. Band album track, and you’ve basically got the picture. But then, the flute enters the mix–just a taste at first, then gradually growing in prominence, until all the sudden we’re treated to a full-blown solo. And you know what? It fuckin’ rules.

I’ll admit, we’re not exactly unbiased when it comes to flute in pop songs. Callie’s other podcast dedicated a whole episode to flute jams; I spent a not-insignificant part of my youth listening to a cassette compilation called Funky Flutes and Sexy Sitars; at least one of us (I won’t say who) spent actual U.S. currency to see Jethro Tull in concert. But the flute adds so much to “Falling in Love,” it kind of begs the question why it wasn’t a more common sound in songs of its genre. Clearly, at least someone at Surface’s record label Salsoul agreed, because the single’s European picture sleeve prominently featured Conley serenading a bemused-looking Copeland with the instrument (see above).

Unfortunately, “Falling in Love” didn’t kick off a whole new era of woodwind-mania in ’80s R&B. The single made it into the lower reaches of the Billboard R&B chart, peaking at Number 84 in summer 1983; the following year, electro-lite follow-up single “When Your Ex Wants You Back” reached the same position, after which Conley and Copeland broke up, marking the end of the group’s original lineup. Surface would eventually (ahem) resurface in 1986 with a new singer, Bernard Jackson, and a smoother sound heavily indebted to the likes of Babyface. It’s fine–we may even write about Surface Mark II in a future Jheri Curl June–but I think we all know what’s missing. Luckily, the version of “Falling in Love” on streaming services is an extra-long remix by Shep Pettibone, so you can wet your whistle and then some.

Speaking of streaming, here are those playlists again:


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