Jocelyn Brown: Definitive Diva of the Dance Decades
WORDS BY NICK GORDON BROWN
There are many stars whose flames burn brightly, but briefly; and there are others who successfully unlock the door to longevity. Even amongst that second group, Jocelyn Brown is one of a select few whose career has spanned some five decades, during which she has remained both relevant and in-demand.
At the heart of Jocelyn’s success is clearly her virtuoso vocal ability. This is immediately evident in the intro to arguably her signature tune, 1984’s Somebody Else’s Guy. For a minute in which her voice is accompanied only by the subtlest of piano motifs, Jocelyn demonstrates her full vocal range, from virtual whisper to lung-busting holler, as she lives out the words’ mix of yearning and pain in one of dance music’s most memorable opening refrains.
Co-written by Jocelyn, lyrically there are few tracks in any genre that have better caught the rollercoaster of emotions experienced by someone who unwittingly finds themselves in a love triangle; musically it is hook-filled, with its slap bass and synth riff both instantly recognisable. The initial release was on her own Vinyl Dreams label, while she also kept the publishing rights, exhibiting business savvy as well as artistic talent.
While it's a stone cold classic that is still played to this day, Somebody Else’s Guy was only the entry point to Jocelyn’s work for one generation of her fans. Prior to its release, she had already spent several years building an unparalleled CV as a disco vocalist. Initially this was as a backing / session vocalist for the likes of Kleeer, Machine, Disco-Tex, and the mighty CHIC. However, it would not take long for her to become a go-to lead vocalist.
Pivotal to Jocelyn being placed centre stage was mercurial disco genius Patrick Adams, a man responsible for many classics of the genre, but whose stellar list of production credits was often overlooked when early disco histories were being written. Recent years have begun to see this oversight rectified, once again shining a light on his work with Jocelyn Brown. This started with the Musique project on Prelude, which spawned two huge hits with In The Bush, and Keep On Jumping, a record that has had an incredible lifespan in dance music circles (as we will see later):
With Jocelyn plus his long time male vocal collaborator Leroy Burgess in tow, Adams then created the Inner Life project. This also started life on Prelude with I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair), before the band switched labels to Salsoul. They were a perfect fit for the lushly orchestrated, uplifting tunes that were the label’s trademark. Releases such as Moment of My Life and I Like It Like That connected with the dancefloor, but it was with their reimagining of a much-loved classic that Inner Life struck gold.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough was a breakthrough hit for fabled songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson. It got them through the door at Motown, where it was a big success first for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and then latterly for Diana Ross.
To do a cover version of a well known track is always a brave move – to cover a track that is considered to have not one but two definitive versions could be considered foolhardy. This didn’t deter Inner Life, who reshaped and revived it into a disco classic, best known in its epic 10 minute+ Larry Levan-mixed Garage version:
In this early 80s period, Jocelyn also made her mark as a lead vocalist for globally renowned French disco producer Cerrone:
While Somebody Else’s Guy may have remained her highest watermark sales-wise, Jocelyn continued to record throughout the 1980s, primarily now as a solo artist, and continued to rack up the dancefloor hits, most notably with Love’s Gonna Get You:
If the naggingly catchy chorus here sounds familiar but you can’t quite place it…
…Bizarre Inc re-recorded the vocal hook with session singer Angie Brown in 1992, but it was a readily available accapella of Jocelyn’s original cut that paved the way both for this and an even bigger pop dance hit.
The Power by Snap! (1990) sampled the four words “I’ve got the power” and made it the central hook of a track that was to become an international phenomenon. Once the German production team and their label realised the crossover potential of what had started out as a sample-filled club track (with beats lifted from Mantronix and a rap nabbed from Chill Rob G in addition to Jocelyn), things started gettin’ kinda hectic.
As was commonplace at the time, the Snap! team looked at two different routes – sample clearance; or re-recording the samples. Several different versions of The Power thus exist, with samples, re-records, even a mix of the two. Penny Ford was brought in to re-vocal the Jocelyn Brown segment (although a video had already been made with Jackie Harris miming). In 2009, some 19 years after release, Jocelyn felt compelled to sue Snap! over what she saw as unpaid royalties.
With such an impressive late 70s / early 80s pedigree, but still a high-profile recording artist as the 90s approached, Jocelyn was perfectly positioned to ride the house music wave. She managed to put sampling shenaningans to one side, and found a new generation entranced by her voice.
Always There, a minor dance hit for mid-1970s r’n’b group Side Effect, was to become a staple of early 1990s dancefloors in several forms. Initially, US singer Charvoni recorded a version for EMI. Released in 1989, it made some clubland waves, but no more. However, the release did feature an accapella (you may be detecting a familiar theme here…) UK production duo Brothers In Rhythm got hold of it, and used it as the basis of their piano house stormer Such A Good Feeling. As Brothers In Rhythm started the sample clearance process, Gilles Peterson’s fledgling Talkin’ Loud label was determined to bring long overdue commercial success to the always critically acclaimed Incognito, and had identified Always There as the song that could do it – and Jocelyn Brown as the vocalist who could provide the necessary magic touch.
This tangled tale had a far happier series of outcomes than The Power. Brothers In Rhythm cleared the sample, had a hit, made a further record with Charvoni, and went on to become one of the most gilded remix / production duos of the 90s; Charvoni, her profile suitably raised, was brought in to work with Black Box (to enable them to lose their reliance on samples); just 3 months after Such A Good Feeling charted, Incognito’s version of Always There charted too – it was not only the start of the band’s most successful era, but it also catapulted Jocelyn Brown to the centre of the house scene:
The dancefloor ley lines between disco and house are well documented, and having conquered the former, Jocelyn was to spend the next decade at the forefront of the latter, most notably garnering kudos through hook ups with New York house royalty. With Ready For a New Day, Todd Terry was keen to move beyond the cut & paste sample tracks for which he was revered, and produce a song-based album. He turned to Jocelyn and former Weather Girl Martha Wash, and they kicked off the project together in 1996 with a major crossover hit – a remake of Musique’s Keep On Jumpin’. They repeated the trick in 1997, with the album released off the back of a second summer anthem by the trio, Something Goin’ On:
Concurrently, Masters At Work were masterminding their Nuyorican Soul project, on which they painstakingly joined the dots between the jazz, latin and soul music they had grown up with, and the house music at which they excelled. Singers were carefully handpicked for the project – Jocelyn was entrusted with vocal duties on their remake of Rotary Connection’s seminal I Am The Black Gold of the Sun; and also on this contemporary classic:
As a new breed of NYC house producers emerged in the latter part of the decade, Erick Morillo and his Subliminal stable were to the fore, pushing a transatlantic sound that added a dash of European energy to what was still very much an NYC house brew. The epitome of the Subliminal sound was an early Defected release which ushered in the new century with a powerhouse vocal from Jocelyn (with a nod to her gospel roots); and its exquisite ‘disco samba’ guitar lick from Two Man Sound’s Que Tal America.
Nearly two decades into that century, Jocelyn remains centre stage. As a live draw, the variety of stages on which she is invited to perform reflects the number of musical styles which she rules with ease – from the Jazz Café to 51st State to the Brixton Disco Festival. Her appetite to record also shows no sign of slowing down…scene-defining DJ producers know she still has what it takes to elevate their tracks to another level...
…or that a sampled snatch of that voice can still make a killer hook:
Jocelyn Brown – definitive diva of the dance decades.
Stream and download Ferreck Dawn's 'You Are The One' featuring a sample from Jocelyn Brown's 'Somebody Else's Guy' now:http://defct.de/DFTD574D2