Now comes the truly sad news that Teena Marie is no longer with us in the physical world after only fifty-four (54) years….pause for tears. To me, Teena was always the Petula Clark or Leslie Gore of her times. Soulful hits that transcended the categories of the music business or American society (I’ve always had a more “Top 40” musical head). I first heard of her when Programmer extraordinaire, Frankie Crocker, referred to her as “Tiny” Teena Marie over the airwaves of WBLS FM, New York City as the strains of “I Need Your Lovin'” or “Behind The Groove” grew in the background. During my glory days as a radio personality, I never got to meet nor share a stage Emcee-style with her, but I feel like I knew her just the same. There is always that link between her and the late “Slick” Rick James, yet, I don’t recall ever being so “surprised” about her skin color visa v her material as many people profess to be and tried to make an issue out of in the early 1980s.
So here is where I list my top ten (because I own only ten) Teena Marie vinyl records: On Gordy Records (“a product of Motown Record corp.”) 1980’s “Lady T” with the hit “Behind The Groove”, and where I noticed that the girl could write some very readable liner notes which is one of her unsung talents and now a legacy. I dug the baseball uniform she sported on the back cover! The 12″ DJ version with “I need Your Lovin’ ” on side one and “Behind The Groove” on the flip-side; also Gordy Records. I remember like yesterday how excited I was to get this platter so I could play it at my next gig! Next is my favorite front cover of the ones I own, and the second album to drop in the year 1980, “Irons In The Fire”. What a warm and cozy pose without overt sexuality by Teena, with the fireplace roaring and herself wrapped in a satin quilt, OMG! This album’s smash was “I Need Your Lovin’ ” which still should fill dance-floors whenever played in a club! I noticed that all of these Gordy albums were “written and produced by Teena Marie” (the first one had someone named Richard Rudolph as co-producer), a source of some contention as I remember back then. She dedicated “Irons…” to her father, Thomas Leslie Brockett, who passed away in 1976 – his picture on the back cover.
A year later in 1981, I was fortunate enough to get the Gordy DJ copy of “It Must Be Magic”, an album with an all-star cast and hit-after-hit-after-hit! From the title song to “The Ballad Of Cradle Rob And Me” to the sultry “Portuguese Love” or her first foray rappin’ to the beat on “Square Biz” (with brief Rick James cameo), to “Yes Indeed” with Patrice Rushen on keyboards, this was her best all-around album insofar as my ears are concerned. And yours too?
Next, my library finds Teena on Epic records, where I had al great DJ-to-promotion department relationship, and that is probably why I ended-up with two copies of 1983’s “Robbery” album. I suppose the relationship with Gordy finally disintegrated and the CBS group snapped her up, agreeing to her writing, producing and arranging all. The standout on this album was/is “Casanova Brown” – not to be confused with the Gloria Gaynor disco jam with the same name, lol!
One thing is for-sure, Teena was always busy in the eighties; it didn’t take long before Epic added another 12″ to my collection, 1984’s “Jammin” (Radio Mix-vocal) culled from her next album, “Starchild” that I never was able to get my fingers on, but it didn’t matter, I had the first hit ! I say “first” because straight-away came a song that many defined Teena by to her dying day; also from “Starchild”, it was (in my library) the Special 12″ Dance Mix of “Lovergirl” b/w the Instrumental also off of the album “Starchild”. Larkin Arnold was in the background as Executive Producer by now, and the polish and crossover access available by being part of one of the ‘big three’ record labels paid off. I played this song at a lot of weddings and parties during that decade.
Next of mine, a curious and seldom-played 12″ Extended Version Dance Mix of “14K” which apparently was part of the soundtrack to a movie called “Goonies”. I don’t remember either – maybe I have to go and play it right quick here! Ok, L8R, only two more vinyls to go…the very green like St. Patrick’s Day, 1986 “Emerald City” effort. I actually don’t think I ever played this record because as I write these words, I am pulling it out of the jacket, still neatly tucked in the inner sleeve and not turned face-out for easy DJ access, and…holy moly! The vinyl IS really GREEN!! Who knew? Haha! I know why I didn’t play it though, as the final and tenth wax in my Teena library is the 12″ single “Lips To Find You”, which I remember, sounds a bit like “Lovergirl” beat-wise. Hey, I just played side one for maybe the first time and there is a jam on there, “You So Heavy” – it says “for Rick”; I wonder if it is that “Rick? Regardless, what a strong song!! Amped lead guitar solo takes it home Hendrix-style! The studio and musicians that Epic used changed some of her background sound to that “eighties beat”; kind of Prince-style sometime, but thankfully nobody could change her vocal approach.
In 2009 I received what was at the time her “latest” (and probably last) album in CD form, “Congo Square”. I was happy to see it on the legendary “Stax” record label, but initially disappointed by the material. I guess I was still hoping for the “Lovergirl” who talked about “Square Biz”, but what I heard soon became unlistenable after she got bogged-down in trying to recreate the “torch-song” feeling of “Fire & Desire” too much, in my opinion. I learn now, that is where she was at and at peace with it, having alluded to pain that she “suffered through the last few years…” on the interior liner notes – again very literate about herself. What exactly the sources of those pains were, I can only guess in retrospect, but as I listened to that CD again multiple times today, I still like the first track, “The Pressure (featuring M.C. Lyte)” the best only because it is uptempo and her fast stuff shaped my fondest party memories of “Lady T”, however, the singing on the remainder of the album; the soulful way she portrayed every note of each selection from her heart, makes it every bit the portrait that each of her vinyl album covers displayed. For example, track four, “Ear Candy 101” has a bridge that evokes a Marvin Gaye groove! “Tiny” Teena left us with sixteen soulful, heartfelt songs, and I miss her for the future in the manner I miss what Jimi Hendrix would have become artistically, already.