R&B Solo Albums from the Lost and Found (Part 2): Chinese Wall

by Jeff Fiedler

Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.

It’s somewhat astounding that Philip Bailey has not had greater success as a solo artist than he’s had. He was, after all, the most recognizable voice in one of the greatest funk bands of all-time, Earth, Wind & Fire. [It’s Bailey who provides the distinctive falsetto in such classics as “September,” “That’s the Way of the World,” and “After the Love Has Gone.”] But Bailey also hasn’t taken the most obvious or commercial of routes in his outings away from the band, and he’d spend his time in the ‘80s outside of Earth, Wind & Fire alternating between pop outings for Columbia and full-blown gospel outings for Word Records, winning several Grammies in the process for his work in the latter field.  Still, Bailey briefly got a taste of solo superstardom in 1984 with the album Chinese Wall, thanks to a little help from one of the biggest ‘80s superstars of all, Genesis lead vocalist/drummer Phil Collins, who produced the album and naturally would also lend both his voice and his ever-distinctive drum sound to the disc.

There is a hit here – and a massive one, at that – that you would almost certainly recognize immediately: the rock-tinged Collins duet “Easy Lover,” a Number Two smash co-written with bassist Nathan East that still elicits regular radio play to this day.

But why nothing else on this disc (featuring Collins’ usual backing crew of guitarist Daryl Stuermer and the Phoenix Horns) followed “Easy Lover” into the Top 40 is a bit of a head-scratcher, because there are some very attention-grabbing cuts here. The album-opening “Photogenic Memory” – penned by future Bangles producer Davitt Sigerson with Jerry Knight (an alumnus of both R&B giants Raydio and the duo Ollie & Jerry of “Breakin’ … There’s No Stopping Us” fame and the co-writer of the Jets’ “Crush on You”) – is quite catchy in its own right and boasts a great vocoder-laden chorus that makes the song sound years ahead of its time.

“I Go Crazy” – co-written with Glen Ballard, most famous for writing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” – has an equally catchy chorus, and Ballard offers up another winner in the soulful “For Every Heart That’s Been Broken.”  

“Go,” meanwhile, sounds like a lost Earth, Wind & Fire A-side from the late Seventies, while the ballad “Show You the Way to Love” (another Ballard co-write) should appeal to EWF fans especially fond of the That’s the Way of the World cut “Reasons.”

Fans of the more rock-oriented “Easy Lover” will gravitate, meanwhile, to the equally driving “Time Is a Woman,” co-written by former Heatwave producer Barry Blue.

Perhaps the best of all the non-hits here, though, is the hypnotic “Walking on the Chinese Wall,” co-written by former Eric Clapton sidekick (and future Shakespear’s Sister member) Marcy Levy, a very chilling, up-tempo, spiritual cut featuring some beautiful falsetto work from Bailey and absolutely thunderous drum work from Collins, who puts the toms on his kit to what might be the best and most powerful use he’s made of them since the 1981 Face Value classic “In the Air Tonight.” It’s easily one of Collins’ finest moments as a drummer, either as a solo artist, member of Genesis, or session player, and it is a must-hear for fans of the rock legend. The song peaked at #46 on the Hot 100, but it’s awfully criminal that the song couldn’t get the extra momentum it needed to let it creep into the Top 40 because it is one of the most goosebump-inducing singles – with or without Earth, Wind & Fire – that Bailey’s ever cut.