Released today in 1985: System Addict

1230

Tent PB40515

The release of System Addict provided evidence that Romford’s answer to the Jackson Five weren’t just inspired by Michael Jackson’s music, his vocal techniques and his dance moves, they were inspired by his commercial strategies too. It was the seventh single from their album Luxury Of Life; Jackson had taken the same number from his most recent album Thriller in America. His British record company only chanced six of those as singles here, so Five Star had actually gone one step further Jackson with their seven, and he was promoting the biggest selling album of the 1980s. One of the advantages of having your own label, I suppose, which with Tent, Five Star had.

Jackson’s sister Janet equalled Five Star’s effort by the end of 1987 when her record company, A&M, took a seventh single from her album Control in the UK. (In the US, they stopped at six.) But eighteen months later, Jackson himself set a new record: he took eight of the ten songs on Bad (nine of eleven songs, if you had the CD version) as singles. It took two years to release those nine singles, the resultant publicity keeping the album in the chart for 108 consecutive weeks. As there was more profit to made in the sale of an album, keeping that album in the news via a string of hit singles was a shrewd business move, but of course this could only be done if there were sufficient radio-friendly tracks on the album to lift from it as singles in the first place. Few other albums in the eighties were plundered for quite so many singles. Other albums containing six UK singles during the decade included

  • George Michael’s Faith (Epic, November 1987) – it took eighteen months to release all six singles, and the album remained in the chart for all but a handful of weeks in that time;
  • Paula Abdul’s Forever Your Girl (Siren, October 1988) – it took over two years to release the singles, with some being issued more than once in that period due to disappointing sales the first time around. The album only charted for a few weeks at a time when the singles were selling;
  • Whitney Houston’s Whitney Houston (Arista, August 1985) – the album, a classic of sorts, failed to chart in the UK when first released as its early singles weren’t hits: it started to sell when Saving All My Love For You made #1 at the end of 1985. The last of the six singles was released a few months later (it took just a year to release all of them), but the LP remained on the album chart long after the last single exited the chart in June 1986;
  • Def Leppard’s Hysteria (Bludgeon Riffola, August 1987) – eighteen months to release the singles, but again the album continued to sell steadily after radio airplay had died down;

and Five Star (again), with their second album Silk And Steel. The singles they took from Silk And Steel did much better than those from Luxury Of Life, with five of them making the Top 10. Only one of the singles from Luxury Of Life made the Top 10, and somewhat surprisingly – given it was the last of them – that was System Addict. It remains one of their best-known songs, and was re-mixed for re-issue in 2005.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Dec. 30
1983
SINITTA I Could Be (Midas MID4)
1985
EURYTHMICS It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) (RCA PB40375)
FIVE STAR System Addict (Tent PB40515)
KING (Paul King) Torture (CBS A6761)
SADE (Sade Adu) Is It A Crime (Epic A6742)

Released today in 1987: Somewhere Somebody

Tent PB41661

Tent PB41661

The FIVE STAR Story Part 4

As always in the world of pop, stars are allowed a certain amount of success before the backlash starts. For Five Star, it began with controversy over the choice of sponsor for their ’86 tour, which was the Cadbury/Fry chocolate bar Crunchie: should they be encouraging their predominately young fans to be eating sweets? Criticism turned to ridicule when it emerged that Ultrabrite toothpaste would be sponsoring their ’87 tour. Regardless, both tours sold out, and in between they took Best British Group at the BPI Awards in February ’87 and had two further Top 10 singles, these being the fifth and sixth singles from the Silk And Steel album which itself had sold over a million copies in the UK alone and been certified four times platinum by the BPI on 30 June 1987.

This was a significant date, as thereafter Five Star’s career went into decline. It was barely noticeable at first, but it was telling that their first single in the second half of 1987, Whenever You’re Ready, peaked at #11: being unable to put the lead single from their third album in the Top 10 was a significant failure, given that they had just taken five Top 10 singles off their previous album. In fact, they never had a Top 10 single again. Just two more tracks from the Between The Lines album were issued as singles, with the album itself – a rushed, patchy affair, released in September – barely managing a chart run that lasted until Christmas.

There were no releases from the group at all in the first half of 1988. When they came back, it was with an unfortunate change of image (all black leather and studs, with abundant hair extensions for the girls) and a new musical direction, away from pop and R&B and towards rock and funk, as indicated by the title of their fourth album Rock The World. The album restored the quality demonstrated on the first two albums but the new image was not well received. Singles three and four from the album, There’s A Brand New World and Let Me Be Yours (both written by Deniece Pearson), made #61 and #51 respectively. In the spring of 1989, standalone single With Every Heartbeat was released and it too failed to make the Top 40. Buster Pearson blamed RCA for the poor chart placings and the ensuing dispute led to Tent ending up without a distributor. The last release under Tent’s contract with RCA, a Five Star greatest hits collection, barely charted. Meanwhile, their lavish lifestyle of the past few years caught up with them and they were forced to move from Stone Court to a more affordable home in Hertfordshire.

☛ What happened next
Buster Pearson arranged a new distribution deal with Epic for Tent in 1990, but the first album Five Star (entirely written by the group) was only released in America. Its two singles were only minor hits in the UK and so a British release was shelved, as were plans for a third single. The family relocated to the US but 1991’s album Shine flopped both there and here, Epic pulled out of distribution, and the Pearsons were in serious financial trouble. Buster Pearson bankrupted all five of his children to save Tent and the Five Star brand. At this stage, the family would have been well advised to wind Five Star up and concentrate on launching Denise (as she now spelled her name) as a solo artist; the group’s sixth album Heart And Soul would have made a credible solo debut for her. But as a Five Star album it failed to chart, and despite its two singles almost making the Top 75 the group began to break up. Buster Pearson cobbled together a ‘new’ album Eclipse in 2001, comprising remixed cuts from Heart and Soul and some new tracks, but Doris and Delroy had retired from performing by this stage and it was left to the remaining three to promote it and its attendant single. Fans would be disappointed when later live shows, promoted as featuring the original line-up, used stand-ins instead. Occasional partial reunions for live work have taken place over the past ten years, along with reissues of Five Star’s back catalogue. Buster Pearson died in 2012, and in the same year Denise signed with management company Baronet and finally began her solo career. Her album Imprint was released last year.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Nov. 23
1984
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) Where The Rose Is Sown (Mercury MER185)
BRONSKI BEAT It Ain’t Necessarily So (Forbidden Fruit BITE3)
TEARS FOR FEARS Shout (Mercury IDEA8)
1987
FIVE STAR Somewhere Somebody (Tent PB41661)
The POGUES featuring Kirsty MacCOLL Fairytale Of New York (Pogue Mahone NY7)
WET WET WET Angel Eyes (Precious Organization JEWEL6)
Kim WILDE Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree (10 Records TEN2)

Released today in 1987: Strong As Steel

Tent PB41565

Tent PB41565

Now recognized as one of the most successful songwriters of her generation (she was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2001), Diane Warren’s long list of hits began in the 1980s with songs such as this one by Five Star, which appeared on their third album in 1987. Her early credits were mostly associated with American singer Laura Branigan, for whom she contributed English lyrics for covers of songs originally composed in other languages. One of these, an English-language version of the song Solitaire (first written and performed by French chanteuse Martine Clemenceau in 1981) would be the lead single from the album Branigan 2 in 1983. Branigan had better luck with it in America than she did in the UK, as she would do with her 1984 follow-up album Self Control, which also included a couple of Warren originals and more covers she had penned new words to. However, Warren’s breakthrough in the UK came in the following year via another act, when her song Rhythm Of The Night was a Top 10 here (as it was in the States) for DeBarge.

Her first truly international success came in 1987, when the rock anthem she wrote for Starship, Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now, from the soundtrack of the film ‘Mannequin’, went to #1 both in the UK and the US and was a hit in a number of other countries. The song won her the first of her (to date) seven Academy Award nominations, and is one of over five dozen of her songs to be featured on movie soundtracks. (Strong As Steel itself would appear on the soundtrack for the ‘Ghost Dad’ movie in 1990, when it was covered by Gladys Knight.) Her biggest successes at that time were for similar acts: her Who Will You Run To was a Top 10 hit for Heart in America (it made #30 here), and ex Go-Gos singer Belinda Carlisle recorded I Get Weak and World Without You for her Heaven On Earth album. But British pop stars such as Five Star recording Warren songs was to give an indication of the versatility of her writing: it wasn’t just American rock stars she could pen a tune for.

The diversity of artists she could cater for was highlighted in 1988. Carlisle would issue both the previously mentioned songs as singles during the year, I Get Weak adding another Top 10 hit to Warren’s tally. Seventies rockers Chicago’s album Chicago 19 would also yield two major American hit singles composed by her, I Don’t Wanna Live Without Your Love and the chart-topper Look Away, but neither was a hit here. Surprisingly, in the UK, it was a reggae group who would provide her with her next #1, when Aswad covered Don’t Turn Away. Soul legend Aretha Franklin was the next to take one of her songs into the British charts, when she teamed up with Whitney Houston to record It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be. The following year, Aretha recorded Warren’s Through The Storm (co-written with British singer-songwriter Albert Hammond, with whom she had collaborated on some of the other titles in this article) as a duet with Elton John. Aretha and Elton weren’t the only veteran stars to have hits courtesy of her in 1989: Cher’s “comeback” was confirmed with Warren’s If I Could Turn Back Time, and Warren teamed up with Michael Bolton to write the Barbra Streisand single We’re Not Making Love Anymore. Bolton himself had also started his solo recording career, and would team up with Warren several more times on his own records, although his greatest successes would come in the following decade. There were also hits with other new faces, such as Milli Vanilli – Blame It On The Rain was also one of hers. Her work has now provided dozens of artists with hits over the past 25 years.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 28
1984
Mari WILSON Let’s Make This Last (The Compact Organization PINK9)
1987
The ALARM Rain In The Summertime (IRS IRM144)
BANANARAMA Love In The First Degree (London NANA14)
DEAD OR ALIVE (Pete Burns) I’ll Save You All My Kisses (Epic BURNS3)
Bryan FERRY The Right Stuff (Virgin VS940)
FIVE STAR Strong As Steel (Tent PB41565)
IMAGINATION (Leee John) I Know What Love Is (RCA PB41563)
Owen PAUL Mad About The Girl (NBR OWP1)
David SYLVIAN Let The Happiness In (Virgin VS1001)
UB40 Maybe Tomorrow (DEP International DEP27)

Released today in 1986: Rain Or Shine

Tent PB40901

Tent PB40901

The FIVE STAR Story Part 3

In the issue of 23 April – 6 May 1986, Smash Hits asked the members of Five Star, “what would your dream house be like?” They responded: “It would have two staircases, be really big and lovely and all white… it would be a six-bedroom house, a nice big kitchen, nice big double-sized bedrooms, two bathrooms, a couple of reception rooms and two or three acres of land. It’d be decorated like our home at the moment. In the garden I’d like a lake with some nice big fishes in…very, very big, white, a bathroom in each bedroom – it’s more convenient and hygienic – a great big garden, a swimming pool, lots of flowers…a nice big house with four pillars at the front. It would be white and cream on the outside and inside there’d be a bathroom for each room and also a main bathroom…it would be in the countryside near a lake. Inside there’s be carpets and a really relaxing sofa, not like the ones we have at home…”. They were still living in their home in Romford at the time. Very soon, they would be moving to a new one in Sunningdale, Berkshire.

“When we became well-known, we bought Stone Court, a mansion with dogs and security gates,” Deniece said1. “Fans camped outside. We weren’t allowed out, so we’d throw open the gates and romp in the street at 2am when no one was around.” How close was it to the members’ dream homes? It exceeded most of their wishes. The late Victorian property had a master bedroom for their parents and seven others bedrooms; three bathrooms and a steam room with his and her shower rooms; a huge kitchen and a dining hall; drawing, breakfast, summer and garden rooms; and in the grounds landscaped gardens, a large car park, and a detached cottage with a built-in recording studio, dance studio, and office space for Tent Records and the Five Star fan club.

Of course, the property was chosen by their father Buster, who still dominated their lives, as indicated by Deniece’s comment about not being able to come and go as they pleased. There was more evidence of his influence when Smash Hits asked another of its typically impertinent questions, “How much money do you get?” The members answered in similar ways. Lorraine: “Well, it’s gone up a bit since we started the group. We get the money for TV appearances and we split it and put half of it in our book. We spend about £400 on clothes every three or four weeks.” Delroy: “When I need money for clothes or little things, Dad will lend me. I always have money of my own though and I’m good at saving it. When I was younger we used to get a pound a week.” Doris: “I don’t really ask for money or get money – if I need something my dad will get it for me.” Stedman: “It’s not a set amount. Whenever I need anything I usually got to my parents and say I need such-and-such. We have our own savings accounts for future reference.” Only Deniece gave a more flippant response: “Ooooh…about a thousand pounds a day, which isn’t much is it?” But when asked if her friends would be jealous, she gave this startling answer: “No. I don’t really have any friends.”

They could afford to move as things were going very well for them. Luxury Of Life was a hit, remaining on the charts for well over a year, and seven of its ten tracks were released as singles. The last of these, System Addict, appeared at the end of 1985 and went Top 10, their first record to do, which got 1986 off to a good start. Thereafter, the hits didn’t stop coming. Their next two singles Can’t Wait Another Minute and Find The Time also made the Top 10, and their second album Silk And Steel, from which they were taken, was released in August and topped the chart the following month. A week after that, their next single Rain Or Shine, became the biggest hit of their career when it reached #2, holding the slot for two weeks. At the same time, they were enjoying their biggest hit in America: Can’t Wait Another Minute was on its way to #41 in the Billboard Hot 100. It would probably have done even better if the group had been able to travel to the US to promote it, but they had just embarked on their first UK tour, which kicked off on 14 September. All 33 dates were sold out.

1 Simpson, Dave. ”Let’s go round again”, The Guardian, Guardian Media Group, 26 June 2008.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 1
1980
Bob MARLEY and The WAILERS Three Little Birds (Island WIP6641)
1986
BANGLES Walk Like An Egyptian (CBS 6500717)
FIVE STAR Rain Or Shine (Tent PB40901)
MEL AND KIM Showing Out (Supreme SUPE107)
Owen PAUL Pleased To Meet You [Re-issue] (Epic 6500977)
Pete WYLIE Diamond Girl (Siren MDM12)
1987
BREATHE All That Jazz (Siren SIREN60)
DOCTOR AND THE MEDICS (Clive Jackson) More (IRS IRM139)

Released today in 1985: Let Me Be The One

Tent  PB40193

Tent PB40193

The FIVE STAR Story Part 2

It was with the release of Let Me Be The One, their fifth single, that the whole Five Star package really came together. Even from their earliest television appearances there was a slickness rare for an act that was yet to establish itself, but by the summer of 1985 no one could say that they were learning their craft on their audience’s time or on RCA’s money: they were already professionals.

The distinctive ‘5 Star’ logo made its first appearance on the single’s sleeve, and it would appear on all subsequent releases from the group in the 1980s. It was part of an almost corporate branding of the group, and was used liberally and prominently on all promotional collateral (adverts, record sleeves, posters, etc) from here on. It was even stitched on to the costumes the members wore in most of the PAs they made during July ’85 in support of the single. As was now expected of Five Star, there was again a carefully choreographed dance to accompany the song’s performance.

The back catalogue of Buster Pearson’s record labels was no longer being plundered for B-sides. All the members of the group took turns to write the flip sides of their singles. Delroy co-wrote Let Me Be The One’s flip, Beat 47, with his father and the song was credited to Five Star. (First Avenue, the B-side to the previous single, was a new track co-written by Buster and Deniece, who was emerging as lead singer for the group, but this instrumental was once again credited to ‘Five Star Orchestra’; from Let Me Be The One onwards, vocal and instrumental tracks alike would be credited to Five Star.) Doris, Lorraine and Stedman would receive writer credits for the B-sides of next three singles.

Lorraine’s B-side, Say Goodbye, also appeared on the group’s debut album, Luxury Of Life, which was recorded gradually during a period of over a year with various producers. The photo shoot for the album cover took place in the distinctive dining room of the Criterion restaurant in London, the website for which refers to the venue’s “timeless opulence”. It was a fitting location, given the album’s title and quality of the songs, the production, and the performances on it. After a few false starts, they were now having hits too: both Let Me Be The One and the single before it made the Top 20.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 8
1983
ALTERED IMAGES Love To Stay (Epic EPCA3582)
The CREATURES (Siouxsie Sioux) Right Now (Wonderland SHE2)
ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN (Ian McCulloch) Never Stop (Korova KOW28)
THOMPSON TWINS Watching (Arista TWINS1)
TRACIE (Tracie Young) Give It Some Emotion (Respond KOB704)
1985
FIVE STAR Let Me Be The One (Tent PB40193)
ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK Secret (Virgin VS796)

Released today in 1984: Hide And Seek

Tent RCA399

Tent RCA399

The FIVE STAR Story Part 1

Born in Jamaica, Buster Pearson arrived in the UK in the 1960s (some sources suggest the late 60s, although the first of his children was born in London in 1964) and set about making a living in the music industry. Following the birth of the last of his five children in 1970, his first recordings under his own name started to appear, after which he founded his own label, K&B Records, which specialized in reggae. He released more material under his own name in addition to writing and producing for other artists under the K&B name and that of its short-lived subsidiaries. Pearson also had interests in funk, soul and jazz so his musical output was not just limited to reggae; the influence of other genres could also be heard on his 70s recordings.

By the 1980s, the Pearson family was living in Romford, Essex, and Pearson himself had launched a new label now specializing in R&B called Tent. He had written a track called Problematic for an artist he intended to sign to that label, but his three daughters persuaded him to let them to record it instead. Pearson agreed but only allowed its release if his daughters’ brothers could be involved too. Accordingly, Five Star, comprising all five of Pearson’s children, was formed and Problematic was released in the autumn of 1983: the fourth single from Tent.

It sold few copies, but Problematic did gain Five Star some media attention; as they were a black, five-piece family act who sang and danced they were immediately compared to The Jackson 5 (“Romford’s answer to…”). Most significant of course was the interest from major record companies who wanted to sign them. Pearson said this wasn’t possible; Five Star was already contracted to Tent. However, a manufacturing and distribution deal with a major for Tent itself, together with its artist roster, was available. RCA took this deal and for the rest of the decade, all Five Star’s records would be issued as a joint RCA-Tent venture, the records prominently featuring the Tent logo but the catalogue numbers being RCA ones. (For several years Five Star was indeed the only act on Tent, with no other artists releasing material on the label until 1988; the first three Tent singles were by an “Al Marshall”, who issued nothing further.)

The first release under this agreement was the second Five Star single, Hide And Seek. Both this, and their other single of 1984, Crazy, flopped, despite the quality of the recordings. (Both would subsequently be included on their debut album, whereas the weaker Problematic would rarely be spoken of again and certainly not performed.) In retrospect, this lack of an immediate hit was invaluable: when Five Star did break through with a Top 40 hit in the spring of 1985 (with All Fall Down), it seemed that they had appeared from nowhere already highly polished and professional, the heart of their stage act being their carefully synchronized dance routines and their matching outfits.

Probably most importantly, the slow build to their ‘overnight success’ allowed them to build a song repertoire: the first few singles did not feature Five Star on the B-sides as there weren’t sufficient available recordings by them to accommodate this. Instead, material from the Tent and K&B archives was used to pad the releases out. Problematic’s B-side, although credited to Five Star, was Big Funk, a track of their father’s that he had released in 1973 as Buster Pearson band. Similarly, I’m Gonna Make This A Night You Will Never Forget, on the B-side of Hide And Seek, was the backing track from the single of the same name that Al Marshall had released on Tent in 1983. The next two Five Star B-sides were credited to ‘Five Star Orchestra’, acknowledging that, as they were instrumentals, the group themselves were not performing on them: Crazy’s B-side was I Like The Way You Dance (another Al Marshall backing track; his version, (I Like The Way You) Dance With Me) was the first release from Tent in 1982) ; All Fall Down’s senza voce flip was First Avenue, the first recording to be released with a writer credit for a member of Five Star.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 27
1981
DURAN DURAN Careless Memories (EMI EMI5168)
Kim WILDE Chequered Love (RAK RAK330)
1984
BOOMTOWN RATS (Bob Geldof) Drag Me Down (Mercury MER163)
FIVE STAR Hide And Seek (Tent RCA399)
Mari WILSON Ain’t That Peculiar? (The Compact Organization PINK8)
1987
Bobby BROWN Girlfriend (MCA MCA1114)
Debbie HARRY In Love With Love (Chrysalis CHS3128)
DEPECHE MODE Strangelove (Mute 7BONG13)
HOLLYWOOD BEYOND (Mark Rogers) Save Me (WEA YZ112)
UB40 Watchdogs (DEP International DEP26)