Jheri Curl June: The S.O.S. Band’s “Tell Me If You Still Care”

Friday was the 55th birthday of James Samuel “Jimmy Jam” Harris III: former keyboardist for The Time and, with partner Terry Lewis, one of the main architects of the “Minneapolis Sound”–or, as we call it in these parts, good old-fashioned jheri curl. As usual, though, Mr. Jam was overshadowed by his almost-birthmate and former boss Prince, who turned 56 on Saturday and was the subject of Friday’s Jheri Curl June special article. But I wanted to make amends, so to make up for last week’s snub, we’re kicking off Week Two of Jheri Curl June with one of the earliest projects by Jam and Lewis’ Flyte Tyme Productions: “Tell Me If You Still Care,” a classic cut from the S.O.S. Band’s 1983 album On the Rise, and a shining example of the jheri-curl ballad.

The S.O.S. Band originates from Atlanta, not Minneapolis; though you’d never know from the song, a Jam/Lewis original that brings the same smooth, pristine, soulful yet eminently radio-friendly sound that would soon drive bigger hits by the likes of Janet Jackson and the Human League. Unlike those later hits, though, “Tell Me If You Still Care” is still fully rooted in the R&B sound: it’s basically quiet storm with a nice, slick, dreamy sheen, and singer Mary Davis’ vocals are the perfect combination of soulful and ethereal. Plus, there’s that bizarre slow-motion video, which is so pop-surreal I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me it was directed by a moonlighting David Lynch. And the male lead sports a rare example of the white man’s jheri curl–what more could you ask?

Apparently, though, not everyone was pleased by Flyte Tyme’ work with The S.O.S. Band: during work on the album, Jam and Lewis were grounded in Atlanta by a blizzard, which caused them to miss a Time concert in San Antonio and led to their being fined and then fired from the group by Prince. But look at it this way: their replacements, Mark Cardenas and “St. Paul” Peterson, went on to play with Jesse Johnson’s Revue and front The Family, respectively; Jam and Lewis proceeded to become one of the most successful musical production teams of the ’80s and ’90s. No disrespect to Jesse or The Family, but I think it’s pretty clear who got the short end of that stick.

As always, the Jheri Curl June Spotify playlist can be found after the jump. And hey, since Callie is out of town until Wednesday, I decided to make an executive decision and deem this week of Jheri Curl June Ladies’ Week, since the S.O.S. Band is just the first of several female-fronted acts I plan to highlight. Who said jheri curls were just for men? See you tomorrow!


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