entertainment

Sister Sledge 'Thinking of You' box set review: 'A mixed bag'

But ‘We Are Family’ remains "a timeless message of unity", writes Simon Button.

2020-05-12

If Sister Sledge had recorded ‘We Are Family’ and nothing else they’d still be worthy of iconic status. Gender-specific in its ‘I’ve got all my sisters with me’ refrain, the disco anthem nonetheless has a timeless all-genders-embracing message of unity and solidarity.

Plus it’s also been a singalong staple at LGBTQ venues since it came out in 1979 and will be again, probably more so than ever, when those venues eventually reopen after lockdown.

One of the finest songs crafted by Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards for other artists (alongside the likes of ‘Spacer’ and ‘Upside Down’), the instant classic leant its name to Sister Sledge’s breakthrough album - which also included such equally brilliant calls to the dance floor as ‘He’s the Greatest Dancer’, ‘Lost in Music’ and ‘Thinking of You’.

Said album is the highlight of the somewhat clumsily titled Thinking Of You - The Atco/Cotillion/Atlantic Recordings (1973-1985) boxset that collates all but two of the lesser, later albums recorded by singing sisters Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy.

It’s also really clumsily assembled. Eight albums are split across five CDs (with a sixth CD devoted to remixes) so they don’t get their own sleeves and you have to change discs halfway through each one. And there’s an informative booklet with essays for every long-player but, once the shrink-wrap is off, it’s too bulky for the box that the discs come in.

Thank goodness, then, for the music itself. The first couple of albums are a bit bland, although they prove what great voices the girls had from the start, but ‘We Are Family’ remains a career-jolting masterpiece and the follow-up ‘Love Somebody Today’ (also with Chic at the helm) is magnificent, even though it failed to match the success of its predecessor.

For ‘All American Girls’, with its jaunty title track, the Sledges turned to producer Narada Michael Walden for a more R&B sound, a variety of producers for ‘The Sisters’ and George Duke for ‘Bet Cha Say That To All The Girls’ - in the process amassing only one sizeable Stateside hit with a cover of ‘My Guy’ and nothing to trouble the Top 40 over here, even though they’re all full of strong pop songs.

It would take Rodgers’ return to the mixing desk on ‘When the Boys Meet the Girls’ to return the ladies to chart glory, with the tuneful album delivering UK number one ‘Frankie’. They haven’t had a hit since but at least they went out on a bright, breezy high.

Rating: 3/5

Thinking Of You - The Atco/Cotillion/Atlantic Recordings (1973-1985) is out now on Soulmusic Records