Pointer Sisters – Back In My Arms
One of the joys of writing these pieces is suddenly remembering a song I haven’t heard in a few years and then listening to it twelve times in a row while I think of things to say about it. It’s especially brilliant because nearly all of these tunes are ones that tend to get overlooked when record company types are selecting the tracks for a Greatest Hits (unless they are really stretching the concept). That’s exactly what happened with Back In My Arms by the Pointer Sisters – I heard a car door slam shut and it reminded me of a thunderclappy moment in this song, and voila! Here we are.
The Pointer Sisters are one of the all time great vocal groups – largely remembered here for a brace of three big hits (Automatic, Jump (For My Love) and I’m So Excited), they’ve been a going concern since 1971 (check out the brilliant Don’t Try to Take the Fifth for proof) and have embraced a huge array of styles stretching from country (Fairytale) all the way to new jack swing (Friends Advice (Don’t Take It)). Their defining sound, however, was power pop:
Back In My Arms nails it right from the get go with one of the most exciting intros in all of pop – a beat, a bass-line and that faintly sinister guitar merging into a massive wall of synthesisers – it’s the musical equivalent of hopping into a nifty sports car, turning the key in the ignition and speeding off into the Hollywood night looking for trouble. This is a sound that Ruth, Anita and June absolutely owned in the mid 1980s – a Pointer Sisters record from this period is instantly recognisable; there’s simply no-one else it could be (props to producer Richard Perry for an amazing job).
The detail in this record is just incredible – there’s so much going on it’s easy to miss some of the exquisite details in there, for instance the menacing string line that heralds the second chorus at 2:08, accompanied by a big old explosion – somehow it changes the intent of the lyrics “Boy, come back here/I’m the voice that you’re hearing/Just come back/I want you back in my arms” from plea to command.
The whole song is positively awash with gorgeous synth-strings, but of course the thing that absolutely makes it is the just incredible vocal performances on display. There is no girl group that can touch the Pointer Sisters in terms of vocals, though I think there’s one that might come close, as we’ll see later. With Ruth on growly lead duties and June and Anita harmonising like the end of the world is just around the corner, this is perhaps the ultimate example of a group at the peak of their powers firing on all cylinders. For my money, they would never better it – and yet somehow, Back In My Arms failed to chart anywhere (I’m not even sure it was released in its home country). Dare Me, the first single from its parent album Contact, proved to be the record that ended an imperial phase which had begun with Automatic just two years earlier. As the fourth and final release from the LP, Back In My Arms was a victim of changing tastes and record company apathy.
Nevertheless, if there’s such a thing as a school for girl groups, here are your headmistresses.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Goosebump alert: MUTYA KEISHA SIOBHAN.