Some people think of Robert Palmer as the singer from Power Station, the guy who sang with those two guys from Duran Duran. Others associate him with his current hit Addicted To Love. And all those fans together have made Addicted To Love the biggest hit of Palmer's 16-year career - currently No.2 on the Billboard's charts, with his 10th album, Riptide, at No.15.
But when newcomers hear him play Bad Case Of Loving You or Every Kinda People or Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley and You Are In My System, they realize thi sis nota new solo career. In fact, Palmer has been a longstanding presence on pop radio.
"It doesn't matter why they're there," Palmer said during a break in his current tour. "I see people in my audiences - even the younger ones - nudging themselves during some of the older tunes and saying, "It's him that's done that."
Born in England but raised on the Mediterranean island of Malta, Palmer grew up listening to ethnic music from stations in Italy, north Africa and the Middle East, as well as pop music on the American Armed Forces Network. He also cites his father's tapes of Nat King Cole, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee.
The stylistic diversity stayed with him after the family returned to England when he was nine, and in 1968 he finally left his day job as a graphic designer to sing professionally. A year later, he formed a band called Vinegar Joe, which he toured with for five years.
Palmer admits that his eclectic influences have hindered his solo career. "There's no continuity in my work," he said. "But because of that, I haven't backed myself into a stylistic corner, at least."
He had a sense all that would change in early 1985, however, as he finished writing the songs for Riptide. Addicted To Love was one of the early numbers, and he had a gut feeling about it from the time he hummed the first notes.
"It woke me up at three in the morning," he said. "I was dreaming it, so I sang it into a tape recorder. When I listened the next morning, I knew I had caught one, which was nice, because usually it sounds like I was having a nightmare."
But before the dream came true, Palmer was waylaid by Duran Duran's John and Andy Taylor (not related). The pair were casual friends of Palmer's, but Palmer had little regard for their music. By sending tapes of a few songs, however, they were able to convince him to be the singer for Power Station, their extracurricular activity.
With Chic alumni Tony Thompson on drums and Bernard Edwards producing, the quartet fashioned a mixture of heavy metal guitar riffs and dance rhythms. It was refreshing and appealing enough to sell three million copies worldwide and launch two hit singles, Some Like It Hot and a remake of T. Rex's Bang A Gong.
A power outage soon floowed, however. After agreeing the album was a one-time collaboration, the Taylors - motivated by money, according to Palmer - decided to take the show on the road. Palmer didn't want to, so they hired singer Michael Des Barres.
With the success of Riptide behind him, Palmer already has a title for his next album (Heavy Nova) and a new concept - half heavy metal (produced by Dieter Dirks of Scorpions and Accept fame) and half bossa nova. "I'm really interested in doing overtly sentimental music in the face of such a cynical world," he explained. "But in order to counteract the potential of a sugar-coated thing, I had to have some red for my green, as it were. For me, it's heavy metal. I want to do something unique; the whole joy of music is there's no rule."
Gary Graff (Detroit Free Press - 1986)