“Dead Giveaway” by Shalamar (1983)

Writer/producer Leon Sylvers III (yes, of the “Boogie Fever” Sylvers) took Black music into the post-disco era with a stream of killer records by Shalamar, Lakeside, Dynasty and The Whispers. Essentially, he created the sub-genre “boogie”, which was a catch-all brand name for danceable pop/soul that was a few steps removed from disco.

A couple years later, as Prince’s star began to ascend, Sylvers realized he had to switch things up at least a little bit, and began to add more new wave and rock elements into his sound. This is conjecture, but I imagine the fact that Leon’s younger brother Foster (who was helping Leon produce on the down low) was a rock “head” was a part of it. Shalamar’s success in the new wave-happy U.K. might have been a part of it, too. Anyway, Sylvers’ incorporation of heavier rock sounds into his soulful mix resulted in “Dead Giveaway”, a classic song and yet another reason why Shalamar might be one of the most underrated hit bands of the ‘80s.

Howard Hewett is a soul crooner in the Marvin Gaye mode, so it’s kind of a surprise that his vocal works so well on a song like “Dead Giveaway”. Marvin himself wouldn’t have been able to pull this off, although it’s interesting that other disciples of his-most notably Jermaine Jackson-had success in a more rock-oriented realm also. The synth textures are straight out of the Human League-by-way-of-Prince bag. The ripping guitar solo is straight out of the Van Halen-by-way-of-Prince bag. To add yet another purple element to the song’s legacy, that guitar solo was played by The Time’s Jesse Johnson. Jesse was uncredited on the original release-he didn’t want to incur the wrath of Mr. Nelson-but revealed his involvement years later.

Unfortunately, “Dead Giveaway” also marked the end of this iteration of Shalamar. After a couple years of mounting internal strife, probably compounded by the fact that the married Sylvers impregnated Shalamar singer Jody Watley, she and Jeffrey Daniel left the group in the middle of the U.K. video shoot for “Giveaway”, not returning even as “Giveaway” landed in the pop top 20 and became one of the first videos by a Black act to get played on MTV.

Hewett continued with the group for one more album before he peaced out, leaving Shalamar a shell of his former self. Although Watley and Hewett went on to solo success, I still feel like Shalamar left a lot on the table and were just about ready to blow up even bigger than they already were.

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