P is for Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters’ second album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, was just as eclectic as their first.

RB1001_POINTER_SISTERSThe Pointer Sisters had a bunch of big hit singles in the 1980s [LISTEN to snippets], but it is their early work I want to concentrate on. The group was a quartet at the time – Ruth, Anita, Bonnie, and June – raised in Oakland, California by their minister-parents, who were NOT encouraging them to sing secular music.

They must have nevertheless listened to a varied mix of musical genres because that’s what showed up in their early recordings. Their eponymous first album yielded a #11 pop single, Yes, We Can Can [LISTEN to the album version].

Their second studio album, 1974’s That’s a Plenty, was just as eclectic. Here is the iTunes preview.

1. Bangin’ on the Pipes/Steam Heat (Medley). The seemingly autobiographical first part segues into the song from the 1954 musical Pajama Game. Though it only went to #108 on the pop charts, it became an early signature song with the group performing it on The Carol Burnett Show broadcast of September 28, 1974. LISTEN to a live version of Steam Heat.

2. Salt Peanuts [LISTEN]. This Dizzy Gillespie’s bop classic allows the sisters to sound like horns, sing scat, and bend harmonies. I remember them performing this on Carol Burnett for laughs, with the hostess unable to keep up with the frenetic pace.
(They were on the Burnett show frequently in that period; here’s the lengthy skit Cinderella gets it on from November 29, 1975.)

3. Grinning in Your Face [LISTEN]. Bonnie Raitt played slide guitar on this Son House blues number.

4. Shaky Flat Blues. Written by June, Anita and Bonnie, it suggests a much earlier time.

5. That’s a Plenty/Surfeit, U.S.A. (Medley). A Dixieland feel.

6. Little Pony [LISTEN]. Music by Neal Hefti, and previously performed by Count Basie, with exuberant lyrics by Jon Hendricks and Dave Lambert.

7. Fairytale [LISTEN]. Written by Anita and Bonnie, it made it to #13 on the pop charts and the Top 40 on the country charts. It won them their first Grammy, for Best Country & Western Performance by a Group, AND the sisters became the first black vocal group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. The song was covered by Elvis Presley.

8. Black Coffee [LISTEN]. Bonnie sans her sisters on the torch song immortalized by Peggy Lee, and later sung by k.d. lang.

9. “Love in Them There Hills”. This early sound of Philly song written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, with Roland Chambers, is an OK three-minute B-side [LISTEN]. But here, it’s over eight minutes [LISTEN!] with a hypnotic middle section that is “a cosmic, free-flowing funk jam” that predated those 12-inch dance records. I used to turn off all the lights in my apartment to listen to it.

Eventually, Bonnie left to be a solo act with Motown, and the other three had some of their biggest hits. The Pointer Sisters still perform. While June died in 2006 of cancer, both Issa Pointer, Ruth’s daughter with Dennis Edwards of the Temptations; and Sadako Johnson, Ruth’s granddaughter, have been part of the group, on and off.


ABC Wednesday – Round 14

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

15 thoughts on “P is for Pointer Sisters”

  1. This must give these sisters a lot of satisfaction to sing together. It’s wonderful that a whole family is making music together.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  2. I don’t remember the name of the albums I heard but in the 1970s a friend played an album by them for me and that’s when I first loved their music.

  3. Great links. Listened to a couple of them.
    You put in lot of efforts collecting the links, as usual a great post.

  4. Great post. I’ve never heard much of the Pointer Sisters outside of the 80s (they were on the radio a LOT when I was a kid). I loved “Grinning in Your Face,” especially.

    For a while when I was a kid, I had such a crush on June Pointer. That was a formative crush. I was so sorry when she died.

  5. It’s nice that sisters are able to sing together and become famous, however not so famous that they reached my ear, lol !

  6. I remember the visual look of the Pointer Sisters but don’t recall any of these early albums they certainly were grounded in the classics. I love groups that keep going like this. I wonder if they still sing the ones I remember like Automatic.

  7. I likes them too, I remember a very racy number called ‘Jump’ (I think), and we did jump to that song , very good they were too,

    Best wishes Di.x

  8. I recall a song by the Pointers with the lyrics, “Didja didja go downtown, didja take a look around.” And it ended with them scatting the most amazing boop-booping chorus. I can’t find it on google. Any idea Roger, or did I dream this song?

  9. Wow, nice post. I see it’s a year old, but I’m only just seeing it. You got some good early Pointers info/insights.
    re above comment: “Did You Go downtown” I don’t think the Pointers ever did record that … was an obscure group named Joy of Cooking.
    FYI: I made a fan page for The Pointer Sisters, assuming you don’t mind I will put a link to this page on it. Check it out:

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