Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Centipede' by Rebbie Jackson

Gold Record Alert!
Song#:  2070
Date:  10/06/1984
Debut:  88
Peak:  24
Weeks:  19
Genre:  R&B

Pop Bits:  Maureen Riellette "Rebbie" Jackson was the first born of the famous Jackson clan that included Michael and Janet. Although she studied music as a child, Rebbie did not have plans to go into the music industry like her siblings. She preferred to get married and start a family, which she did. However, later in 1974 when her brothers performed shows in Las Vegas, Rebbie signed on to work with them. She then also worked on The Jacksons TV variety show in addition to working as a backing vocalist for other artists. After a while, Rebbie had thoughts of starting her own solo career, but wanted to wait until her own children were older. By the time Rebbie was ready to step out on her own, she was 34 years old and Michael had unleashed Thriller. It seemed like the right time to give it a go, so Rebbie signed with Columbia and began work on her debut album. Of course, the family helped out with Michael, Tito, and Randy contributing as songwriters, producers, and musicians. Once completed, the LP was titled Centipede and this title-track was selected as the first single. Written and produced by Michael, the song took off and made it to #4 at R&B. It wasn't quite as successful at Pop where it got locked out of the Top 20. It did similar business at Dance getting to #29. Despite the low Pop peak, the single sold extremely well (thanks in part to Michael's participation) and it would be certified gold. It would be Rebbie's only song to chart at Pop. She would issue three more albums in the 80s and get four more singles on the R&B chart including the #8 "Plaything" in 1988.

ReduxReview:  Michael Jackson has certainly written a few oddball songs in his time, but I think this one ranks among his strangest. Have you even read the lyrics? A snake is "in the crawlin'" and something is coming through the bathroom window and the moon comes and goes. I dunno. It makes zero sense to me. And the music is weird as well. There is the groovin' opening with that synth lick followed by a nearly Prince-like stuttering verse that leads to a warm, very Jackson-ish chorus. Oh, and a harmonica break. It's like parts of different songs stitched together. Yet somehow this Frankenstein-ish, nonsensical thing actually works. I thought it a bit odd that it peaked so low at Pop. I'm guessing that sales were great (thanks to Michael's attachment), but airplay was low. I also think that besides Michael, Rebbie was arguably the best singer of the Jackson's. She seemed to have a bit more depth to her voice and some grit. I think she could have been a bigger star had she really wanted to be one. In the end, she probably enjoyed her brief solo career, but preferred to be with her family and kids. At least we got this oddball gem from her.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) Although Rebbie would only have one single to chart at Pop, she continued to have some success on the R&B chart. Her follow-up album, Reaction, got to #6 at R&B thanks to its #16 title track. Her third album would yield her second R&B Top 10 hit when "Plaything" would reach #8 in 1988. She stopped recording soon after, but returned to record a fourth album a decade later. Issued on her brother Michael's own label, Yours Faithfully, would sell a few copies and get to #28 on the Pop Album chart. To-date it remains her last recording.  2) In addition to writing the song and producing it, Michael Jackson provided backing vocals as well. Also lending a hand with backing vocals was the dance diva duo The Weather Girls.  3) Around this time, there was a popular arcade video game called Centipede that was becoming highly successful on the new Atari game systems. Whether or not the game inspired Michael to write the song is not really known, but the timing seems to suggest that it most likely was. Unfortunately, no tie-ins between the game and the song happened.


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