Sunday, July 31, 2016

Family Bands/ STE*: The Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters: Little Pony


If you only know the Pointer Sisters from their run of hits in the 80s, Little Pony will come as a surprise. This is straight ahead jazz singing, and as good as it gets. It comes from their 1974 album That’s a Plenty, which is mostly a jazz album, but it also features their country hit Fairytale. Fairytale is also the real deal; the song, a Pointers original, was good enough to win a country Grammy and land them an appearance on the Grand Old Opry. They were the first black artists to appear there. By this point in their career, the sisters had also recorded funk and blues.

Can you imagine such a career on a major label today? It couldn’t happen. As much as anything else, the Pointers’ story is about how much the music industry has changed since then. The sisters had varied musical interests and the talent to do it all, but they must have been a marketer’s nightmare. Nowadays, they would be independent artists, possibly self produced. Certainly no major label would want to touch them until they “decided” what they were. But look at them in the video, and you see four women who are happiest not having to decide. They are having a blast, doing what they love.

By the 80s, the Pointers were under increasing pressure to go mainstream, and they did. Their talent was realized in a string of major hits, such as I’m So Excited and Slowhand. But there was a personal price. The group had four sisters at the beginning of the 80s, then three, then two. Much later, one of the sisters wanted to rejoin the group, but was not welcomed back. By the 90s, pop music had moved on, and there were no more hits. They returned to jazz to perform songs from the show Ain’t Misbhavin’ in 1995 and 1996, but June’s health was failing by then. She died in 2006, and since then the surviving three sisters have rarely performed together.

Even in the 80s, the Pointers showed some stylistic range, doing numbers with contemporary R&B, girl group, and rock flavors. But I can’t help wondering what might have happened if their diverse musical interests had continued to be encouraged in that period. Quincy Jones made it big producing Thriller for Michael Jackson, but he came from a jazz background. What might he have done with the Pointers? And what might have happened if they had worked with Prince or George Clinton? We will never know, but I can’t help thinking that the sisters might have been happier, even if they didn’t sell as many records.

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