Robert Palmer

From his 1974 debut album, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley to his untimely death in 2003 at the age of 54, Robert Palmer was an important fixture on the rock and pop scene. As a performer, he was a pretty hard guy to pigeonhole. He sang rock, soul, blues, reggae, R&B – all of it well.

Allmusic: “Born Alan Palmer on January 19, 1949, in Batley, England, he spent much of his childhood living on the island of Malta before permanently returning to Britain at the age of 19 to sing with the Alan Bown Set.

A year later he joined Dada, a 12-piece, Stax-influenced soul group which soon changed its name to Vinegar Joe. After three LP’s with the band, Palmer exited to mount a solo career and debuted in 1974 with Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, recorded with members of Little Feat and the Meters.”

Actually, the only member of Little Feat to appear on this album is slide maestro Lowell George. Steve Winwood plays on one track and the non-Meters tracks include ubiquitous NYC studio aces Cornell Dupree, Bernard Purdie, and Richard Tee. The inclusion of New Orleans funkmeisters Meters should give you some idea of what Palmer was aiming for on this album.

The album kicks off with the triad of Lowell George’s “Sailing Shoes,” moves to Palmer’s “Hey Julia” and segues into New Orleans jazz/blues legend Allen Toussaint’s “Sneakin’ Sally.” There was a period of time where you could not turn on the radio without hearing these tunes.

I hadn’t heard them in a while and man if you don’t feel like dancing when you hear this, call the doctor – stat! (I put the three songs in the Spotify list rather than here so they’d run together.)*

Even though he was a Brit, Palmer’s success was initially greater in the US than in the UK. In 1975 he released the album Pressure Drop named for the Toots and the Maytals song. Interestingly, Wikipedia categorizes this album as both rock and blue-eyed soul, Sally being characterized only as rock. (I’ll put one of those blue-eyed songs, the terrific “Back in My Arms” on the Spotify list.)

This album adds in the rest of Little Feat and for good measure throws in the Muscle Shoals horns. From Pressure Drop this is, “Here With You Tonight” (co-written by Palmer and Vinegar Joe mate Pete Gage) which is a funkfest and a half:

Spotify link

Palmer’s fame kept growing and in 1979, with a greatly stripped-down four-piece band he released the album Secrets from which came the classic rock staple, “Bad Case of Lovin’ You.”**

Spotify link

Where Secrets had been a rock album, the chameleon-like Mr. Palmer’s next album, Clues, was a combination of rock and synthpop. I really like “Looking for Clues” which I’ll put on the Spotify list and which features Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz. (Palmer – who seemingly knew everybody –  had played percussion on the Heads’ Remain in Light.)

But I also dig “Johnny and Mary” :

Spotify link

By now you’re saying to yourself, I know this guy’s voice. And given his suave style, his sex appeal and his handsome face, wasn’t he a natural for MTV?

Indeed. And so for the last number, we come to an excellent tune with one of MTV’s most famous (and frankly kinda silly) videos, “Addicted to Love.”***  In this 1986 video, Palmer performs with some of ME’s model ex-girlfriends to weird effect. Of this event, one of the gals said this:

“I was 21 and got the part on the strength of my modeling book. We were meant to look and ‘act’ like showroom mannequins. Director Terence Donovan got us tipsy on a bottle of wine but as we were having our make-up retouched, I lost balance on my heels and knocked the top of my guitar into the back of Robert’s head, and his face then hit the microphone.” (Don’t you hate when that happens?)

Palmer won the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

Palmer followed up with the song “Simply Irresistible” and in 1990 – and this is the first time I’ve said this on these pages – won Rolling Stone’s award for best-dressed rock star. (Which had to have pissed Bryan Ferry off mightily.)

Palmer later formed a “supergroup” called Power Station with guys from Duran Duran and Chic though I recall nothing particularly memorable from that union.

To everyone’s shock, while in Paris in 2003, Palmer had a heart attack and died. He was a heavy smoker and ironically, his final album cover shows him with cigarette in hand.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; AllMusic

*One of the stations in the Boston area used to occasionally run a sound bite from Palmer where he said, jokingly, that it was ok to play these songs separately.

**Palmer also had a hit in 1978 with a tune called “Every Kinda People,” but as as a song, meh.

***Noddy Holder of Slade said, “The one main song that I wish that I’d written and recorded is ‘Addicted to Love’ by Robert Palmer. To me, that’s a perfect pop song. Everything about it really hits the nail on the head.”

 

 

 

21 thoughts on “Robert Palmer

  1. I like Palmer just never spent a lot of time with him. I have some of his early records that I inherited from my sis. Because her taste and mine were different I thought I wouldn’t like RP. I was mistaken..The ‘Bad Case’ I heard from Moon Martin but Robert had the hit with it. He has a good voice for the type of music he sings and it’s kind of an understated, cool with a little sandpaper. He reminds me a bit of Delbert McClinton (who I really dig) and a few others. I like his vocals on ‘Addicted’. Never was a big video guy but I kinda like the vibe on the vid. Those gals have the chops. Good post.
    (I was listening to Little Feet this morning)

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    1. I’m a Palmer fan from way back and he’s definitely not some side figure for me. He’s right in the pocket. “Addicted” was just icing on the cake by the time I heard it. I hadn’t heard the “Sally” trilogy in a while and it was just a blast to hear it again. He started out kinda funky, then did soul stuff, got poppier, even edge of disco but always with a nice rock edge. Consistently good bands, solid guitar. I just came back from the gym and I was digging the playlist.

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      1. One of those guys that when I hear him I think ‘”I should be listening to more”.

        What’s with the gym Arnold? Good stuff Doc. Taking care of the health. Don’t get to muscle bound or you won’t be able to play the guitar.

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        1. It’s good for what ails ya. As to the gym, heh. My hobbies, playing guitar and blogging, are completely sedentary. And so to make sure I move around I get to the gym, go for walks (like you), hit the treadmill. I’m not an every day guy but if I can hit it 2 – 3 times/week my doctor is happy. (He and I go to the same gym.) When I’m there it’s 90% aerobic shit and rest is pure Arnold. As to the guitar I’ve been working on Johnny Winter’s “Memory Pain” lately. What a great, unique blues style he had.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Good stuff. I was listening to JW ‘Second Winter’ yesterday. You know more of the tech side of the playing so that’s cool on Johnny. I just like his package. That tune is some of that hard blues I like. Man that album has been around for a while. When Doc talks blues guitarists CB listens.

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  2. My love for the first Power Station album is unconditional. It’s the album that put Palmer on my radar, actually. I knew the hits (Addicted to Love and Simply Irresistible), but I only delved into Palmer’s discography last year after falling for that Power Station LP.

    Anyhoo, I’m a fan. Brilliant stuff. One of those pretty great artists and a helluva voice. I was fairly obsessed with Clues, too… that one was unexpected given what I’d heard on those earlier albums, but it really got under my skin.

    You should hit up that first Power Station album. You wont regret it; I reckon Palmer is in great form.

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      1. I will do. Reckon tomorrow’s commute is calling out for that Palmer playlist.

        Let me know what you think of Power Station. I think it might be the next LP I cover, actually… so you can share thoughts.

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        1. Well, it may be that we disappoint each other, don’t know. But yeah, I listened and I have heard parts of that Power Station album and it is not for me. Too ’80’s, too heavily produced. That sound and style is not for me I’m afraid, especially having heard Palmer’s earlier stuff. It sounds to me more like Duran Duran than Palmer. Some of it’s pretty good but really not where I live. Sorry about that.

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        2. No apology required, Jim… Power Station appeals to me and it’s how I discovered the genius of Palmer (I love his vocals on there… phrasing and delivery and suchlike… a big influence on some of the recent music I’ve been working on).

          Also, I wasn’t disappointed with the Palmer selections, either. A very good playlist. I actually dug some Palmer albums out last night and they also accompanied me on the journey this morning (first album and Clues).

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        3. Definitely. Like I say, I was aware of those big glossy 80’s hits, but it wasn’t until hearing Power Station that I spent time exploring his work and learning about him. By all accounts, Power Station was a peculiar one, but his vocals are great.

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