(December 2, 2023). How did this happen?
I like the Pointer Sisters.
No, in fact, I love the Pointer Sisters.
But I certainly wasn’t prepared for the results of this year’s Spotify Wrapped recap of my most streamed artists, songs and music genres for the twelve months gone by, where the quartet-turned-trio of California-based siblings ranked as my most listened-to act of 2023.
And this wasn’t the current incarnation of the Pointers, where sole survivor and oldest sister Ruth is now joined by her daughter Issa and granddaughter Sadoka.
It wasn’t even the most successful version of the group — the trio consisting of Ruth, Anita and June — who scored big with more than a dozen top-40 hits between 1978 and 87.
No, this was the full foursome of the late 20th century’s most famous sisters, including Bonnie before she left in 1978.
And there was one mid-1970s album in particular that stole the show, with four of its eight tracks occupying my top-10 most played songs of 2023, and the remaining four dotting the top 25.
Like many other Spotify listeners, I look forward to the annual late-autumn reveal of the year’s most streamed songs – both my own and the nation’s/globe’s.
Even if that announcement yields little in the way of surprises (except that it seems to be coming earlier and earlier each year), it at least confirms what you pretty much already knew about the general population’s tastes and offers a few new insights into your own.
No one is shocked, for example, that Taylor Swift and Drake, respectively, ranked No. 1 and 2 in the U.S. as the most streamed artists, or that they were followed closely by country superstar Morgan Wallen, Canadian pop/R&B staple The Weeknd, and last year’s leader Bad Bunny in the top five. (Four of those artists are also among the global top-five, with Peso Pluma replacing Morgan Wallen… an indication that country music still gets little love outside the good ole USA).
These lists always create lots of buzz. Since the big reveal this Wednesday (Nov. 29), the Internet has had fun, for example, with the large number of people expressing their “embarrassment” for having Drake in their top 5 lists, despite the fact that the Canadian rapper is a top-five act both nationally and globally, and somebody had to put him there.
Thankfully, I was spared the indignity of being in that group or among the millions of Swifties who streamed “Anti-Hero” or “Cruel Summer” on repeat until the cows came home (they still haven’t btw).
But the Swifties and Drakesters of the world — as well as anyone else who might see this article — would likely have a laugh or two at my expense if they caught wind of my year-end Spotify rankings, where the Pointers topped recurring favorites (and I can’t emphasize the “recurring” descriptor enough here) Chic and Stevie Wonder, who rank No. 2 and 3 this year.
And for those Swifties reading this who are still in learning mode after becoming hip to the NFL and its reigning champions the KC Chiefs (thanks to their newly formed alliance with Travis Kelce), Chic is a disco group formed in the 1970s by guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Nile Rodgers and his late BFF, bassist Bernard Edwards.
And Stevie Wonder is, well, he’s Stevie Wonder.
But how did my all-time favorite artist (Wonder) and band (Chic) get eclipsed by the Sisters Pointer this time around?
Sadly, it goes back to the beginning of the year and the passing of the group’s arguable MVP Anita Pointer, who died of cancer last New Year’s Eve at the age of 74.
With her death, as I do with most significant artist passings, I immediately went into tribute mode and began researching the Pointers’ catalogue.
The normal stuff immediately came up during my Spotify search, including hit-filled classics like 1983’s Break Out, 1978’s Energy and 1985’s Contact.
But the one that most caught my attention was the album whose cover bears those outlandishly hip, open-toe, platform-heeled, purple and black tap sneakers with the white laces: their 1975 hit Steppin’.
On the album were a couple of tracks I immediately recalled, particularly the No. 1 R&B hit “How Long (Betcha’ Got a Chick on the Side)” and a couple tunes that populated a vinyl 45 I had acquired in my youth.
That single was “Goin’ Down Slowly,” a soulful rocker — and the album’s longest track at nearly eight minutes — that saw the sisters preaching the gospel about getting into things so deep that you can’t get out of them (like me binging on the Pointers this year), and its B-side, a multi-faceted Stevie Wonder-penned number called “Sleeping Alone.”
I immediately recalled how I came to own the single as a child. It was during a find at the local neighborhood playground where a very close friend and I one day discovered a pile of discarded 45s lying just waiting for new owners. We later figured someone on the wrong end of a bad relationship was the loser in this situation.
Among the one hundred or so 7-inch singles my friend and I divided between us was that Pointer Sisters gem — on the old ABC/Blue Thumb label — that ended up in my half of the stash.
Upon rediscovering these songs in 2023, I remembered how, as a ten-year-old kid in late 1976 who was by then feasting on more accessible hits like “Hot Line” by the Sylvers, “Car Wash” by Rose Royce and “The Rubberband Man” by the Spinners, the old-style Pointers weren’t really my cup of tea.
I might have spun that one-year-old record on my parents’ turntable three or four times, max, before permanently placing it in my own scrap heap of misfit 45s.
But the songs somehow hit differently in 2023 for a guy who was now deeply entrenched in his 50s.
Especially the alternately subdued and energetic “Sleeping Alone,” which I somehow fell in love with for the first time upon hearing it on Spotify in January.
January 5 to be exact… that’s what Spotify tells me was the first of the 55 times I played “Sleeping Alone” this year (I’m sure ten of those plays were that day), making it my most played song for 2023.
No doubt contributing to the appeal of “Sleeping Alone” was the fact that Wonder’s fingerprints were all over it. From his mumbled three-note count up in the song’s intro to its haunting keyboard rift (which he played), and from the jazzy feel of the ballad-paced verses to the jarring, Batman-theme evoking, uptempo transitions that followed, I couldn’t get enough of it.
The song indeed sounded experimental, like Wonder and producers David Rubinson (and friends) tried as many sounds as possible to see which ones could stick, finally realizing that, with the right elements, they all could.
The spillover effect of binging heavily on one track is getting to hear the one that immediately follows it on the album — also on repeat. In this case, that would be “Easy Days,” the tune in which the sisters added lyrics to the melody of Isaac Hayes’ instrumental classic “Ellie’s Love Theme” (from the Shaft soundtrack), with outstanding results.
“Easy Days” became my second-most listened to song of 2023, and not necessarily all by default. The sisters’ perfect harmonies made it equally hard to turn off whenever it played.
The Steppin’ album’s first track and its first single — the No. 1 R&B smash “How Long” — wound up ranking No. 5 on this year-end recap, coming after the oddly placed “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by Crash Test Dummies and the late Gary Wright’s “Love Is Alive,” at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.
I can explain both of those late-year adds. The Crash Test Dummies were on repeat one day in late summer as I prepared for a planned karaoke stint.
I played Gary Wright’s classic on heavy rotation (along with his “Really Want to Know You,” at No. 8 on my 2023 recap) after his unfortunate passing this past September (also in preparation for a blog tribute).
Otherwise, the Pointers would have swept the entire top three with songs from the highly eclectic but under-appreciated LP Steppin’.
That the album’s eight tracks, which range in nearly every musical style from blues to jazz to gospel to soul to rock, all made the top 25 just goes to show that there’s no topping good talent, no matter how long ago it was manifested.
If past is prologue, there will likely be a different artist at the top of my 2024 list a year from now. No act has repeated as my most played in the many years Spotify has been creating these tallies.
But the Pointers are off to a good start.
I’ve already streamed the songs from Steppin’ quite a few times each while writing this article.
We’ll see. In the meantime, you can get a chuckle or two by checking out the playlist of my 100 most streamed songs on Spotify for 2023 right here.
I mean where else would you find songs by the Pointers, Chic, Stevie, EWF, Rufus & Chaka, Diana Ross, Heatwave, America, Lynyrd Skynyrd, CCR, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Beatles, Paul McCartney, O’Jays, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, SZA, Gordon Lightfoot, Andy Gibb, the Jones Girls, Burna Boy, Lionel Richie, Todd Rundgren, Brothers Johnson, Crash Test Dummies, Jeffrey Osborne, Gunna and more, all on the same playlist?
But sorry to disappoint folks, no Taylor or Drake on this year’s recap.
DJRob (he/him/his), self-professed musical creature of habit, 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.
You can also register for free (select the menu bars above) to receive notifications of future articles.