This is the fifth post in a biweekly series. Read about the series — and just what we mean by “freestyle music” — here. Freestyle Fridays post on the first and third Fridays of each month. 

“I want it just as much as you do, but will you still keep in touch?”

“I Wonder If I Take You Home,” by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force, had an interesting path to success. Recorded in 1984, label Personal Records apparently didn’t have much faith in it. Record Producer Kenny Beck discovered the song in a “discard bin” at Personal Records while looking for songs to include on his debut album with the label. He loved the song so much that he created a compilation breakdancing album called, well, “Breakdancing,” just to include the song. “Breakdancing” was released in Europe and immediately became a hit with dance club DJs there. Savvy American DJs took notice and started playing it in US clubs. The song went on to reach Number 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club chart in June, 1985, and Number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100. (It’s surprising that such an iconic song only reached Number 34; the video was ubiquitous at the time, and the song is very well known to this day.) “I Wonder If I Take You Home” has been sampled and covered many times, by the likes of Kylie Minogue, Pitbull, Junior Mafia and Aaliyah, Fabolous, Ghostface Killah, and The Black Eyed Peas.

One of the most striking elements of this song is that looped, guttural sample. At the start of the song, there are three short bursts of it, like musical stings. But then the short bursts are strung together and auto-tuned, a mixture of voice and technology that becomes a unique instrument. I especially love it at the 40-second mark in the video, playing in the background as Lisa Lisa sings the bridge. It’s a lovely effect, and I think it was completely new and innovative at the time. Kayel (the “K” in freestyle boy band TKA) backs me up: “Lisa was the curve that changed the rhythms from the same ‘Planet Rock’ beat progression to a more sample-based beat progression.”

If Shannon is considered the godmother of freestyle, then Lisa Lisa is its big sister. I remember when the video for this song started getting huge airplay. After just a few seconds of the song’s opening – that aforementioned guttural sample – certain straight guys in my orbit would appear in the room, drawn, apparently, by an appreciation of the still-new freestyle music genre. Or was it Lisa Lisa’s pink satin palazzo pants and incredibly cinched waist that brought them to the television? But this video has something for everyone: The straight ladies and the gays might notice, approvingly, that the video’s stylists spent much more on hairstyles than on that one Full Force member’s tank top. Lisa Lisa explains her hairstyle thusly: “My look with the long hair over one eye happened because I used to shave the side of my head, and I shaved one side too short, so I used the hair to cover it. That became a style.”

I also want to mention the various styles on display here. There’s the mid-’80s trend-setting Lisa Lisa, in matching pink palazzo pants, headband, earrings and lipstick; Cult Jam’s throwback to early 20th Century big band or jazz, especially in their dance moves; and Full Force’s acrobatic dancing and very ’80s hip hop street look. The actors in the video – who star in little vignettes where various couples decide to hook up – are dressed as the coolest, most crush-worthy bartenders you ever encountered, wearing suspenders, bowties and sleeve garters. Not to mention their hairstyles! One is a nod to Flock of Seagulls, there’s a high top fade with a Susan Sontag streak, and even an impressive unicorn ‘do. The whole video is a big, raucous, somewhat unexpected party that looks like a heck of a lot of fun.

Fun Facts:

  • Full Force consists of B-Fine, Paul Anthony, Bow-Legged Lou (all brothers), Shy Shy, Baby Gerry and Curt-T-T (all cousins).
  • Number 1 Hot Dance Club Play single, June 15, 1985.
  • Number 6 on R&B chart.
  • Number 34 on Billboard Hot 100.
  • Later voted the 8th best single of 1985 by The Village Voice.