PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Pointer Sisters: Greatest Hits (Expanded Edition)

Despite its title, this Greatest Hits comp deftly mixes radio smashes with lesser-known album cuts to paint a picture of a group burgeoning on pop stardom, but stops just a breath before they got there.

Pointer Sisters

Greatest Hits (Expanded Edition)

Label: Big Break
US Release Date: 2016-05-06
UK Release Date: 2016-04-29

Depending on how you look at it, the Pointer Sisters' 1982 compilation Pointer Sisters' Greatest Hits was either a case of perfect timing or, perhaps, the exact opposite.

For principal sisters Anita, Ruth, and June, 1983 was a big year for the legendary girl group. After releasing a litany of gold albums across the world, they finally broke out into the mainstream with their inarguable pop masterpiece (and expertly named) Break Out, which capitalized on 1981's Grammy-nominated "Slow Hand" and the following year's So Excited to fully push the girls into radio stations across the world with a sleek, accessible sound that resulted in their only standalone multiplatinum album to date, but also capturing the R&B/pop zeitgeist in a remarkable way that resulted in them winning two Grammy Awards the following year (and some American Music Awards if you're really into that).

What was so special about it? After achieving idiosyncratic hits on both the R&B charts and even the country register (remember "Fairytale"?), the departure of founding sibling Bonnie in 1977 freed the girls up to try their own opportunities, eventually finding the sympathetic embrace of the founder of a brand new record label: uber-producer Richard Perry. While the ambitiously named Planet Records only had a four year run before being sold to RCA in 1982 (and was then dissolved three years after that), the Pointers had in them a kindred aural spirit with a hell of a knack of production, and in short time, the girls became the label's flagship act, achieving a great deal of success in a very small timeframe, shipping out a new single to radio nearly every four months like clockwork. Not all of them charted, but the more the Pointers worked with Perry, the more they were able to hone in on a sound that delivered them to a larger audience without compromising who they were as artists.

As such, Big Break Records (whom, full disclosure, this very writer has worked for before) went all out with Pointer Sisters' Greatest Hits, expanding this overview of the sisters' Planet-era to include a litany of B-sides as well as the remix to "I'm So Excited" that was released in 1984 to help continue the Pointers' hot streak following the explosive success of Break Out. Yet what made Break Out stand out wasn't so much the fact that it was drastically different from the Perry-produced albums that came before it, so much as this one was remarkably bereft of filler, particularly on its A-side, where back-by-back tracks like "Neutron Dance", "I'm So Excited", "Jump (For My Love)", and "Automatic" made it play like an instant "Best Of" compilation. While the Planet albums that came before were no doubt enjoyable, they, unfortunately, succumbed to bouts of filler, which is what Pointer Sisters' Greatest Hits looked to immediately correct.

Sure, the hits are here -- from their pair of #2-peaking pop smashes (1978's "Fire" and 1981's "Slow Hand") to all-but-forgotten fluff like "American Music" -- but what is really striking are the rare times that Hits ventures outside the norm, eschewing barely-remembered sides like "Where Did the Time Go" and "Sweet Lover Man" in favor of album cuts like the pleasing pure pop of "Heart Beat" (from 1982's So Excited) and the gloriously-dated MOR synth workout that is "Save This Night for Love" (from 1980's Special Things). Although billed as a "greatest hits" compilation, what we end up getting is a painting of a trio who tried, hard as they could, to make sure each and every album was a lasting statement in its own right, all of this achieved through a deft blending of the actual radio hits and songs that sound very well like they should have been hits; a tricky balancing act if there ever was one.

Yet in pursuing sounds and structures that would ensure radio play, Perry ended up pushing the girls out into some realms that, for better or worse, would instantly date them. Some may find the tones of pure '80s squelchy keyboards (especially when mixed with sax solos) a fond memory of a time long ago, but on "American Music", that pairing of instruments dates the song and ages it like ill-fated Muzak, leaving something like the tacked-on remix of "I'm So Excited" as nothing short of a revelation in comparison, that piano-pounding effervescence sounding just as fresh today as it did when it came out all those decades ago.

So when the girls go shopping for styles outside of the rigid R&B/pop aesthetic that Perry specializes in so well, some real nuance and genuine excitement can be found. Case-in-point: the opening to 1979's "Happiness" comes alive with sultry vocals and jazzy piano licks before transforming into a bass-driven mid-tempo disco number, sounding comfortable for the era while also nodding to the girls' diverse range of influences. The 1981 album track "What a Surprise", meanwhile, takes on light funk affectations with grace, the sisters' strong-but-flippant vocals selling the song's meaning, which makes sense given that the track was co-written by June and Anita Pointer and therefore carries a bit more of a personal weight to it.

It's the inclusion of delightful detours like this that keep Greatest Hits afloat, doing its best to make a nearly 70-minute album sounds as colorful and diverse as possible, even as dated production techniques and subpar songs (lookin' right at you "The Love Too Good to Last") weave in and out and the constant mid-tempo nature of many of these songs threaten to blur less-distinctive tracks together, especially when absorbed in a single sitting.

"We were coming into our own and realizing what we did best," Ruth Pointer says in Christian John Wikane's estimable liner notes for this re-release. "We never tried to be like anyone else anyway. I think it was just a matter of, over time, accepting who we were." Anita later chimes in saying "We wanted to be pop. We wanted people to know who we were. What Richard Perry did was make us popular. He got the job done."

And after this 20-track run of memorable numbers, one has to wonder who is left in the world who doesn't know what the Pointer Sisters stand for, sound like, or will be remembered for -- the fact that this very compilation may one day open up a new pair of ears to their feel-good world of all that is good about pop music? The thought alone can't help but get you feeling so excited ...


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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