Albums from the Lost and Found: Martika

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.

Much is made about the fact that both former Wizards of Waverly Place actress Selena Gomez (who has since gone on to massive success as a recording artist with such hits as “Good for You,” “Hands to Myself,” “Come & Get It,” “Same Old Love” and “Who Says”)  and former Sonny with a Chance actress Demi Lovato (who has similarly graduated to the role of pop star with such hits as “Cool for the Summer,” “Confident,” “Heart Attack,” and the surprisingly fantastic power-pop-flavored “Here We Go Again”) got their start as child actors on Barney & Friends. Even more fuss is made in print media over the fact that mega-superstars Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera are all former cast members of The New Mickey Mouse Club (as are actress Keri Russell from Felicity and The Americans, film star Ryan Gosling of The Notebook and La La Land fame, and Timberlake’s *NSync bandmate JC Chasez.) [Sadly, much less attention is drawn to the equally-future-star-loaded original version of The Mickey Mouse Club, whose class of Mousketeers included ‘60s teen idol Annette Funicello, actor/pop singer Paul Peterson of The Donna Reed Show and “My Dad” fame, Don Grady of My Three Sons and the late ’60s rock band Yellow Balloon, actor/pop singer Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman and “Cindy’s Birthday” fame, and Dick Dodd, the lead vocalist and drummer for the great garage-rock band The Standells of “Dirty Water” fame, while The Facts of Life co-star Lisa Whelchel was a Mousketeer on a short-lived and oft-forgotten late-‘70s reincarnation of the show.]  

But the much-less-well-known children’s show, Kids Incorporated, a musical sitcom which ran from 1984 to 1993 (initially in syndication for its first two seasons before moving to the Disney Channel for its final seven seasons) and the plot of which revolved around a group of young teenagers who start a cover band and regularly perform at a local kids’ hangout called The P*lace, nearly rivals The New Mickey Mouse Club for the number of future stars who can claim to have appeared on the show. Stacy Ferguson – better known to the public as simply “Fergie,” the Black Eyed Peas member who’d go solo to wild commercial success with The Dutchess and such hit singles as “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Glamorous,” “Clumsy” and “London Bridge” – was a cast member for the show’s first six seasons, while actress Jennifer Love Hewitt (best known for her roles in TV’s Party of Five and Ghost Whisperer and the big-screen blockbuster I Know What You Did Last Summer) joined the cast for the show’s fifth and sixth seasons, playing Robin. R&B artist Rahsaan Patterson – who’s also responsible for writing Brandy’s Top Five smash “Baby” – played Kid from the show’s inception through the fourth season.  Future R&B star Shanice (“Saving Forever for You,” “I Love Your Smile,” “When I Close My Eyes”) was a regular during the show’s first season, as was actor and television host Mario Lopez, best known for playing A.C. Slater on Saved by the Bell. But while Hewitt and Lopez continue to pop up regularly on television and Ferguson’s music – both her solo work and her inescapable party jams with the Black Eyed Peas such as “I Gotta Feeling” and “Let’s Get It Started” – has kept her on the radio regularly even during her long breaks, the show’s second-most successful recording star of all, former Annie co-star Marta “Martika” Merrero, who played Gloria during the first three seasons, has sadly become somewhat forgotten to time.

Martika’s self-titled debut – produced by Michael Jay – is a very fun disc that would spawn three major hits. The most famous of these is the haunting ballad “Toy Soldiers,” an unforgettable and surprisingly deep song written about a friend of Martika’s who was battling drug addiction. The song would deservedly go all the way to Number One and would later be revived in sample form – returning to the Top 40 in the process – in the Eminem song “Like Toy Soldiers” from Encore and would unexpectedly also pop up in The Simpsons in the episode “G.I. (Annoyed Grunt).” Rarely pointed out, though, is the fact that the cast of backing vocalists on the song includes a who’s-who of Marrero’s Kids Incorporated co-stars: Ferguson sings on the cut, as do Rahsaan Patterson, and Renee Sands (who’d go on to be a member of the late-‘90s pop trio Wild Orchid alongside Ferguson). [It’s not the only time that Marrero has teamed up with her castmates away from the set of Kids Incorporated: Martika, Ferguson, Mario Lopez, and Shanice all appear – along with New Edition and a very young Tammy Townsend – in the oft-spoofed Mr. T motivational video Be Somebody … or Be Somebody’s Fool!]

Marrero also reached #25 with a dance-pop reworking of “I Feel the Earth Move” from the Carole King album Tapestry. On paper, this seems like a bad idea – one on par with teen idol Tiffany’s cringe-inducing cover of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” – but though less organic than King’s version, the arrangement is a lot livelier than the composer’s own take and Martika’s vocal arguably a bit more passionate, and the reworking also boasts a more dynamic, if sudden, ending than the version from Tapestry.

The last of the hit singles from this disc is the album’s lead-off single, the #18-peaking shimmering dance-pop of “More Than You Know,” which calls to mind a fusion of Madonna – the verses echo the Material Girl’s work circa Like a Virgin, while the song’s lovely, heavily melodic chorus has shades of “Cherish” – and the production stylings of Exposé’s late-‘80s sides like “What You Don’t Know.” The song is the most commonly-forgotten of Martika’s Top 40 hits, but it’s actually arguably the best single here besides “Toy Soldiers” and deserves to be rediscovered by fans of ‘80s dance-pop. 

But this album ultimately rises above the quality of much of the other teen-pop of its time by being something more than just a collection of singles surrounded by obvious filler, and there are quite a few fun and entertaining album cuts on hand here, namely the wildly catchy opener “If You’re Tarzan, I’m Jane” (which Columbia strangely overlooked as a potential single despite containing what might be the album’s most immediate hook), the bilingual “Water” (which boasts a gorgeous acoustic guitar solo), and “Cross My Heart,” and the hooks are plenty.   

Marrero’s next album, 1991’s Martika’s Kitchen, would interestingly feature four songs produced and either written by or co-written with none other than Prince, and one of those, “Love … Thy Will Be Done,” would return Martika to the Top Ten. But the next single, the title cut, could only climb as high as #93, and an exhausted Martika, having tired of the demands of the business, would retire from the music industry altogether shortly after. She’d eventually re-surface in 2004, releasing two albums as one-half of the duo Oppera alongside her husband Michael Mozart, and since then, she’s sporadically resurfaced onstage as a solo artist playing her old hits, typically as part of an ‘80s package tour.