I have a soft spot for ‘80s R&B (here’s a clue; I host a radio show in which I play two hours of-mostly-’80s R&B). “Circles” has all the elements of my favorite music from that era: great groove, great singing, super hooky. It’s my favorite Atlantic Starr song, which is worth noting if only because their biggest pop hit, 1987’s “Always”, is one of my least favorite songs by anyone. I hated “Secret Lovers” for a while too. I’ve since learned to enjoy its illicit cheesiness.
“Circles” features the vocals of Sharon Bryant, the first and best of Atlantic Starr’s revolving door of female vocalists (four in their decade and a half run as a chart presence). Her phrasing is very Chaka-esque on this song. I’d have to imagine a lot of folks were thrown off when they went to a record store and found out that the Chaka Khan song they’d been jamming to on the radio was, in fact, an Atlantic Starr song.
Two random facts: “Circles” was produced by James Anthony Carmichael, a mildly surprising fact considering that “Circles” is kinda funky while JAC is perhaps best known for co-producing Lionel Richie’s increasingly sterile stream of ‘80s albums. Also, the A&M label on the record was blue, which indicated a transition period for the venerable label. It’s the only 45 I ever remember from A&M with that color. Prior to “Circles”, all the singles I encountered from the label (L.T.D., Bell & James) were white with gold print. Post-”Circles”, all the singles I encountered from the label (The Police, Janet Jackson, solo Jeffrey Osborne) were red. Weird nerd shit that only I care about, probably.