“He’s Just A Runaway” (Sister Sledge, 1981)/”He’s The Greatest Dancer” (Sister Sledge, 1979)

He is clearly a complicated fellow.

“He’s The Greatest Dancer” finds Kathy Sledge absolutely enamored with a man she spots in the crowd at a club. Not only does he have a slammin’ body (one that would shame Adonis, as a matter of fact), but he wears the hottest designer clothes (Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci) and, oh what-wow! He can bust a move! Kathy plays the role with girlish innocence, completely blown away by this cat. Her sisters (and Luther Vandross, blending in on the backgrounds) act as a Greek chorus almost, echoing Kathy’s sentiments that “he’s the greatest dancer I’ve ever seen!” Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic provide the perfect groove for Mr. Dancer to strut his stuff. The result was a top 10 smash; the first for Sister Sledge as well as for Rodgers and Edwards as outside producers.

Two years and change later, tides have turned. Kathy is now a hardened woman, and she’s warning a friend that the cat she has her eyes on is going to be a heartbreaker. The girlish rasp is still there, but now it’s offering words of warning. The music has shifted, too. Instead of Chic’s high-class disco, producer Narada Michael Walden gives the sisters a pulsing dance/rock groove that you’d normally associate with Pat Benatar, or at least with one of Donna Summer’s new wave experiments. Chart-wise, the fortunes changed for the sisters as well. Barely 24 months after standing on top of the charts, “Runaway” failed to chart pop and barely grazed the top 40 on the R&B list. Perhaps sensing that “Runaway”‘s rock bent wasn’t going to play very well on R&B radio, the sisters remixed the song with a reggae beat and offered it up as a timely tribute to Bob Marley. That didn’t help (and in retrospect, seems kind of desperate and crass). The original is the way to go here. Actually, despite their more successful forays into a more traditional soul and dance sound, the OG “He’s Just A Runaway” still stands as my favorite Sister Sledge song.

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