The Second Disc

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Reissue Theory: Philip Bailey, “Chinese Wall”

with 5 comments

Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. Despite the presence of a hit single with a famous singer/songwriter/producer and a killer soul vocalist, Philip Bailey’s hit sophomore record remains unexpanded on CD. What would such a project look like? This article is the only way you’ll ever know-oh-ohh…

What does it say about Philip Bailey that his biggest hit wasn’t entirely his?

It’s not like Bailey only had so much talent. Quite the contrary: as the lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire, Bailey’s distinctive falsetto lit up some of the best R&B singles of the late ’70s, like “Fantasy” and the sublime “September.” But his biggest success as a solo artist came with the aid of one of the most prolific musicians of the ’80s – so much so that some thought the musician in question had actually discovered Bailey!

The discussion continues after the jump.

Philip Bailey had struck out on his own for the first time with Continuation, a tight R&B album released by EWF’s longtime label Columbia in 1983. He somehow managed to fit the LP between two Earth, Wind and Fire records that same year, Powerlight and Electric Universe. It was successful enough, reaching the Top 10 of the Black Albums chart and spawning a Top 10 hit on the Black singles chart in “I Know.” But the crossover appeal was limited.

Enter Phil Collins. The singer/songwriter/drummer was beginning to eke out a successful solo career alongside his tenure in Genesis, and in both phases he was a pretty devoted fan of EWF, recruiting their brass section, The Phoenix Horns, to play on Collins’ and Genesis’ records, notably “Paperlate” for the latter and “If Leaving Me is Easy” and “Sussudio” for the former. Collins, in turn, was beginning to stretch his legs as a producer – at the time, his biggest production hit was the Top 20 hit “I Know There’s Something Going On” for former ABBA vocalist Frida – and Collins and Bailey decided to work together for the latter’s second solo disc, Chinese Wall.

Though the album had a handful of notable names behind the scenes – songwriter Glen Ballard, producer Arif Mardin on string arrangements, Collins/Genesis touring guitarist Daryl Steurmer, bassist Nathan East and percussionist Paulinho Da Costa – Collins’ distinctive drum work was the co-star with Bailey. The single “Easy Lover,” a duet between the two, was a smash hit, peaking at No. 2 in the U.S. and setting up Collins for even more solo success throughout the ’80s.

It was almost as if Bailey became an afterthought – and the press didn’t help. Collins was once asked in an interview how he discovered such a talented vocalist, the interviewer obviously not realizing that Bailey was one of the brightest stars of EWF. The producer replied that he had heard Bailey sing as he was filling Collins’ gas tank at the local station, and signed him immediately. Of course, that’s not true – but it’s worrisome to think that someone thought it was and printed it. Nonetheless, Collins enjoyed the track enough to include it on his …Hits compilation in 1998.

With Continuation having received a (now sold-out) CD release on Funky Town Grooves awhile back, one can only hope that Chinese Wall will get a similar treatment from a sympathetic label in the future, if only to remind audiences that Bailey was pretty darn good, Collins or no Collins.

Philip Bailey, Chinese Wall (originally released as Columbia FC 39542, 1984)

  1. Photogenic Memory
  2. I Go Crazy
  3. Walking on the Chinese Wall
  4. For Every Heart That’s Been Broken
  5. Go
  6. Easy Lover (Duet with Phil Collins)
  7. Show You the Way to Love
  8. Time is a Woman
  9. Woman
  10. Children of the Ghetto
  11. Easy Lover (Extended Remix) (12″ A-side – Columbia 44-05160, 1984)
  12. I Go Crazy (Extended Remix) (Dutch 12″ A-side – CBS A 12-6380, 1984)
  13. Children of the Ghetto (Extended Version) (12″ A-side – Columbia 44-05093, 1984)
  14. Photogenic Memory (Extended Version) (12″ B-side – Columbia 44-05093, 1984)

(And a special tip of the hat to our good friend Popblerd!, who inspired this post.)

Written by Mike Duquette

February 28, 2011 at 15:28

5 Responses

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  1. Unfortunately, the collaboration between Phil Collins & Philip Bailey came to a rapid end. The situation in the studio became a downer, because members of Bailey’s Band didn’t want Collins to be there, so Collins left after the recording, and he(Collins) didn’t stick around for the mixdown. And prominent R&B D.J.(the late) Frankie Crocker warned Bailey, “You ain’t gonna make no honky rock album. You gonna make an R&B album or we ain’t gonna play it”. All of this hostility towards Collins for his involvement with Bailey had (vaguely) racist overtones.

    Phil Cohen

    February 28, 2011 at 17:45

    • A rapid end? They did an ENTIRE album together. That’s not rapid. Phil Collins also has a song on the following Bailey album. Judging from the many duo performances I saw on TV- yeah Collins was really fearful and depressed. (of just what exactly?)

      And to be honest, Crocker didnt play Bailey’s FIRST solo album on WBLS- so he could have said what he wanted and I doubt Bailey would have been moved to take action by a person who had ceased supporting Bailey & EWF right around the ALL & ALL album, anyway. It’s not as simple or as slanted (your phrasing indicates that Philip Bailey was unmoved or unhurt by these remarks- instead we get the stereotypically preposterous White man scared off by Black men speaking scenario. As if Chester Thompson only heard platitudes? You know…the Chester Thompson who took over Collins drum chair during Genesis concerts and some of Phil’s solo shows?)

      Lets see…George Massenburg, Steve Chase, Bob Cavallo, Cliff Magness & Glen Ballard- just off the TOP of my head (naming non-black folks around the recording sessions)- they didnt leave. And what studio did Phil Collins leave anyway? Townhouse in London? The sessions that HE BOOKED? So Baileys band could talk sh*t in a studio in COLLINS HOMETOWN? If anybody left- the band would have been shipped back to L.A. Your story is fun in a “racist music biz” sort of way but somewhat improbable.

      Donald Cleveland

      March 1, 2011 at 00:22

  2. No doubt, if you research on the internet, you’ll find Collins’ comments on the situation. If the situation was really like that, it’s sad. I’m not saying it was a good thing.

    Phil Cohen

    March 1, 2011 at 02:06

  3. Phil Collins won the battle…the Phenix/EW&F horns wound up leaving EW&F and staying with HIM!

    RoyalScam

    March 2, 2011 at 09:29

  4. i search an album the most original possible.
    but no vinyl only cd
    i’ve bought us cd (1984) is it good choise ?

    link : http://cgi.ebay.fr/PHILIP-BAILEY-CHINESE-WALL-10-TRACK-CD-1984-U-S-A–/140520979511?pt=AU_Audio_CDs&hash=item20b7b3fc37#ht_1948wt_642

    jaen

    April 29, 2011 at 03:55


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