“Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn (1978)

“Got To Be Real” is pure joy. It’s almost like you can hear the grin on Cheryl Lynn’s face as she’s singing. It helps “Got To Be Real”‘s cause that, vocally, Cheryl Lynn comes across as a mixture of Ethel Merman and Chaka Khan. Her voice has that down-home diva quality to it, but there’s also a show-biz hamminess to it. You hear that hamminess in the extra syllable that accompanies the last word in each verse line (“What ya find…ah! What ya feel…ah!”) and in the “soo-hoo”s that were added to the song’s bridge for the single mix. It might not surprise folks of a certain age, then, that Cheryl got her start as a contestant on The Gong Show.

What Cheryl emerged from that television stint with was a recording contract that ultimately led to a decade or so as a consistent presence on the R&B charts (“Got To Be Real” was her only top 40 pop record). Like a lot of dance divas, Cheryl had a fantastic voice, but her material was fairly inconsistent, dependent on the songwriters and producers she was working with. It might surprise some folks that the backing band on “Got To Be Real” is mostly comprised of Toto (although if you read my entry on Toto’s “Georgy Porgy”, you wouldn’t be surprised at all). They were certainly capable of being funky, and “Got To Be Real” finds them deep in a pocket that straddles funk, disco, and smooth L.A. pop.

Whether you’re compiling a list of greatest disco singles, greatest ’70s singles or greatest debut singles, “Got To Be Real” is a song that deserves to be ranked highly. It’s effervescent in a way that seems natural and not the least bit calculated. You don’t hear that kind of natural positivity in music much these days.

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