by Jeff Fiedler
Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column.
Nights Are Forever, England Dan and John Ford Coley (1976, Big Tree)
Certainly one of the more famous acts featured in this piece, this soft-rock duo popped up on AM radio with great frequency during the late ‘70s, scoring a long string of hits that includes four Top Ten singles: the #2 hit “I’d Really Love to See You Tonight” (for the record, they’re singing “I’m not talking about moving in,” not – as is so often misheard, even to the point of being immortalized in the action film The Long Kiss Goodnight – “I’m not talking about the linen”) and “Nights Are Forever Without You,” both of which can be found on this full-length; “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye Again”; and a remake of Utopia’s “Love Is the Answer.” After their split, “England Dan” would leave the world of pop to become a country star under his birth name of Dan Seals and score such massive hits as the Paul Davis-penned “Bop” (the 1986 CMA winner for Single of the Year) and “Meet Me in Montana.” For all his decades of success, he’s not even the best-known pop star in his family! – his brother, Jim Seals, a former member of The Champs (“Tequila”), was one half of the major ‘70s pop duo Seals & Crofts (“Summer Breeze,” “Diamond Girl,” “Get Closer”). [As if that weren’t enough talent for one family, Dan and Jim are the cousins of Little Texas frontman Brady Seals, country singer Johnny Duncan, and Nashville songwriting giant Troy Seals, best known for co-writing Ronnie Milsap’s “Lost in the Fifties Tonight” and Vince Gill’s “If You Ever Have Forever in Mind.”]
Sometimes, Facts of Life (1977, Kayvette)
This short-lived R&B trio from Newark, New Jersey, did manage to reach the Top 40 with the title cut from this disc (a cover of a country tune by Bill Anderson) before fading into oblivion, but they’re perhaps just as notable for their connections to other artists. Keith Williams was a former latter-day member of legendary doo-wop group The Flamingos (“I Only Have Eyes for You”), while Jean Davis is the younger sister of Tyrone Davis of “Can I Change My Mind” and “Turn Back the Hands of Time” fame.
We Must Believe in Magic, Crystal Gayle (1977, United Artists)
Attracting nearly just as much as attention for her dazzling beauty and nearly-floor-length hair as her silky-smooth singing voice, Gayle became one of country’s biggest crossover stars of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, racking up such hits as “Talking in Your Sleep,” “Half the Way,” the Eddie Rabbitt duet (and then-wedding standard) “You and I” and, of course, her signature tune, this disc’s infectious and jazzy lead-off single “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Gayle would be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2017, but for all her honors among the Nashville set, rock writers still seem to pay Gayle little attention, in spite of the fact that she’s actually managed to achieve much greater crossover success in her career than her legendary sister, Loretta Lynn.
Switch, Switch (1978, Gordy)
This funk outfit’s popularity was mostly confined to the R&B charts, though the band did manage to reach #36 pop with this disc’s “There’ll Never Be.” Their greater musical significance is that their signing to Motown helped to usher in one of the great musical families in all of R&B: Bobby and Tommy DeBarge (the keyboardist and bassist, respectively, for Switch) are the brothers of El, Bunny, Mark, James, and Randy of DeBarge (“Rhythm of the Night,” “Time Will Reveal,” “All This Love”) and Chico DeBarge. [Fittingly enough, Switch was discovered and championed by a member of another family act at Motown, Jermaine Jackson, whose sister Janet would later be briefly married to James DeBarge.] As if that weren’t enough sibling power for one band, the band’s primary vocalist, Philip Ingram, is the brother of another R&B superstar of the ‘80s, James Ingram!
3-Way Mirror, Livingston Taylor (1978, Epic)
Though you may not realize it, James Taylor is just one of five siblings in the Taylor clan who have released albums (most of them through major labels, at that), the others being sister Kate and brothers Alex, Hugh, and Livingston. Though he’s naturally been overshadowed the massive success of James, Livingston can claim to be the only other Taylor to have reached the Top 40 on his own, and he’s done so twice, too, first with this album’s delightful single “I Will Be in Love with You” and again in 1980 with “First Time Love.” James would even cover the 3-Way Mirror album cut “Going Around One More Time” on his own 1986 album That’s Why I’m Here.
Wild-Eyed Southern Boys, .38 Special (1980, A&M)
Southern rock had been on the wane by the late ‘70s, but it got new life in the early ‘80s, thanks to this sextet (which, like most of the best Southern-rock bands of the ‘70s, featured not just one, but two drummers), who lit up the charts throughout the decade (often with the co-writing assistance of Survivor’s Jim Peterik) with such hits as “Hold on Loosely” (which can be found on this disc, their pop breakthrough), “Caught Up in You,” “If I’d Been the One,” “Like No Other Night,” and “Second Chance.” [Heck, they even pulled off the unthinkable and extended their chart-run into the ‘90s by hitting the Top 40 with 1991’s “The Sound of Your Voice,” a remarkable feat for a band that made its debut in 1977. Not even the Allmans can claim a string of hit singles that long!] Don Barnes sang lead on most of their hits, but fittingly, the band’s other lead singer and guitarist, Donnie Van Zant, is the brother of Ronnie Van Zant, the late, great lead singer of perhaps the most well-known Southern-rock band of all, Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Tuff Enuff, Fabulous Thunderbirds (1986, CBS Asssociated)
This blues combo out of Austin, Texas, was one of a small handful of few blues acts, including Robert Cray and The Jeff Healey Band, to cross over to the pop charts in the late ‘80s, and they’d even score a Top Ten hit in 1986 with the surprisingly danceable grooves of the title cut to this disc. Harmonica player Kim Wilson was the band’s lead vocalist, but guitarist Jimmie Vaughn commanded even more attention from the rock press: he’s the older brother of the late, great guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughn!
Hard or Smooth, Wreckx-N-Effect (1992, MCA)
If you’re only going to have one hit to your name, you really couldn’t do much better than this rap duo, who soared all the way to #2 on the pop charts and stayed perched there for three weeks with their first and only Top 40 entry, “Rump Shaker,” taken from this disc and co-written by a young newcomer by the name of Pharrell Williams, marking his first credit of any type on a hit record. “Rump Shaker” was also both co-written and co-produced by ‘90s R&B titan Teddy Riley (best known for fronting the bands Guy and Blackstreet, the latter of whom would top the charts in 1996 with “No Diggity”), but that’s only fitting – Teddy’s brother Markell is one of the two members of Wreckx-N-Effect!
24/7, Kevon Edmonds (1999, RCA)
As a solo artist, Edmonds has just one pop hit to his name, although it was a very sizable one: “24/7,” the title track of this full-length, would go all the way to the Top Ten. But it was by no means Kevon’s first trip to the pop charts as a performer: with his brother Kelvin, Kevon had been a member of the early ‘90s R&B group After 7, reaching the Top 40 five times in all, including the Top Ten smashes “Can’t Stop” and “Ready or Not.” After that group split, Kevon and Kelvin went on to join the short-lived R&B supergroup Milestone (“I Care ‘Bout You,” taken from the movie Soul Food) alongside superstar duo K-Ci & Jo-Jo (“All My Life,” “Crazy”) and a third Edmonds brother, Kenny, better known as simply “Babyface,” one of the biggest songwriters and producers in the history of R&B music, having penned such massive hits as Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” and “End of the Road,” Whitney Houston’s “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” and “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” Toni Braxton’s “You’re Makin’ Me High,” and Bobby Brown’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Every Little Step,” just to name a small handful of well over five dozen Top 40 hits that grace his name in the credits.
Desireless, Eagle-Eye Cherry (1999, Work/Epic)
Cherry emerged out of Sweden in the late ‘90s to deliver one of the biggest hits to be found on American pop radio in 1999, “Save Tonight,” which would quickly become the go-to cover of choice for acoustic-guitar-wielding coffeehouse performers everywhere and help Desireless go platinum, an impressive feat for a disc that didn’t actually yield any further hits. [Save for a turn as one of the featured guest vocalists on Santana’s blockbuster Supernatural album, Cherry’s profile would sadly diminish radically Stateside following the success of Desireless and “Save Tonight.”] But Eagle-Eye is far from being the only famous musician in his family tree: his father is legendary jazz trumpeter Don Cherry (best known for his work playing with Ornette Coleman) and his half-sister is late ‘80s superstar Neneh Cherry of “Buffalo Stance” and “Kisses on the Wind” fame!
Gotta Get Thru This, Daniel Bedingfield (2002, Island)
This New Zealand-born singer’s time in the spotlight on the global stage was sadly short-lived (his second album didn’t even get released in the U.S. at all), but he briefly made a big splash on both sides of the Atlantic with the dance-infused Top Ten-charting title track of this disc and managed to elude one-hit-wonder status by scoring another Top Twenty hit in the U.S. with the follow-up single, the surprisingly quite beautiful ballad “If You’re Not the One.” But while his singles have sadly disappeared from American radio in subsequent years, the same can’t be said of his sister Natasha, who fared even better in this country, scoring four Top Twenty hits in all (“These Words,” “Love Like This,” and two Top Five smashes that continue to pop up quite regularly on adult-contemporary stations, “Pocketful of Sunshine” and “Unwritten.”)
You Do Your Thing, Montgomery Gentry (2004, Columbia)
This country duo went on a real tear from 1999 to 2011, scoring a string of hits during that time that includes sixteen Top Ten Country hits (four of which would cross over into the Top 40 pop charts, the biggest being this disc’s highly infectious “If You Ever Stop Loving Me”). [The disc also sports several other equally appealing singles, most notably “Something to Be Proud Of” and “Gone.”] Troy Gentry would sadly die in a helicopter crash in 2017, but Eddie Montgomery has solidered on, opting to keep the duo’s name and its music alive. Both Gentry and Montgomery got their start as musicians playing in several bands alongside Eddie’s younger brother John Michael, who’d become one of the biggest male country stars of the ‘90s, scoring such massive hits as “I Love the Way You Love Me,” “Be My Baby Tonight,” “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” “I Can Love You Like That,” and the wedding standard “I Swear,” the last two of which would both be massive pop hits for R&B vocal group All-4-One.