I’d always been a fan of the Pointer Sisters, but I don’t think I really understood the breadth of their brilliance until I became a dad. Baby Riley Roxy took to Neutron Dance the first instance she heard it. She couldn’t get enough. She’d bop her shoulders, bounce her bum-shuffling legs, and giggle every time she heard those famous ascending and descending “whoo-hoo” chords. The song has never sounded the same since – it’s Riley’s song.
Once the identical thing happened with Jump, I’m So Excited and Automatic, I decided there were few things cooler than a little baby born in New Zealand in 2019 loving those legendary Californian sisters born in the middle of the 20th Century.
No matter how deep in the catalogue I went – Yes We Can Can, Going Down Slowly, Dare Me, How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side) etc., the Pointer Sisters were always Riley’s jam.
My wife, Aimee, knew how Riley’s love for the Pointer Sisters was patently mine and so this year ordered the Anita Pointer autobiography Fairytale: The Pointer Sisters Family Story for me for Christmas. The book didn’t arrive until January 2nd – the same day it was announced that Anita had died, aged 74.
That coincidence won’t be forgotten anytime soon, but of far greater significance is that nor will the music of the Pointer Sisters in this household nor in countless millions of others. Few acts have swung between funk, soul, R&B, pop, dance-pop, disco, rock and country with such proficiency. Not to mention those glorious harmonies. The Pointer Sisters were – and will always be – badass. Even when they dressed like eccentric 1940s housewives. Especially when they dressed like eccentric 1940s housewives.
With all of that in mind, here are mine – and Riley’s – top 10 most essential Pointer Sisters songs. With Anita gone, and Bonnie (2020) and June (2006) too, Ruth is now the sole original member.
10: Neutron Dance (1984)
Best remembered for being used in a car chase scene in Beverly Hills Cop, this frenetic Ruth-led track was the fourth and final top 10 hit from the sisters’ biggest album, 1983’s Break Out.
9: Yes We Can Can (1973)
A sparse, loose piece of socially-conscious funk as written by Allen Touissant that stormed its way up the US charts all the way to #11, becoming the sisters’ first top 20 hit. Lead vocals by Anita.
8: Dare Me (1985)
Alongside the stirring Back In Your Arms, this is stands as one of the last truly great Pointer Sisters songs, as well as their last big hit, peaking at US #11. June’s urgent, impassioned vocal – “this night’s gonna’ end up on fi-yah!” – giving reminder that there were three brilliant lead singers in the group.
7: Going Down Slowly (1975)
Like a gospel church and a sweaty nightclub in one, Going Down Slowly is heavy funk with heavenly harmonies. Ruth with a biting lead.
6: Jump (1984)
An 80s synth-pop classic that still leaps (or indeed, jumps) from the radio. Emblematic of the decade, but timeless too. Richard Perry’s skills as a producer were at their apex, just as the sisters were at their commercial and artistic peak as well. And another case of June’s ability to sell a song, even one with a message as simple as Jump’s. Plus that late key change is a killer.
5: Fairytale (1974)
A history-making, Grammy-winning country song that hit the US top 20, became a live staple for Elvis Presley and made the sisters the first black female act to perform at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Lead vocals from Anita and co-written by Anita alongside sister Bonnie (who would depart from the group in 1977).
4: I Need You (1983)
The first single from Break Out just missed the US top 40 and peaked at a modest UK #25, giving little indication of the chart domination to follow. A shame because the Lionel Richie-esque I Need You deserves to be recognised as among the sisters’ finest ever ballads. Melancholy lyrics, subdued, exquisite leads from all three sisters, and the one breather from the uptempo chart smashes that otherwise comprised all of side one on Break Out.
3: How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side) (1975)
An R&B #1, a US pop top 20 and the Pointer Sisters’ musical answer to the Temptations’ Papa Was A Rolling Stone. What could be just an extended – albeit excellent – funk drill heats up to epic status with swirling strings and the sisters’ trademark harmonies. Anita on leads, whispers ‘n’ all.
2: Automatic (1983)
Ruth’s iconic, robotic-deep contralto owns this song, but only by a whisker over the euphoric release of the sisters in harmony on the chorus, “No way to control it, it’s totally automatic”. And then there’s that syncopated, drum machine intro (as best heard on the 6-minute version) that stands in the holy trinity of early 80s R&B intros alongside Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do). A Grammy winner, a US #5 and the sisters’ biggest ever song in the UK, reaching #2 (behind Duran Duran’s The Reflex).
1: I’m So Excited (1982, 1984, 2002)
There are some songs I can’t believe weren’t number one hits and I’m So Excited is right near the top of that list (alongside Tina Turner’s The Best – how was that only a US #15?). The Pointer Sisters’ signature tune mystifyingly only peaked at US #30 on initial release in 1982 before a subtly remixed version in 1984 went to #9. Much better, but c’mon!
Ultimately it doesn’t matter because you’d be hard pressed to find a soul on Planet Earth who hasn’t heard I’m So Excited. Co-written by all three sisters (with co-producer Trevor Lawrence), the pace, the excitement, never lets up. It’s that kind of suggestive, female-empowerment lyric that the sisters could nail where it’s somehow adult but still a song you’d chuck on at a children’s party. Anita with her greatest ever lead, something rammed home in this incredible, note-perfect live performance with a full orchestra from the 2002 Night Of The Proms in Rotterdam.