R&B Albums from the Lost and Found (Part 2): Let Me Tickle Your Fancy / Jermaine Jackson / Precious Moments

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.

Jermaine would record just two more albums for Motown, 1981’s I Like Your Style (highlighted by the cuts “I’m Just Too Shy” and the devastatingly pretty ballad “Maybe Next Time”) and 1982’s Let Me Tickle Your Fancy, the latter disc another career highlight. The title cut of the latter is one of Jermaine’s more adventurous singles, a futuristic funk/new-wave hybrid reminiscent of a fusion of Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me with Science” and Rick James’ “Super Freak” that stretches far enough beyond the realm of R&B to include Devo – yes, the guys that did “Whip It” and “Girl U Want” – on backing vocals, an odd and completely left-field idea that actually turns out to be a real stroke of genius.

The unpredictable potpourri of styles that is “There’s a Better Way” is nearly every bit as brilliant; the song itself is your standard adult-contemporary-R&B fare, but Jermaine lays it atop a frantic, off-kilter synth loop that just keeps going and going and then, just as unpredictably, adds an acoustic guitar solo. The R&B disco of “Very Special Way” is a bit more traditional but even catchier and should delight fans of Let’s Get Serious.

Jermaine would shortly after sign a new deal with Clive Davis’ Arista Records, making his label debut with 1984’s simply-titled Jermaine Jackson (released outside the U.S. under the title Dynamite). The disc turned out to be his strongest album since at least Jermaine, if not Let’s Get Serious, and gave him two huge Top Twenty pop crossover hits: the eerie dance-pop of “Dynamite” – a near-perfect fusion of Prince’s quirky, frantic “Delirious” and Hall & Oates’ “Maneater” – and, even more memorably, the instant quiet-storm classic “Do What You Do,” which topped the Adult Contemporary charts for three weeks and for mighty good reason: not only is the song (which features “Maniac” star Michael Sembello playing most of the instruments) loaded with hooks from start to finish and as sultry and intoxicating as any slow-jam that Freddie Jackson would go on to make, but Jermaine’s vocal on the cut is even more silky-smooth than usual.

There are plenty of noteworthy cuts elsewhere on the disc: the rock-laced “Sweetest Sweetest” is another one of Jermaine’s incredibly fun and surprisingly artistically successful experiments at combining different genres, and “Take Good Care of My Heart” is a memorable duet with newcomer Whitney Houston, whose debut album would feature three songs produced by Jermaine, while the Pia Zadora duet “When the Rain Begins to Fall” would become a massive European hit (even hitting the top of the charts in France, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands).

As if all that wasn’t fun enough, Michael even pops up at one point to duet with his brother – the first time the two brothers have sung together on record since the days of the Jackson 5 – on “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming” [which also features a killer rhythm section comprised of Ray Parker Jr. and session greats John Robinson, Nathan East, and Michael Omartian] while brothers Randy and Tito join Jermaine on “Escape from the Planet of the Ape Men.”

The follow-up album, 1986’s Precious Moments, wouldn’t fare quite as well commercially as its predecessor, but it’s quite underrated. It’s here you can find Jermaine’s much-loved Whitney Houston duet “If You Say My Eyes Are Beautiful,” which was strangely never released as a single but has nonetheless gone on to be a much-requested item at weddings and a must-own for any mobile deejay. Jermaine’s contribution to the film About Last Night …, “Words into Action,” can also be found here as well.

Jermaine also works with a great set of co-writers on this disc: Michael Omartian and ex-Brooklyn Dreams member Bruce Sudano both co-write theupbeat album opener “Do You Remember Me?,” while David Foster lends a hand on the fantastic - and downright clever - ballad “Lonely Won’t Leave Me Alone” (which Glenn Medeiros would cover shortly after and take to #67), and the criminally underrated David Batteau – best known for co-writing Top 40 hits for Michael Sembello, Seals & Crofts, and El Chicano – helps with “Our Love Story.”

But the best moment of all here is the deliriously sunny, sprightly R&B-pop of “I Think It’s Love,” co-written with Omartian and Stevie Wonder, which deservedly climbed into the Top Twenty on the pop charts; it’s one of the most feel-good songs Stevie’s ever been a part of writing, which is saying a lot for a guy who’s written such uplifting songs as “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely.”

Jackson’s success on the pop charts would sadly fade once again shortly after – he’d reach the Hot 100 only twice more, first with 1989’s #64-peaking “Don’t Take It Personal” (which did nonetheless top the R&B charts) and then with 1991’s notorious #78-peaking “Word to the Badd!,” which was re-recorded with new lyrics after the original version was deemed to be too harsh a jab at brother Michael. Since then, Jermaine’s been mostly quiet as a solo artist, finally re-emerging in 2012 with the low-key release of I Wish You L.O.V.E., a jazz-covers affair.  But it’s his run of albums from Let’s Get Serious through Precious Moments that not only gave him his biggest commercial success outside of the Jackson 5 but also remain the most charming albums in his almost thoroughly overlooked body of work. If you’re still wary of delving just yet into Jermaine’s individual studio albums, do yourself a favor and at least pick up Universal/Hip-O’s delightful 2001 compilation Ultimate Collection, which covers his tenures with both Motown and Arista and consequently makes an excellent introduction for the new fan; it’s only got the very biggest of his hits and consequently lacks such appealing lesser hits or album cuts as “The Pieces Fit,” “Maybe Next Time,” “There’s a Better Way,” “Sweetest Sweetest,” and "Lonely Won't Leave Me Alone," but just one listen to the best-of and you’re likely to realize just how criminally overlooked and – pardon the pun – dynamite a talent Jermaine is and want to hear even more.