In the summer of 1986, Timex Social Club ruled radio with "Rumors".
Looking at Billboard's Hot R&B chart for July 19, 1986, brings back a flood of memories for me.
I remember dancing to Gwen Guthrie's "Ain't Nothin' Goin' On but the Rent", Jermaine Jackson's "Do You Remember Me?" and Klymaxx's "Man Size Love" (one of my all-time favorites). It was the summer Janet first got "Nasty", El DeBarge asked who Johnny was, and Anita Baker praised the rapture of "Sweet Love". Some of the best broken-hearted love songs ever recorded are ranked, from Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald's "On My Own" and Atlantic Starr's "If Your Heart Isn't In It" to the epic "All Cried Out" by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force.
And the number one song on the chart for the first of two weeks was "Rumors" by Timex Social Club. Sung by the impossibly cute Mike Marshall, "Rumors" had an irresistible dance beat and a rawness to its funk that made it sound different from anything else out there. The song, written by Marcus Thompson, Alex Hill, and Marshall, became a mainstream hit too, spending five months on Billboard's Hot 100 and peaking at #8.
Granted, the lyrics seem somewhat hypocritical. The singer complains about rumors while spreading them at the same time. The song specifically name-checks Tina Jackson, a student that went to Berkley High School with Thompson ("some say she's much too loose"), Michael Jackson ("some say he must be gay"), and Susan Moonsie from Vanity 6 ("some say she's just a tease"). Then again, it makes sense to provide examples to back up your argument.
Timex Social Club would have two more hits on the R&B chart, "Thinkin' About Ya" and "Mixed Up World", both of which peaked at #15, but they would never again appear on the Hot 100, making them a one-hit-wonder. Still, "Rumors" holds up surprisingly well more than 20 years later, and Timex Social Club still performs regularly.
But that's not the end of the story.
Marcus Thompson had been working on "Rumors" (along with Marshall and Hill) for three years when Jay King agreed to produce the song. Although excited to see his baby finally being recorded, Thompson did not like King's suggestions to "beef up the song", feeling that after all the work he and his friends had put in, the arrangement was about as perfect as it was going to get. To complicate matters, King never signed Timex Social Club to a contract, so the group ended up signing with Danya when it became clear a "letter of intent" was all they were going to get from King.
Needless to say, Jay King was not pleased. In retaliation, he created Jet Set, a virtual clone of Timex Social Club. The lead female vocalist of Jet Set, Valerie Watson, had been working with TSC for a while, even recording a duet with Mike Marshall that was never released. And Jet Set sounded so similar to TSC that even now there's a lot of confusion among fans regarding the relationship between the two groups.
Jay King ended up changing Jet Set's name to Club Nouveau as a dig against Timex Social Club, explaining on the Life, Love & Pain album that Club Nouveau was "FORMERLY of a different club. NOW a better club. THE NEW CLUB." The first single, "Jealousy", was written as an answer song to "Rumors", but sounds almost exactly like the original. Even the artwork for the album is a direct rip-off of the artwork for the "Rumors" single:
It's difficult (and rather pointless) to affix blame after so many years, but I will say this. I bought the cassette of Life, Love & Pain back in 1987, after hearing "Why You Treat Me So Bad", and I remember wondering why "Rumors" wasn't one of the tracks. Looking at the cassette now, it strikes me as sad and somewhat pathetic that Samuelle Prater and Valerie Watson, the lead singers for Club Nouveau, are not mentioned once on the packaging or on the tape itself. Jay King, however (along with his fellow producers Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster), is mentioned three times.
I'd question the morals of someone who allows ego to trump common decency, but I wouldn't want to be accused of spreading rumors myself. I'll just listen to the music and remember a summer when music could make you dance or break your heart (or both, if you weren't careful).