Palmer, Robert (Alan)

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Palmer, Robert (Alan)

Palmer, Robert (Alan), British blue-eyed soul singer and hit maker of the 1980s; b. Batley, England, Jan. 19, 1949. After spending his early years on Malta, where his father served as a naval intelligence officer, Robert Palmer first enjoyed fame as the lead singer and guitarist for Vinegar Joe, a late 1960s-early 1970s English blues-influenced band in the Allman Brothers mold. Although they were a popular live band, opening for Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and others, their fans didn’t buy their records, and after three albums they went their separate ways.

In the mid-1970s, Palmer went to America, where he recorded his first solo album Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley with The Meters’s New Orleans funk rhythm section and members of Little Feat. While critically well-received, the album sold poorly, as did his next two albums Pressure Drop and Some People Can Do What They Like. In 1978 Palmer moved to the sunny climes of Nassau in the Bahamas, where he cut Double Fun. The album yielded his first pop hit, the Marvin Gaye-ish “Every Kinda People,” which reached #16 on the pop chart. His next album, Secrets, found his version of the bar-band raunchy “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)” playing leapfrog in the charts with the Moon Martin original. Palmer’s version eventually became the pop hit, rising to #14. His version of Todd Rundgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends” from the same album also garnered rock airplay. The album went to #19.

Palmer followed this with an album of electro-pop featuring Gary Numan and members of Talking Heads, 1980’s Clues. While the title track garnered some rock airplay in the U.S., the album was a much bigger hit in England, with the title track, “Johnny and Mary” and the single-only “Some Guys Have All the Luck” becoming hits. He then released a live album that also sold poorly.

Palmer had not had a U.S. hit in more than four years when John and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran asked him to join them, along with the Chic rhythm section of Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson, in the group Power Station in 1983. Palmer had already started working on his next album, but couldn’t pass up the offer. The exposure he gained was priceless. The group had two Top Ten singles, the #6 “Some Like It Hot” and the #9 cover of T. Rex’s “Get It On.” This gave Palmer pop radio exposure as well as putting him all over MTV. This exposure helped launch his next and first widely successful album, 1985’s Riptide. The first single from the album, the crunchy, high-gloss rock tune “Addicted to Love” zoomed to the top of the pop charts, going gold. This was no doubt aided by the promotional video for the song, which featured a group of instrument-wielding models in little black dresses “accompanying” Palmer. While the follow-up, “Hyperactive,” didn’t break the Top 30, his cover of Cherelle’s modern funk tune “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” rose to #2. The album went to #8 and sold platinum, eventually going double platinum. In the course of a year, Palmer had gone from middling success to stardom.

Palmer moved his family to Switzerland, and then recorded Heavy Nova, released in 1988. This album explored his interests in Brazilian pop and heavy metal, without losing his funky edge. The first single, “Simply Irresistible,” covered similar ground as that of “Addicted to Love” (even the video mirrored the earlier hit, with another bevy of well-endowed babes), with similar results, rising to #2. A cover of The Gap Band’s 1982 funk hit “Early in the Morning” followed, peaking at #19. The album rose to #13 and also went platinum.

Palmer followed this with Don’t Explain, an eclectic selection featuring the soca-flavored “Housework,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma, a cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Aeroplane,” and a reggae version of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” recorded with UB40. Such an eclectic mix was bound to confuse his fans. The single “You’re Amazing” reached only #28, however, while his medley of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me/I Want You” rose to #16.

Palmer has been unable to equal his earlier chart success since then, although he continues to have a strong cult following. His 1992 release, Ridin’ High, explored his early fondness for singers like Nat King Cole and the music of Tin Pan Alley. Two years later, Honey brought Palmer together with legendary jazz producer Teo Macero and hard-rocking guitarist Nuno Bettencourt (albeit on acoustic guitar). In an attempt to regain some chart steam, Palmer reunited with The Power Station, but the reunion fizzled. He returned as a solo act in 1999 with Rhythm and Blues, a set that reunited him with members of Little Feat.


Sneakin’s Sally through the Alley (1974); Pressure Drop (1976); Some People Can Do What They Like (1976); Double Fun (1978); Secrets (1979); Clues (1980); Maybe It’s Live (1982); Pride (1983); Riptide (1985); Heavy Nova (1988); Don’t Explain (1990); Ridin’ High (1992); True Romance (1993); Honey (1994); Rhythm and Blues (1999).

—Hank Bordowitz

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Palmer, Robert (Alan)

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