“Don’t Stop the Music” duo has more up their sleeve than their golden 1981 hit
Tonight the TVOne docu-series Unsung (airs 8/7 c) will celebrate the music of Yarbrough & Peoples. And if there was a ’80s duo worthy of the unsung moniker, it would be them. To the masses, the Dallas-based R&B duo is best known and probably only known for kicking out one of the mightiest midtempo funk jams of the Eighties, “Don’t Stop the Music.” It’s a bad-ass track and remains the best-selling track out of the entire Total Experience catalog, a record label operated by R&B mogul Lonnie Simmons. That might come as a surprise when considering that the Gap Band was the label’s flagship artist. Still, the gold-certified “Don’t Stop the Music” (also a Top 20 pop hit) reigns supreme, and to this day can be heard in a trove of hip-hop and contemporary R&B cuts through the art of sampling. Acts like P. Diddy, TLC, Alicia Keys and Eve are just some of the names that have sampled it.
But let it be said, Yarbrough & Peoples — comprised of Cavin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples-Yarbrough — is no one hit wonder. The group netted a number of five Top 10 R&B hits and over seven Top 40 R&B hits. They may have been eclipsed in size by their massive label mates (the Gap Band) and other funk groups and duos of the era, but they held their own. On their albums, you could even find them playing their own music, even composing half of their big hits, alongside the late Jonah Ellis. And listen to the Gap Band’s biggest records. They were on there too.
Yarbrough & Peoples’ tale on Unsung will certainly give the band that extra push back into notoriety, considering that they never stopped the music. And even though “Don’t Stop the Music” is their crème de la crème of their musical content, we’ve uncovered five below-the-radar gems worthy of the same recognition. Oh, there’s so much more to pull out, like the spunky electronica laced upon “I Wouldn’t Lie,” the gospel-teased sounds of “Third Degree” and their latest single “Pleasure Zone” (see above), but these five tracks from the vault are almost impossible to shake.
5) Wrapped Around Your Finger (1986)
A cute sexy R&B gem boasting sweet synths, a melodic chorus and only Alisa on lead. It came from Jonah Ellis, after being inspired by the tenderness of the couple’s relationship. “Jonah asked me, ‘Lois, how would you like to sing s song to Cavin?’,” Alisa Peoples-Yarbrough says. “He saw our interactions and how we felt about one another, so ‘Wrapped Around Your Finger’ was intentionally designed to be a song dedicated to Cavin.”
4) Feels So Good (1982)
With a sing-a-long chorus just as catchy as “Don’t Stop the Music,” both Cavin and Alisa pulls off one cool template of contemporary synth-funk worthy of a Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis endorsement. And you can tell they were still living on the fumes of their 1981 smash: “The music feels so good I don’t want to stop,” they sing. The song was featured on the often overlooked Heartbeats album. Alisa agrees that it was practically abandoned by Simmons. “I think it was the least promoted album [of ours],” she says.
3) Don’t Waste Your Time (1984)
As the lead single off of 1984’s Be a Winner, “Don’t Waste Your Time” boasted a deeper, darker and paranoiac intensity that isn’t usually associated with most of their prominently known singles. You can almost hear eerie Nightmare on Elm Street subtleties inside the grooves, as Alisa tries her hardest to sway Cavin away from a cheating scoundrel: “She don’t love you…like I do.” And be sure to check out the clever concept video. It features the very first television appearance of rapper Ice-T, three years before his big debut in music.
2) Come to Me (1981)
From the group’s debut LP, this gorgeous Quiet Storm ballad would’ve fit perfectly on an early-’80s Anita Baker album. With sophisticated harmonies, both serenade one another with a Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell bliss. The two may be known for uptempo gems, but they proved from time to time to be just as great on the ballads. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what Total Experience record exec Lonnie Simmons wanted.
1) Guilty (1985)
Listen carefully to the transcendent synth-funk of “Guilty” and you can easily here where the inspiration of such a song came from. It’s a response to Alexander O’Neal’s “Innocent,” a song that dominated the charts in 1985 and featured singing partner Cherrelle. “That was the original intent,” Cavin says. “Lonnie immediately said, ‘Man, it would be great to come with an answer to that, because I like that ‘Innocent,’ but we need to talk about being guilty,” Alisa later commented. This jam, featuring a production skill highly reminiscent of Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis, soared all the way to number two on the R&B charts later that year.