Simply Unpredictable, Robert Palmer

Equipped with his soulful, debonair demeanor, Robert Palmer is largely remembered for his 1980’s mega hits and iconic MTV image. Beyond the leggy models and black suits, Palmer was the magic genre masher, never sticking to the expected and continuously pulling inspiration from the music that surrounded him. This unpredictable shifting of sounds may have helped or hindered his career at certain periods of time, but overall alludes to his true and unmistakable passion for music as a whole.

Born in England but growing up on the island of Malta, Palmer’s initial introduction to music was through his parents. Their interests in the likes of Nat King Cole and Billy Holiday sparked Palmer’s fascination with music and led him back to England at the age of 19 to join his first band. During this time in England, Palmer wrote out and began correspondents with American record companies Stax, Volt, and Atlantic. These companies would mail Palmer singles, one’s that were unobtainable at English record stores during this time. These relationships gave Palmer a leg up in the British live music Rock N’ Roll scene and as his own band began playing these songs (which had gone unheard by their audiences) Palmer was unknowingly merging new, exciting styles into the lives of those willing to listen. This was the start of Palmer’s infatuation with inventive sounds and appreciation for the unheard.

Palmer remained in bands for several years, reaching mediocre success but grew tired of the constant input and manipulation of his songs and vision. Yearning to gain more control, Palmer released his first solo album in 1974, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley. Recorded in New Orleans, Louisiana, Palmer recruited legendary local funk band, The Meters as studio musicians. His long time love for African American music and musicians rang true throughout the record as the funk beat carried the catchy lyrics and his New Orleans band did what they did best, jam.

Next Palmer recorded Pressure Drop in 1976, combining his established funk capabilities with rhythm and blues, and reggae inspirations. Despite all this effort, It wasn’t until his Double Fun record in 1978 did he finally break through on to the charts with the single, “Every Kind of People.” As the 1970’s commenced, Palmer’s sound began to evolve into a rougher and much more driving tone than what we had previously heard. Next pulling from 1950’s Rock N’ Roll, Palmer released Secrets in 1979 which included his smash hit “Bad Case of Lovin’ You” and began his trail of iconic hits.

Palmer’s time in the 1980’s Rock N’ Roll scene proved to be his most commercially successful. His heavy rhythmic drums and gravelly vocals marked him as a force to be reckoned with. Palmer joined forces with drummer Tony Thompson of Chic and guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor of Duran Duran to form the Power Station in 1985. Their self-titled album quickly began climbing the charts, led by their signature cover of “Get It On (Bang a Gong).”

Palmer’s next solo effort, Riptide would prove to be his best selling album. On this record Palmer began to mix his tracks, experimenting with techno and synth sounds in addition to the heavy rock his fans had come to enjoy. Songs such as, “Addicted to Love” and “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” became monumental triumphs. “Addicted to Love” was Palmer’s first iconic music video that would soon become an MTV staple.

Maintaining his image and successful modern rock formula, Palmer racked up another smash hit with, “Simply Irresistible” off of 1988’s Heavy Nova album. Unfortunately, this single appeared to be the end of his commercially successful run. Ready for yet another musical change, Palmer began recording songs that represented his love for soul music and artists such as, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye.

Before his sudden passing in 2003, Palmer released what would become his final album, Drive which brought back his rock and roll and blues roots. A seemingly perfect ending to a lifetime of musical dedication. Despite his inability to break the charts in his most recent years, Palmer continued to create music from just about any genre you can imagine. From techno to African, Palmer fancied himself a true musical fan who enjoyed experimentation and powerful, contagious beats. Robert Palmer will be remembered for his iconic image, soulful voice, and unmatched ability to combine genre’s and make them his own.

–Victoria Shaffer

Sources:
 docsinterviewsonmv. “Robert Palmer – Interview – 1/15/1985 – Unknown (Official).”YouTube, YouTube, 25 Sept. 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sdd4JDraRk.
Robert Palmer.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Apr. 2014, http://www.biography.com/people/robert-palmer-262384.
 “Robert Palmer Dies At Age 54.” Billboard, http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/68925/robert-palmer-dies-at-age-54.
 Williams, Richard. “Obituary: Robert Palmer.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Sept. 2003, http://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/sep/27/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries.

 

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