'Don't Ask My Neighbors' About The Emotions

Five albums from 1976-1981 on a three-CD box set reveal the underappreciated talents of the Emotions, three Chicago sisters with a sophisticated R&B/disco sound. The group is well overdue for newfound appreciation as their sound has influenced contemporary pop more than one realizes.

Don't Ask My Neighbors: The Columbia / Arc Recordings 1976-1981
The Emotions

Soulmusic Records

30 August 2019

The Emotions are three sisters from Chicago who began in the gospel world as the Heavenly Sunbeams before going secular and eventually signing with Volt (a Stax subsidiary known for soul) and then crossing over to pop as part of the Columbia record label. The new collection Don't Ask My Neighbors captures the five albums they made for Columbia between 1976-1981 on three CDs, along with some bonus tracks such as non-album B-sides of 45s and 12" dance singles. The package also contains informative liner notes about the recordings by David Nathan.

Earth, Wind & Fire's founder and leader Maurice White co-produced the Emotions' debut Columbia CD, Flowers (1976), which was certified Gold and featured the successful title track and the hit single "I Don't Want to Lose Your Love". Not surprisingly, the instrumentation on the album closely resembles that of Earth, Wind & Fire but with the addition of slick harmonies of the sisters. The music had a deep groove appreciated by dance fans at the time and appealed to black audiences because of its sophistication. The singing of the Emotions gave them a distinct identity as compared with other genre acts from the period, but they were still experimenting with their sound. The last song on Flowers is a 36-second acapella recitation of "God Will Take Care of You" that seems out of place amidst celebrations of more physical love.

It wasn't until their second Columbia release that the band really crossed over. The White-produced Rejoice (1977) went Platinum and reached the top ten on Billboard magazine's pop charts. The single "Best of My Love" went to number one and won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocals. The Emotions helped launch the disco tidal wave, but these were strange times. Politically, the mid-1970s were a period when one American president resigned only to be replaced by someone who was never elected to the Vice Presidency who lost re-election to a man who had never held a national office.

The music of the period reflected this confusion. The rock audience enlarged as acts such as Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles broke sales records. But the audience for music fragmented as punks, singer-songwriters, country rockers, and dance artists would have huge hits and large numbers of supportive audiences but be unknown by the general public. The Emotions were one of those bands. Despite having a number one record, they were linked to disco and known mostly by its fans.

Disco rose like a comet and crashed in 1977-78, thanks in part to the Bee Gees and the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. The Emotions' 1978 album Sunbeam went Gold, but it did not yield any hit singles. The change in zeitgeist from the Me Decade to more Urban Cowboy sensibility made the modern contemporary sound the sisters seem dated. Their first three records seem of a piece. Times may have changed, but they hadn't except to become more polished.

That was true for their 1979 release, Come Into Out World, which was again produced by White. Sales had declined, and neither the album nor any of its tracks reached the top ten. The Emotions did have a hit single with Earth, Wind & Fire on the song "Boogie Wonderland" that went Gold and was nominated for two Grammy Awards, but this title did not appear on the Emotions' album. (It is included here.) Their next album New Affair (1981) did even worse sales-wise.

On their last two Columbia albums, the Emotions sound tight to today's ears because the music is not considerably different than on the first three. That's a blessing and a curse. For audiences back then the similarities suggested times past. Now one can easily appreciate the professionalism. The Emotions' style evoked refinement and classiness, as well as an elegant sultriness. That was welcome after the earthiness of 1960s and early 1970s soul. The finesse with which the three sisters sang, the intricacies of their arrangements, bespoke taste and subtlety.

This collection suggests a reconsideration of the Emotions is due. One can hear echoes of them in current performers such as Robyn and Charli XCX. Their records have been sampled by artists such as Kanye West, Tupac Shakur, and Mariah Carey. The five releases on this collection contain the band's best work. It deserves fresh ears.





In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.