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R&B - Released January 1, 1986 | Island Mercury

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Many of the funk bands that were big in the 1970s had a hard time surviving in the 1980s, especially if they were horn bands. Having a killer horn section was something that a lot of 1970s funk outfits prided themselves on, and it was no fun when, in the 1980s, they were told that their horns sound dated and that urban contemporary audiences only wanted to hear synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines. But Cameo, unlike many funk bands that emerged in the late '70s, really thrived in the 1980s. Lead singer/producer Larry Blackmon insisted on changing with the times, and he did so by making Cameo more high-tech and seeing to it that albums like 1985's Single Life and 1986's Word Up! were relevant to the urban contemporary and hip-hop scenes. Nonetheless, Cameo still sounded like Cameo; Word Up!, in fact, is one of its best albums. The wildly infectious title song was a major hit, and Cameo is equally captivating on other funk treasures that include "Fast, Fierce and Funny," "Back and Forth," and "Candy." To the young urban contemporary and hip-hop fans who bought Word Up! in 1986, Cameo's funk was fresh and cutting edge; and at the same time, slightly older fans that Cameo had won over in the late '70s were still buying its records. Both commercially and creatively, Word Up! was a major triumph for Cameo. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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R&B - Released June 25, 1979 | Island Def Jam

Cameo never recorded a bad album, but it did record some uneven ones. One such LP was 1978's Ugly Ego, which was generally decent but fell short of the excellence of Cameo's superb debut album, Cardiac Arrest. But if Ugly Ego led some people to believe that Cameo might be slipping, the band's fourth album, Secret Omen, put that idea to rest. Released in 1979, Secret Omen is among Cameo's most essential releases. Everything on this album is a winner; anyone who appreciates sweaty, gutsy, horn-powered funk would have a hard time not loving "I Just Want to Be" (a major hit) and equally gritty gems like "New York," "Macho," and "The Rock." Meanwhile, a remake of "Find My Way" (previously heard on 1977's Cardiac Arrest) is even more disco-minded than the original version. Disco was never Cameo's specialty, but because disco was so huge in 1979, it made sense to revisit "Find My Way." And although "Find My Way" is atypical of Cameo on the whole, it's still a great song. Equally impressive is the hit soul ballad "Sparkle"; even though Larry Blackmon and friends are best known for up-tempo songs, they recorded their share of memorable ballads in the 1970s and 1980s. Secret Omen is recommended to anyone with even a casual interest in late-'70s funk. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1977 | Mercury Records

In 1977, one of funk's most promising debuts came from Cameo, whose first album, Cardiac Arrest, made it crystal clear that Larry Blackmon's outfit was a force to be reckoned with. If you were into hard, tough funk in 1977, it was impossible not to be excited by Cameo's debut. This excellent LP contains a romantic soul ballad ("Stay By My Side") as well as the original version of "Find My Way," which is the sort of smooth yet funky disco-soul that groups like the Trammps and Double Exposure were known for in the late '70s. But for the most part, this is an album of aggressive, unapologetically gritty funk. On classics like "Rigor Mortis," "Funk, Funk," and "Post Mortem," one can pinpoint Cameo's influences -- namely, Parliament/Funkadelic, the Ohio Players, and the Bar-Kays. But at the same time, these gems demonstrate that even in 1977, Cameo had a recognizable sound of its own. And ultimately, Cameo would become quite influential itself. For funk lovers, Cardiac Arrest is essential listening. Period. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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R&B - Released March 22, 1982 | Universal Records

Dropping the Parliament-esque, Mothership-era theatrics, and the multitude of bandmembers that comprised 1981's Knights of the Sound Table tour, Cameo's Larry Blackmon scaled the band back to a less financially prohibitive number and returned to the studio to record what would be the band's last effort for longtime label Chocolate City. The mighty Alligator Woman, released in spring 1982, marked the quintet's final foray into the annals of the deep funk that had signposted much of their material so far. A continuation, but extension of the otherworldly synthesis which blended old-school sounds with new technology, the LP emerged a peerless hybrid, giving Cameo another Top Ten hit for their collection. Both "Be Yourself" and "Soul Army" are deep slabs of funk, heavily steeped in the band's own past, with the former driven by harmonized vocals and groovy guitar, and the latter dominated by Blackmon's distinctive vocals. Elsewhere, the lively "Flirt," a Top Ten hit, is a sassy exercise in tricky pop, while the title track proves a heady mix of all of the above. Included, too, are the less interesting ballads "Secrets of Time" and "For You" but, despite such occasional stumbles, Alligator Woman was a remarkably cohesive and energetic outing for the new-look band. It also proved a perfect bridge for the gap between the antics of Knights and Cameo's forthcoming exploits, later in the decade. © Amy Hanson /TiVo
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R&B - Released May 18, 1993 | Mercury Records

Larry Blackmon and his Cameo mates ruled funk's domain for over a decade. Cameo evolved from its origins as a horn-based and dominated ensemble into a synthesizer-oriented group that still featured sturdy basslines and exuberant vocals, but was in tune with urban and black America's new sensibility. These 14 selections range from the formative cuts "Rigor Mortis," "Shake Your Pants," and "It's Over" to the definitive "Word Up," "Candy," and "Back and Forth." Blackmon's alternately sneering, defiant, and aggressive vocals were the constant from Cameo's beginnings in the 1970s to their emergence as funk's reigning champions in the 1980s. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1979 | Island Mercury

By 1984, African-American popular music had become extremely high tech. The horn-powered funk bands that were huge in the 1970s were out of style, and young audiences were demanding hip-hop, electro-funk, and urban contemporary -- not horn bands that sounded like the Ohio Players or Tower of Power circa 1975. Horn bands were still in vogue only in the home of the go-go explosion: Washington, DC. But these changes in the marketplace didn't hurt Cameo; both commercially and creatively, 1984's She's Strange was a winner. Thankfully, Cameo leader Larry Blackmon isn't afraid to try different things on this excellent album. The mysterious title song (a major hit) and the sociopolitical "Talking Out the Side of Your Neck" find Cameo responding to hip-hop's popularity by including a lot of rapping, while "Lé Ve Toi!" is very rock-minded -- it's still funk, but funk laced with lots of rock. "Tribute to Bob Marley" is a reggae gem that salutes the Jamaican legend, and "Hangin' Downtown" is a smooth, jazzy number with a definite quiet storm appeal. When She's Strange soared up Billboard's R&B albums chart, one had to admire Cameo's durability. Other bands that had emerged in the 1970s were hurting, but with She's Strange, Cameo had no problem maintaining both its freshness and its popularity. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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R&B - Released June 18, 2002 | Mercury Records

Mercury's Cameo Anthology supersedes the two single-disc Best of Cameo volumes issued in the mid-'90s with a lengthy two-CD set that comprehensively chronicles the group's tenure on the Chocolate City and Atlanta Artists labels in the 1970s and '80s and just into the '90s. More casual fans may want to stick with the discount-priced 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection: The Best of Cameo best-of, since this is a band best remembered for one particularly successful phase of a long career, the mid-'80s, when their new wave-influenced funk style led to the chart-topping R&B and Top Ten pop hit "Word Up." On Anthology, you don't get to that point in Cameo's story until 12 tracks into the second disc. What you do get is 23 of their 26 Top 40 R&B hits, beginning with 1977's "Rigor Mortis" and ending with 1990's "I Want It Now." (Inexplicably, one of the omissions is the 1988 Top Five R&B hit "You Make Me Work.") Along the way, Cameo can be heard to evolve from a Parliament/Funkadelic-style freeform funk band into a more disciplined unit who often sounds very similar to Earth, Wind & Fire, notably on the tracks "We're Goin' out Tonight" (1980) and "Feel Me" (1981). With "Freaky Dancin'," which appropriately opens the second disc, however, bandleader Larry Blackmon is starting to bring in his own interpretation of rock's new wave in the form of more aggressive playing while maintaining the funk feel, and by 1984's "She's Strange" he had found a sound for his band that would push them to a new level of popularity. That success would prove relatively short-lived, but by the time Cameo faded from the top of the charts in the early '90s they had built up quite a library of dance-oriented R&B, and most of the best of it is here. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1998 | Island Mercury

Cameo's second album, We All Know Who We Are, is uneven, but it has its moments, both in the quiet storm field ("Why Have I Lost You") and the disco-funk category ("It's Serious"). Much of the record sounds like filler, but the best moments illustrate that Cameo is beginning to grow and refine their own sound. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released April 6, 1993 | UNIVERSAL MUSIC LLC

The big single on Cameosis, the stimulating "Shake Your Pants," provokes body moves from the animated group vocals to the rump-shakin' groove. The vivacious number "We're Going out Tonight" is a man's salute to his lady. Larry Blackmon and Tomi Jenkins sing in unison throughout the body of the song, with first tenor Wayne Cooper soaring in the vamp. The group puts a different twist on a remake of their own "Why Have I Lost You." Tomi Jenkins imparts a compassionate rap in the intro before crooning his way through the imaginative lyric, where Wayne Cooper reaches one climax after another. Like the original version, it, too, never graced the charts but found a home on radio. The sleeper on this album is "I Care for You." Anthony Lockett took the vocal lead on this tear-jerking ballad, in which a man tolerates his woman's questionable behavior. From Lockett's execution to the song's overall arrangement, this is a must-listen. © Craig Lytle /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 1985 | Island Def Jam

In the late '70s and very early '80s, Cameo was the epitome of a horn-driven funk band. Like Parliament/Funkadelic (a major influence), the Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Commodores, Tower of Power, and so many other bands that defined funk in the '70s, Cameo was famous for its horn section. But when horn bands went out of style and urban contemporary audiences started craving synth-funk and electro-funk, Cameo leader Larry Blackmon was determined to change with the times and remain on the charts. Thus, the Cameo of 1985's Single Life is a lot more high tech than the Cameo of 1978's We All Know Who We Are or 1980's Cameosis. Blackmon felt that the market called for a downsized Cameo, which is why the Cameo he leads on this LP is a trio consisting of Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant, and himself. Single Life isn't devoid of horns, but the horn players are strictly guests -- not actual Cameo members -- and the group's sound is built around synthesizers and electric bass. Some funk fans missed the old horn-powered Cameo, but Single Life had no problem appealing to urban contemporary audiences. Although not quite as essential as 1986's Word Up!, this album is generally excellent. The infectious title song was a major hit, and Cameo is equally impressive on other synth-funk offerings like "I've Got Your Image" and "Attack Me With Your Love." Much to Blackmon's credit, the album is fairly diverse and unpredictable. "A Good-Bye" is more of a rock ballad than an R&B ballad, while "Little Boys, Dangerous Toys" is a political reggae gem inspired by the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. And one of the album's best songs is "Urban Warrior," a fun yet idealistic rap tune about a hip-hopper who travels the world partying and promoting world peace. Single Life was a welcome addition to Cameo's catalog. © Alex Henderson /TiVo
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Funk - Released September 25, 1978 | Mercury Records

As Cameo rode both the critical and commercial success resulting from their debut, Cardiac Arrest, Chocolate City took the group straight from the road and right into the studio to record its follow-up. Because of this, the overall quality of Ugly Ego suffers mildly. It's uneven at points, but this easily could be attributed to erratic song sequencing, something that thankfully can be rectified in the digital age by the custom programming button. The band was developing its definitive sound at this point -- the sound later heard on Secret Omen that would usher Cameo from being just another funk band to funk overlords. The uptempo "Insane" would later go on to be a fan favorite, and the slower moments found on "Give Love a Chance," "Friend to Me," and "Two of Us" prove that Cameo were more than just a good-time party band, but serious soulful balladeers when the time was appropriate. © Rob Theakston /TiVo
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R&B - Released December 14, 1981 | Mercury Records

As Cameo continued to hone their sound, they found themselves in the position not only of having to bridge a musical gap, but also needing to follow up a smash album. Following on the heels of 1980's massive Cameosis, which created a signature vibe and set the band up for truly massive early success, it's surprising that Knights of the Sound Table would lose strength. But it did. The band was exhausted, only coming off the road long enough to record the album before heading straight back out again. Knights of the Sound Table plays through like a transitional album -- and it falters at times because of it. Even though the band remained bound to their funk roots, they were tweaking them within a very different framework -- a 1980s pre-wave wave. The set is divided into two very distinct camps, then, booty shaking funk and saccharine ballads. When it's good, it's tremendous. "Knights by Night" is strong and very typically Cameo, while "Don't Be So Cool" leans more into an '80s frame of mind. The marvelous "Freaky Dancin'" pulled out ahead of the pack and was rewarded with a number three spot on the R&B charts for its efforts, while two other tracks, the funky "I Like It" and "Feel Me," would also chart. Where the band weakened was across their ballads. "I'll Always Stay" and "I Never Knew" feel more like filler than anything else, while "The Sound Table" is a poke at disco -- too long after the genre left the dancefloor. Despite such serious wobbles, though, the set is cohesive enough to forgive its failings, the sound of a band keeping their past alive while stretching their wings toward the future. © Amy Hanson /TiVo
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R&B - Released July 26, 2005 | Island Def Jam

Title and artwork aside, Gold is the same exact release as 2002's Anthology, from the track listing on down to the chart-placement statistics and Amy Linden's liner notes. If you are absolutely convinced that a one-disc compilation containing Cameo's best-known songs is all you need, so be it, but you'll be missing out on a very deep catalog that can't even be contained by this twice-as-long overview. The common misconception with Cameo is that their mid-'80s pop hits adequately represent what they were about, despite the band's stockpiling of nine good-to-phenomenal funk albums before the mainstream found out about them. It hasn't helped that most of those albums have not been as readily available as, say, Funkadelic's back catalog. (A uniform overhaul of this band's discography is long overdue.) Until then, compilations like this one will have to do the job. And it does do the job admirably, given its space limitation. The heavy emphasis on the singles means that most casual funk fans will get exactly what they want, but there are several album cuts waiting to be heard by unexpecting ears. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released May 19, 1998 | Island Def Jam

The Ballads Collection rounds up 12 of Cameo's best romantic numbers, including "Sparkle" and two versions of "Why Have I Lost You," making the ideal choice for listeners who only want the group's seductive material. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released February 6, 2001 | Island Def Jam

Cameo's volume of Universal's 20th Century Masters series is first-rate, containing most of the cuts a casual fan needs, including all their biggest pop crossover hits: "She's Strange," "Word Up," "Candy," and "Back and Forth." There may be several singles missing and it's not nearly as far-reaching as the Best Of compilations, but for anyone looking for a concise hits collection, this is a nice choice. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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R&B - Released February 5, 2008 | Rhino - Warner Records

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R&B - Released March 14, 2006 | Island Def Jam

Any single-disc Cameo compilation is going to come up short. There's no way around it. The group's charting singles cannot be contained on two CDs, and even a wisely selected disc of their best album material, spread across 13 releases from 1977 through 1988, would rival many of their contemporaries' best work. The Definitive Collection is in no way definitive, and it's not only due to its size. It's heavily weighted toward the group's mid-'80s albums -- front-loaded with "Word Up!," "Single Life," "Candy," and "She's Strange" -- which will only perpetuate the misconception that Cameo were only briefly relevant as a silly symbol of '80s outrageousness. (Though it has to be said that Cameo did not help their cause when, in 2005, they performed "Word Up!" and a cover of Bowling for Soup's "1985" on an episode of a nationally televised program called Hit Me Baby One More Time. They went on before Howard Jones.) This disc will only be helpful to you if you want those mid-'80s hits and simply don't care about how great Cameo had been for several years prior to their mainstream peak. It does dip into the years when Cameo were a constant presence on the black singles chart, with dynamite singles like "I Just Want to Be," "Rigor Mortis," and "Why Have I Lost You," but it's lacking far too much to be considered definitive. Gold, a two-disc set released in 2005, comes a whole lot closer. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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R&B - Released May 25, 2018 | Intersound

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R&B - Released January 1, 1990 | Mercury Records

3 Stars - Good - "..will no doubt be the hit of many a late-summer jam." © TiVo
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R&B - Released July 15, 1996 | Intersound

Nasty, Cameo's first live recording, showcases Larry Blackmon's musical creativity and futuristic-sounding love songs. Everything is on time -- the horns, the sometimes hokey vocals -- and that cool New York-flavored lead bass struts on every cut. Guitarist Charlie Singleton's slicker-than-butter falsetto shines on the crowd favorite "Why Have I Lost You." Tomi Jenkins' tenor is steady on the moving and romantic "Sparkle." "Skin I'm In," with its staccato vocals and socially significant lyrics, makes you think. Delight at Larry Blackmon's Sugar Foot Bonner-sounding vocal on the heavily sampled "Candy." Two studio cuts augment the live songs: "Come Fly With Me" and "Nasty." Nasty's caboose is a 6:27 mega-mix of the live sides. © Andrew Hamilton /TiVo