(This article is dedicated to the memory of a friend and classmate Philip A. “Pete” Coleman, who passed away in December 2020 at the age of 54. Pete, a former DJ, made his entire high school class truly appreciate the song that is the subject of this tribute!)
(November 9, 2023). Many pop music fans might think of Cheryl Lynn as a one-hit wonder.
Soul and funk music followers know better.
True old-school R&B-heads know that there is much more to Ms. Lynn than her signature tune—”Got to Be Real”—the 1978 crossover (No. 1 soul, No. 11 disco, No. 12 pop) smash that is easily one of the most enduring soul/disco classics of all time.
After that million-selling, Toto-produced floor burner ran its course at the tail-end of the disco era, Cheryl continued gracing the soul charts with a smattering of relatively modest hits, including a mix of slow jams and fast tunes like “Star Love,” “Shake it Up Tonight,” “Instant Love,” and the Luther Vandross duet “If This World Were Mine,” the latter a remake of the old Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ballad from the late 1960s.
Lynn partnered with R&B heavyweights of the day like Vandross and Ray Parker, Jr., which, combined with the boundless energy and vocal prowess she brought to everything she put on tape, made her a mainstay on Black radio station playlists for more than a decade after “Got To Be Real.”
Yet, even with her steady urban radio presence (14 total top-40 soul singles between 1979-89), the gifted singer and former Gong Show contestant (she lost to a juggler) would never match the massive success of “Real,” with none of her subsequent songs climbing any higher than No. 62 on the pop-oriented Hot 100.
But Cheryl’s continued popularity with Black fans, plus the respectable showing of her 1982 album, Instant Love, meant there was still an appetite–and plenty of enthusiasm–for her 1983 release Preppie, an LP she produced herself (for the first time) save for one track: the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-written and co-produced (with Cheryl) “Encore.”
But Columbia Records, Cheryl’s label, first went with the title track as the initial single released from Preppie. It was an uptempo, synthy new-wave number that Lynn co-wrote and which saw the gifted singer veering heavily into teenybopper territory á la Toni Basil’s “Mickey” from a year earlier. Think Toni Basil meets Yoko Ono meets Debbie Harry set to a Devo demo track–and that’s what “Preppie” was.
Artistically, it was uncharted territory for Lynn, but Billboard shared in Cheryl’s and Columbia Records’ enthusiasm for the project, with “Preppie”–the single–receiving Billboard’s “Pick” review during the week of its release, a status reserved for songs it predicted to reach the top-30 of their respective genre charts. This wasn’t a stretch prediction for Lynn who’d had seven top-30 R&B chart hits up to that point.
Except “Preppie” failed miserably, reaching only No. 85 on that list in the fall of 1983 and becoming Lynn’s lowest charting hit of her then-five-year career (only one of her charting songs would match that low over the rest of her career).
With that misfire fresh in the minds of all parties involved, Columbia wasted little time in readying the follow-up single. And there was little doubt about what had to be next: the obvious choice was the most unique sounding cut on the album, the one bearing the names of two up-and-coming producers who’d just come off their first big hit (SOS Band’s “Just Be Good To Me”) and whose Minneapolis funk sound was all over the track.
“Encore” was released as a single 40 years ago this week on Nov. 13, 1983.
The song was written by Jam & Lewis just months after the two had been fired by Prince from the group The Time for missing a flight to a gig while moonlighting as producers on the SOS Band project. Jam & Lewis shared production credits with Lynn, but it was clear that “Encore” was all Minneapolis funk.
The two freshly emancipated ex-Time members brought what would become their signature sound to the boards for their newest project. Having learned from the master, Prince, himself, “Encore” used a programmed drum machine beat that repeats throughout the track (except for the verses), bringing it a funky precision similar to what Prince had done for The Time’s classic “777-9311” a year earlier.
The two producers also employed a full slate of synthesizers, most notably with the bassline, to create the tune’s undeniably funky melody. To give it a “live” feel, Jam & Lewis added crowd noise at the beginning as the song’s intro builds to a crescendo. They’d repeat the effect at the end, particularly on the 8-minute-plus extended mix, as Lynn’s enthusiastic ad-libs bring the song to a close.
But the star of the show was clearly Lynn herself.
Taking full command of her contralto voice, Cheryl sang in a lower range on the verses for “Encore,” which brought her signature sassiness front and center. The song’s lyrics were purely metaphorical, with a joyful Cheryl giving a nod to a lover’s satisfying performance, likening it to a concert where the singer is so good, he deserves an encore.
Perhaps not since “Got To Be Real” had Lynn sung with so much confidence, with her multi-tracked vocals offering an interesting interplay, a call-and-response with herself as both lead and background singer. Throughout “Encore,” you got the impression there were at least four different Cheryl Lynns in the studio at once.
On the song, Lynn playfully coos, she wails, she moans, she scats, she squeals, she laughs, she does it all. She even tells a joke. At the 4:27 mark of the 8:18 extended version, Cheryl delivers the following line: “See baby, I want to give you a standing ovation, ’cause I’m Cheryl Lynn and I know talent when I see it,” a clear nod to her Gong Show days (and perhaps that loss to the juggler; where is he now, btw?).
Although Jam & Lewis had helmed “Encore” superbly, the future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers still had only one big hit production on their resume in the fall of 1983–the No. 2 soul single “Just Be Good To Me”–and they were about a year removed from finding hitmaking consistency with the likes of Cherrelle, Alexander O’Neal and, later, Janet Jackson.
Also, despite everything “Encore” had going for it, there was still the issue of what it had followed.
Understandably, critics were skeptical at first, with Billboard giving “Encore” a second-tier review, calling it “Recommended” vs. a “Pick” in their hierarchical system of song reviews back then. A “Pick” was something that was expected to reach the top-30 of its respective genre chart, a mark “Preppie” had failed to achieve with that designation just two months earlier. Songs that were “Recommended” were just expected to chart, although they might be of “superior quality.”
“Encore” was clearly of superior quality, and it confounded all its detractors.
It entered Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (then called Hot Black Singles) on December 10, 1983, at No. 82, outperforming its predecessor in the first week. The following week it leapt to No. 58, then up to No. 40. Just over a month later it was in the top 10, and a month after that, on the chart dated February 25, 1984, “Encore” was at No. 1 (displacing Patti LaBelle’s smash “If Only You Knew”) and matching the peak of her biggest hit, “Got To Be Real.”
In addition, the song became the first chart topper of many for Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, sparking a career that would make them among the most successful songwriting and production duos in music history.
While “Encore” (No. 69 peak on the Hot 100) didn’t repeat the success of “Real” on the pop chart, it has nonetheless become another signature tune for Lynn, whose confident, sassy and playful delivery–plus the song’s memorable funk arrangement courtesy of Jam & Lewis–has made it iconic in Black music circles.
The song has also found new audiences this year with the #EncoreChallenge, a viral dance sensation popularized in a series of online videos by two “Chick-Fil-A Boyz” who’ve used the song to soundtrack their fluid dance moves while grooving happily with food bags in hand at a Baltimore restaurant.
Even notwithstanding its newfound audience (Lynn recently announced that she owns the masters to her recordings, so she’s properly paid every time the song is streamed), this blogger considers “Encore” Cheryl Lynn’s absolute best track, one that will forever be associated with those high school senior year dances DJ’d by our very own Pete Coleman, the classmate who could be counted on to spin the song maybe twice or more during a session, at a time when we certainly didn’t mind hearing it multiple times a night.
I still don’t mind (I’ve probably played it a half-dozen times while writing this article…and that’s the long version!).
R.I.P. to Pete, and congratulations to Cheryl Lynn on the 40th anniversary of this timeless gem!
DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.
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