By Steve Spears
In the neon-spritzed world of the ’80s that fans prefer to paint, it’s easy to forget that some of the genius acts of our decade were formed from breakups, rivalries and overall angst.
Such is the tale of Club Nouveau, the R&B act that is joining us for the 2019 rendition of The 80s Cruise. Jay King, the band’s founder, has always been very open about how the unexpected breakup of a former band led to Club Nouveau’s creation and success.
“We had a group called Timex Social Club that included Denzil Foster, Thomas McElroy and I,” King told Soulculture.com back in 2011. “We were producers and writers for that group. … But before we could get our feet on solid ground, ‘Rumors’ became such a hit record and we were writing other songs for them. After that initial success, they went and signed an agreement with another company and I had all of these songs left over and I was really upset. So I wrote the song ‘Jealousy’ about Timex Social Club and I decide to start the group Club Nouveau.”
“Jealousy” paid off for Club Nouveau as the tune reached the top 10 of the R&B charts in 1986. The lyrics don’t even attempt to hide the contempt that King felt for his old partners.
“I tried to help some friends
To help themselves
To get their lives intact
They came out spreading rumors
Now I have to come out spreading facts.”
“Let me tell how this started
And where it all began
I guess I was a fool to try and help.”
“My broken social friends
They told me if I’d help them
They’d be in debt for life
But when I turned my back to get support
They stabbed me with a knife.”
Expect to hear “Jealousy” from Club Nouveau during their performances on the Celebrity Infinity — but at least now you’ll know why Jay is still singing that tune with such intensity. (And why it’s probably a bad idea to ask him to autograph any old Timex Social Club albums you might bring along.)
Here are 5 more things to know about Club Nouveau before we set sail this spring.
THE NAME: The group’s name itself might not seem like a mystery — “club nouveau” is French for “new club.” But that is meant not only to tweak the Timex Social Club, but also to emphasize that Club Nouveau was an entirely new group.
HOT FROM THE START: Club Nouveau’s first album — 1986’s “Life, Love & Pain” — was a huge success, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Soul Albums chart and No. 6 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. After the rise of “Jealousy” on the charts, Club Nouveau’s “Situation #9” climbed even higher, topping out at No. 4 on the R&B chart.
THE BIG TUNE: “Lean on Me” was already a hit on its own, dating back to 1972 when Bill Withers first wrote and recorded it. When the Club Nouveau version hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987, “Lean On Me” became one of only a handful of songs to have reached No. 1 with versions recorded by two different artists. (Two other ’80s classics also make that list: “Venus” by Bananarama and “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by Kim Wilde.)
THE MOVIE SOUNDTRACK: Morgan Freeman starred as the real-life Principal Joe Louis Clark in the 1989 movie “Lean On Me,” which includes two versions of the song. The cast sing-along is probably best remembered, but there’s a second version by Thelma Houston included on the soundtrack.
THE AWARDS: Club Nouveau’s rendition of “Lean on Me” resulted in several Grammy nominations. The song would win for Best R&B Song, though technically Bill Withers is credited for that victory because he’s the song’s writer.
FUTURE HITS: The band’s “Life, Love & Pain” would eventually be certified as a platinum record. Club Nouveau has continued to record and tour through the years. While 1987’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad” also was a Top 40 hit (and has been sampled by other artists including Gwen Stefani), the band has landed eight songs on the R&B charts, including four in the Top 10.
(Steve Spears is the creator and co-host of the award-winning Stuck in the ’80s podcast. Listen to weekly shows featuring Steve and co-host “Brad in LA” as they remember the music, movies and pop culture of our beloved decade. The podcast is free to stream online at your favorite podcast website.)