Who Stole the Soul: A Group Thang

Take a journey with me back to the early to mid '90's and you'll find an element of music that is sorely missed in 2010, the singing group. Somewhere in your rotation of cassette tapes or CD's you had After 7, BlackStreet, Boyz II Men, En Vogue, Guy, H-Town, Hi-Five, Intro, Jodeci, Shai, Silk, SWV, TLC, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Xscape or Zhane. But those days are long gone, I can't even think of a group that's relevant off the top of my head now and after scanning the Billboard Top 100 R&B/Hip-Hop albums, my theory was confirmed.

Go even further back and you'll find that groups nearly dominated the soul music scene of the 70's as groups such as Bloodstone, Blue Magic, The Chi-Lites, The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Five Stairsteps, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Heatwave, The Isley Brothers, The Jackson 5, Kool & the Gang, L.T.D., Labelle, Lakeside, The Main Ingredient, The Manhattans, Maze ft. Frankie Beverly, New Birth, The O'Jays, Parliament Funkadelic, The Pointer Sisters, Ray, Goodman & Brown (The Moments), Rose Royce, Sister Sledge, The Spinners, The Staples Singers, The Stylistics, Switch and The Whispers provided the soundtrack for the decade and carried on the tradition created by legendary groups, The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Supremes.
I think you get the point, but we're missing the music.

The Temptations brand has lasted for nearly 50 years because of a commitment to the sound and style of the group. Sure, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks went solo, but the group didn't break stride, as the lineup has had at least 20 lineup changes over the years, Otis Williams and the guys really meant it when they said "Temptations forever!"At some point in the last 20 years, the allure of being able to prove that you can do it on your own and not having to split the profit four or five ways has outweighed the harmony, choreography, musicianship, and concept of being part of a group.

For every Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass or Beyonce that broke away from a group to superstardom, there's an El Debarge or Sisqo that had minor success on their own, but couldn't sustain solo careers. Bobby Brown was famously dismissed from New Edition when his ego outgrew the group and he went on to become the King of R&B, but when Ralph Tresvant followed suit in 1990 he found that it wasn't all good without Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike (Johnny too…) behind him.

I've come to realize that I'm part of the problems of why groups don't last or have ceased to exist. As fans we become partial to members of the group and clamor to hear just that member a little more than the others. It starts with just wanting to hear him/her sing lead on a few more songs, then we want that solo album, can we blame a singer for believing the hype and going solo? The late 90's introduced 112, Destiny's Child, Dru Hill, Jagged Edge, Next and while each of these groups had a string of hits, they've all succumbed to the pull of solo stardom, lineup changes, shifts in the music landscape and ultimately dissolved. As record sales soared and the possibility of getting their hands on millions increased, members started to go it for self.

With their dissolutions went the way of the R&B vocal group, though Diddy tried to revive it by first signing New Edition (fail) and then putting together Day 26 (epic fail). Day 26 has a high school talent show feel to them and Pretty Ricky is just, well, high school. What's missing is the synergy of a group that has been friends for years, sang together for hours upon hours, perfected their steps and appear to be in sync on wax, onstage and with their matching outfits. I'm not sure if people even miss the element of the group, I know I do, it's a dynamic I enjoy in music.

We live in a "look at me" culture that shuns collaborative efforts and applauds the Herculean effort of doing it by your damn self, so the thought of putting years of effort only to share in the glory outside of the athletic arena (even there it) seems foreign to folks today. I know somewhere on the South Side of Chicago there's five brothers snapping their fingers right now, harmonizing, trying to get that old thing back…I think I'll go watch The Five Heartbeats now!

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