Unlike other '70s funk outfits, Cameo successfully updated their sound to match the 1980s synthesizer era. After experiencing a dip in sales, the band came roaring back with 1986's "Word Up," a futuristic groove featuring Larry Blackmon's robotic vocals. The song served as younger listeners' introduction to the group, but in fact Cameo had been recording quirky funk since the late 1970s. Dipping into their earlier work, one can find stripped-down arrangements without the electronic sound. "Feel Me," a 1980 slow jam, typifies their first wave of success.
Cameo began as a group of 13 New York City musicians led by Blackmon along with core members Tomi Jenkins and Nathan Leftenant. First named the New York City Players, they eventually signed with Chocolate City, a subsidiary of the infamous Casablanca label. Their 1977 debut Cardiac Arrest (featuring a sexually provocative cover) spawned three singles, two ranking in the top 40 in the R&B charts. From 1978-1982, the renamed Cameo released eight albums, with certain tracks remaining funk classics such as "Shake Your Pants" (Cameosis), "Alligator Woman" and "Flirt" (Alligator Woman). By 1982, however, Cameo needed a change in sound; they subsequently moved to Atlanta, and Blackmon set up his own label, Atlanta Artist.
Through this change of scene and the establishment of a new label, Cameo kicked off their new phase with 1983's Style. Synthesizers began figuring prominently in their sound, following a growing trend in 1980s rock and soul. The group finally achieved success with 1984's She's Strange, with Blackmon's slightly altered vocals taking center stage. They upped the funk ante with Single Life, the title track becoming an early 80s funk classic. But Word Up proved to be the charm, scoring hits that ranked high on the Top 100 and the R&B charts. Perhaps best remembered today for Blackmon's hairstyles and colorful codpiece, their videos further introduced the funk band to the MTV generation. "Word Up," "Candy," and "Back and Forth" earned massive airplay, with Cameo's futuristic sound fitting perfectly with mid-1980s trends. Their followup, Machismo, failed to replicate the success of its predecessor, although they continued recording throughout the 1990s and sporadically toured.
For many fans, Blackmon represents the eccentric spirit of Cameo. However, their earlier material also includes ballads, including "Feel Me." The title track from their 1980 album features guitarist Anthony Lockett on lead vocals, and his warm voice perfectly encapsulates the song's sensuality. Reminiscent of Earth, Wind, and Fire, the track features a lush horn arrangement. "If you're confused, I will find a way / I'll be here to fill your needs," Lockett smoothly croons. The band provides backing vocals, echoing key phrases as Lockett continues his seduction:"take me, hold me, teach me, mold me," he cries. Synthesizer accents hint at their future direction into 1980s electronic funk, but Cameo mainly roots the song in slick R&B. The group may harmonize on the words "do me," but the lyrics never stray into crassness. It's simply a classic slow jam, with jazzy chord changes to increase interest.
Cameo may be best remembered for their eccentric 1980s electro-funk, but "Feel Me" reveals another dimension to the band: a sophisticated, tight unit that could make fans dance or simply set the mood. Dig through their extensive catalog and discover their varied sounds--indeed, they should be remembered as more than just the lead singer who wore the red codpiece.