In Memoriam: Leon Haywood - plus the 15 Most Memorable "Freak" Songs
Our "Freak Flags" Should Be Flying Half-Staff Right Now.
Last week, the R&B world lost a noteworthy singer/songwriter/producer whose passing went largely unnoticed by music fans and music journalists alike. Leon Haywood, 74, died April 5 in Los Angeles and, although his name is not one you'll hear mentioned alongside the many legendary artists who've left us in recent years, he left behind a small but memorable legacy that is worth celebrating nonetheless.
Haywood gave us early '80s post-disco hits like "Don't Push It, Don't Force It" (all of you diehards over the age of 40 remember that one, admit it) and the timeless "She's A Bad Mama Jama," the smash million-selling tune he wrote and produced for the late Carl Carlton in 1981.
Those two tunes alone don't qualify Haywood as a legend in music circles, but they're considered R&B staples of their day, especially "Mama Jama," which is included on many funk compilations and retro old-school playlists some 35 years after its initial popularity.
But Haywood should also be remembered for the song that became his only top-40 pop hit as a singer: the sexy, slow-burning, "I Want'a Do Something Freaky To You" in 1975. That tune is notable for several reasons, not the least of which was the famous intro that was looped and sampled for Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" in 1993. That legendary rap hit introduced the world to Snoop Dogg and has been considered by some to be the best hip-hop song of the 1990s.
But there's another reason Haywood's hit should be celebrated today. "I Want'a Do Something Freaky To You" introduced the pop radio market to a never-before-used (in music, that is) "F" word that has since been like a call to arms to the many who dare to self-identify with it:
That's right. In 1975, Leon Haywood flew his freak flag high before anyone ever thought about doing "Le Freak," getting their freak on, or hanging with "Super Freaks." Haywood incorporated the word "freak" in his song's title and watched it literally moan and slither its way to the upper portion of the charts (both R&B and pop), thus paving the way for other one-track-minded songs to grace popular music radio.
Memorably, 1970s R&B was already well known for its subtle use of vague metaphors and innuendo when describing bedroom affairs, but Haywood left no doubt what he was referring to as he sang lyrics like "your love is like a mountain, I'd love to slide down into your canyon."
To add to his "freakish" tendencies, Haywood sang of acrobatic prowess ("all twelve positions of the zodiac signs, I won't quit until I blow your mind"), embraced reckless abandon ("compatible or not, I'll hit the spot") and incorporated sexy female backing vocals, including one whose climactic moans you hear throughout the song, particularly during that famous "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" intro.
Those moans and others like 'em were becoming more commonplace during the decade, with prominent examples being Donna Summer ("Love to Love You Baby") and Major Harris ("Love Won't Let Me Wait"). But lyrically (excluding the moans of course), both those two tunes could still pull off a G rating - or at worst, a PG one. This was less so for Haywood, whose song's X-rated imagery was both vivid and inescapable (to wit, he sang "I'll put it where you want it, as long as you need it...I won't mistreat it").
Now, I doubt Haywood realized at the time just how revolutionary his only top-40 pop hit would become, but never before then had a song that celebrated being a "freak" wrapped itself around mainstream radio airwaves like his did (although I'd be willing to bet many stations likely banned the song during its height in popularity). Nevertheless, "I Want'a Do" was indeed revolutionary, and we've been getting our freak on - musically and otherwise - ever since.
Today, the urban dictionary has an entry for "freak" that is more aligned with Haywood's thinking than the traditional definition found in Webster's. Of course, there's no evidence to suggest that Haywood should receive ALL the credit for that cultural shift, but it's certainly true that his 1975 soul classic was a game changer, one that made it okay to hear the word "freak" and it's various derivatives on American pop radio...for the first time in 1975, and in every year since.
And, as his tune's lyrics would suggest, he did it "in the name of love with everything he had."
So, as a celebration of Haywood's legacy, I've created the following countdown of the 15 most memorable "freaky" songs - with all eligible songs incorporating a variation of the word "freak" in their titles. It's a countdown you'll be tempted to play over and over again...
To Leon Haywood: May you rest well.
To the readers: I hope you enjoy the musical freak show that Haywood was instrumental in starting.
And, as always, thanks for all the love and support of djrobblog.
The Bar Kays of "Soul Finger" fame barely missed having TWO freaking hits on this list. This song and fellow '80s hit, the new-wavy "Freaky Behavior," were all part of the Bar Kays revival 30-plus years ago.