Tuesday, July 13, 2021

"Knocked Out" by Paula Abdul

Song#:  3551
Date:  06/18/1988
Debut:  93
Peak:  41
Weeks:  13
Genre:  Dance-Pop

Pop Bits:  This now-famous dancer/singer/choreographer/TV personality got a lucky break when she was virtually plucked from obscurity to work with one of the hottest acts in music. In 1984, Abdul was one of the Laker Girls, the cheerleading squad for the NBA's L.A. Lakers. She was also the lead choreographer for the squad. The story goes that somehow she started dating Jackie Jackson (of The Jacksons), who was actually married at the time. When The Jacksons began shooting the video to their 1984 song "Torture," Jackie got Abdul hired in as a dancer. However, she never showed up. According to the video's original choreographer Perri Lister (in the book I Want My MTV), when it came time to show steps to Jackie, he showed up with Paula and Lister was told that Abdul wanted to do the choreography. Lister then took her paycheck and left. Abdul's work on the video along with her "in" to the Jackson family then led to her famously working with Janet Jackson on three of her videos from Control along with The Jacksons for their Victory tour. Yet being a successful choreographer wasn't enough. Abdul had ambitions to become a star herself and decided to give singing a go even though she was untrained and had no background in doing vocal work. She arranged to do a demo and convinced Virgin Records to sign her up. Abdul began to work on an album with various songwriters and producers. The first track she recorded was "Knocked Out," a tune written by Daryl Simmons, L.A. Reid and Babyface, and produced by Reid and Babyface. It was initially put on a Virgin Records sampler disc and then pushed out as a single to see how well Abdul might do. It did surprisingly well at R&B where the song got to #8. It also reached #14 at Dance. Over on the Pop chart, it fared less well topping out at the dreaded #41 position. Still, the results gave Abdul the opportunity to finish off her debut LP Forever Your Girl.

ReduxReview:  This was nearly a lost album thanks to the label not really knowing what to do and how to promote Abdul. I'm sure they thought that if this Reid/Babyface production didn't hit, then the album was most likely doomed. It seemed they put all their eggs in this one basket counting on this track to hit and when it didn't click in a more mainstream way, they basically shrugged and moved on. But sometimes an album is just destined to be a hit and the universe will make it happen somehow. Forever Your Girl was one of those discs, but it would take three singles and some radio intervention to get there. As for this track, it was good effort from Reid and Babyface, although it sounded like a lesser "Girlfriend." It also had more of an R&B feel, which really didn't fit Abdul and I think that came across in the song. No one sounded fully committed or comfortable. It surprisingly caught on at R&B, but it just wasn't the standout track Abdul needed to break on the Pop chart.

ReduxRating:  5/10

Trivia:  Apparently, Abdul's first time in the studio after her record deal was not a great experience. Reid and Babyface were songwriting and production pros who were really starting to make it big. That made them an in-demand team, which meant they didn't have a ton of time to work with artists and get things recorded. So when the novice vocalist Abdul showed up to sing their tune it seems the pair got a little frustrated. It was taking a long time to get a good vocal from her and they didn't necessarily hold her hand and sympathetically guide her along. According to another producer who would work with Abdul on her debut album, it seems Reid and Babyface basically got what they could from Abdul and then just dismissed her saying that they would finish it up by themselves. The experience left Abdul in a bit of a state and leery about her next studio experience. Luckily, she met up with songwriters/producers Oliver Lieber and Elliot Wolff both of whom would create atmospheres in the studio that allowed Abdul to grow and gain experience. In fact, it would be their songs that would turn Forever Your Girl into one of the biggest debut albums in music history.


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