His songs had appeal and so did his backup babes. Artist embraced wide range of sounds, one look.
If you were anywhere near a television set in the 1980s, you couldn't have missed Robert Palmer and his fabulous femmes known as the Palmer Girls.
With their scandalous black mini-dresses, brightly rouged lips and identical features, they boogied along with the suave British singer in such iconic videos as Addicted To Love and in sexy ads for Pepsi-Cola.
The Palmer Girls will have to find a new dandy to dance with. Palmer, 54, died yesterday in a Paris hotel of a heart attack. He was on vacation with his girlfriend Mary Ambrose following a recording session in Britain.
He leaves a musical legacy that will forever be remembered for its sartorial splendour, and for such radio and video anthem hits as Addicted To Love, Simply Irresistible and Bad Case Of Loving You, but which was far deeper than that.
Palmer was a musician's musician, accomplished in a wide range of sounds and ever eager to discover new ones. Like many Britons of his generation, enchanted by thoughts of far-off America, he grew up steeped in the soul and blues of Detroit, Memphis and Chicago, adding rock, reggae, Latin and electro-pop rhythms to his repertoire as the mood struck him.
He cut a rakish figure on stage and in his videos, with his trademark double-breasted suits, his well-coiffed mane and his '50s-style microphone, as he worked a seductive image best described by his 1982 hit Some Guys Have all The Luck. That tune was later covered by Rod Stewart, whose career has been much more successful than Palmer's, but who could never match his style and sex appeal.
Palmer's lady-killer image was much in evidence at his final Toronto concert appearance in August, 1991, at the old Ontario Place Forum, which featured a shimmying bevy of Palmer Girl wannabes in the audience.
"I just always felt comfortable in a suit and tie," he once said. "It's served me well, because I never got aligned with any fashion trend."
But not every woman appreciated him. He was once accused of being a male chauvinist, an accusation he found ridiculous and unfair, insisting he hadn't deliberately set out to become "the James Bond of boogie." He said the Palmer Girls weren't his idea to begin with, and that they had been inserted via special effects into his 1986 video for Addicted To Love, after he'd filmed the number solo.
"I'm not going to attach inappropriate significance to it because at the time it meant nothing. It just happened to become an iconic look," he once said of the video.
Palmer wasn't born to a life of show business. He was the son of a British naval intelligence officer, who took his family to a remote base on the isle of Malta. Palmer Sr. banned TV and movies from his son's life until his teen years, but he allowed him to pursue a passion for music.
The family moved back to Britain in the late '60s, settling in Yorkshire. In 1968, Palmer jumped ship from a pop group called the Mandrakes to take up vocal duties with Dada, a 12-piece jazz-rock ensemble. The group soon shrunk and morphed into the rock band Vinegar Joe, in which Palmer shared vocals with Elkie Brooks.
He followed that a year later with the reggae-influenced Pressure Drop, and both records made the US albums charts - a success that wasn't always mirrored in his native UK, which regarded him with slightly less fascination. The rest of the '70s saw Palmer struggling to build on his successes, while branching out into producing albums for other artists, including reaggae legend Desmond Dekker.
Without ever realizing it, Palmer became a video artist waiting for the video ear to happen. As MTV and its Canadian counterpart MuchMusic rose in the 1980s, so did Palmer, his ultra-cool image being perfect for the new format's heavy emphasis on visual appeal.
But even as he became known as the man with the sharp suit and the stable of hot babes, Palmer insisted on challenging perceptions of his music. He teamed up with Duran Duran members John Taylor and Andy Taylor for a rocking side project called Power Station, which scored three hits in the US - Some Like It Hot, a cover of T-Rex's Get It On and Communication.
Palmer's fortunes changed with the dawn of the 1990s, as he continued to defy expectations and challenge his audience. His 1990 album Don't Explain lived up to its title, confusing the faithful with covers of tunes by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Marvin Gaye and Bob Dylan. But the fans would never forget Palmer and his Palmer Girls, who were the subject of a hilarious parody on the Ally McBeal hit TV series.
He would never again scale the commercial heights he achieved in the 1980s, but Palmer continued to make music with a restless spirit and a globetrotter's sense of adventure. His latest album Drive has been described by critics as a melting pot of old R&B, Bahamian and Caribbean music, jump blues, Delta blues and raunchy rock.
Peter Howell (Toronto Star - 27 septembre 2003)