“Cutting-edge” isn’t a term that one would normally associate with The Pointer Sisters. They entered the scene in thrift-store dresses, balancing funk workouts like “Yes We Can Can” opposite tunes that cast them as a modern-day Andrews Sisters. After one sister departed (Bonnie), they made a stylistic change and became well-known for straight down the middle (well-crafted) pop with a hint of soul. Songs like “He’s So Shy” and “Slow Hand” are great, but they’re not innovative.
1983′s “Automatic” stands out like a (very, very funky) sore thumb in the Pointers’ catalog. It stands comfortably along with some of the most forward-pushing dance music of the early ‘80s (”White Lines”/”Cavern”, “I.O.U.”, “White Horse”) and boasts a helping of pop smarts that those aforementioned songs don’t have. The vocal arrangement is crazy (and won the Pointers a Grammy), and then there’s Ruth’s vocal. I’m hesitant to even call it androgynous. I feel like most people being introduced to “Automatic” for the first time would assume that a guy was singing (the comments under the clip below bear this theory out.) The only woman in pop who had that much bass in her voice was Grace Jones. What a daring choice for a single by a pop group, but when you consider that the Pointers were coming off of several singles in a row that didn’t do too hot on the charts (”American Music”, the first release of “I’m So Excited” and “I Need You”), desperate times call for desperate measures.