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In 1974, 18 years old Larry Blackmon was the founder frontman and lead singer of a funk and R&B band called initially The New York City Players as “compliment” to the funk band Ohio Players. Yes? Really? I’m not so sure it was a compliment and looks that neither The Ohio Players, who definitively were not happy about confusion caused by the use of that name by their unsolicited fans; so in 1976, the group had to change its name to Cameo after concerns due conflict with them and to avoid a lawsuit.


Along with his unique vocal style, Blackmon also played drums. His other personal touches included sporting an elaborate hi-top fade haircut and a codpiece over his pants. FYI, a codpiece is pouch that attaches to the front of the crotch of men's trousers and usually accentuates the genital area. It was an important item of European clothing in the 15th and 16th centuries. His signature "ow!" was used as the intro for some of the band's songs.


The band started with a deep, funk sound with a sight set on the dance floor. Their first album was Cardiac Arrest which featured their first hit single, Rigor Mortis.


By 1978 it was "disco time" and looks that they suddenly realized if they wanted to sell, they should transit to the disco. So between 1978 and 1982 they released several dance floor songs such as "I Just Want To Be" and "Find My Way", the latter of which was a major disco hit and was included on the Thank God It's Friday movie's soundtrack.


"Find My Way" was cover of a 1972 song by The Three Degrees, a cover itself of an R&S song from 1969 by The Tymes. Depending on you musical orientation, you might like more any one of those; personally I prefer Cameo’s from TGIF.  "Find my way" also has an extended version released later by Cameo, with a touch of more "funky" sound.


Once the disco fever passed, they returned to their original funky sound like in Shake Your Pants but their great moment arrived in 1986 when they released Word Up!, a funk and R&B upbeat and energetic piece of music, written by band members Larry Blackmon and Tomi Jenkins. Its frequent airing, on American dance and R&B radio, as well as its MTV music video, in which LeVar Burton appears as a police detective trying to arrest the band, helped the single become the band's best-known hit. LeVar Burton is best known for his roles as the host and executive producer of the long-running PBS children's series Reading Rainbow, Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the young Kunta Kinte in the 1977 award-winning ABC television miniseries Roots.


Word Up!  peaked at number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, spent three weeks at number 1 on the US R&B chart and one week at number 1 on the US Hot Dance Singles chart. In the UK, it spent 10 weeks in top 40, peaking at number 3 on September 21, 1986.


Besides being a commercial success, the track also earned critical acclaim. Word Up! won Cameo the Soul Train Music Award for Best R&B/Soul Single as well as the NME Award for Best Dance Record.


Blackmon said of the song: "It just sounded good, and it was before its time. You can play Word Up anyplace anywhere, and someone is going to be grooving and bobbing their head. Our sound was unique, as well. I haven’t heard another one like it, and we probably won’t hear another one like it in the future. It was that significant for us."


A cool comment but not a quite true affirmation. Word Up! is not soooo original. It's obvious that they mimicked the original verse melody of Frankie Smith’s "Double Dutch Bus" from 1981, five years earlier! It also features a reference to the opening notes of Ennio Morricone's theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Looks that Blackmon is a "western spaghetti" fan, because same “whistling” riff is featured in a previous single of the band, "Single Life" and in a later one, “Desire”.


Additionally, the comparison with Toni Basil’s Mickey is obvious. Compare the rhythm of the vocal delivery and you might see what I mean.


In their more recent productions, Cameo has been “sliding” toward hip-hop in later albums; let’s say they play a funky hip-hop. Currently they have a live show in Westgate Las Vegas Resort Casino.


In any case, kind of a "plasticine" song, Word Up! has been adapted to several rather different genres: an out-and-out cover of metal band Korn, another by “Spice Girl” Mel B., a cowpunk (country-punk) version by The Bosshoss, a rock version by Gun, a remix series by Trashfunk Rockerz (2012) and a pop-tinted one from 2014 by British girl group Little Mix.


From the side of striking “similarities”, there is this 2008 chart-topping song by The Ting Tings, That´s Not My Name: something bothers me every time I listen to it. Whenever the verse is playing, I can’t help but remind of the equivalent section of Cameo’s Word Up.



The final question is, after all, what does "Word Up" mean? It was a colloquialism, a slang popular in New York City and other US urban areas in the 80s, though I'm not sure if it's still in use. Depending on the context, it might have different meanings.

- Acted as an affirmation of what was said - a kind of a hipper "You Bet"

- Acknowledgement, approval, indication of enthusiasm - "Yes, I agree with that"

“Dude, count me in, word up!”

- Another way to say, “Yeah! or Damn Right!” – “This is the best video game ever made. Word up!"

- To command agreement from another person; to prompt someone to concur by responding "Word up!"

- "The soup is too hot, kid! Word up."

- A greeting. “Word up! Bro.”

- Listen to me.

- Speaking or writing the truth. Seriousness. Not joking. “I love a cloudy summer day, word up!”

That’s all, folks! Word Up!




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I have their greatest hits CD-also their 12'' extended mixes CD. I hear "Word UP" and "Candy" at work as we sometimes play the 80s satellite station. Kids 20-30 years younger than me love their music. Quite a testament to their longevity and also how much today's music sucks for the most part.

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7 hours ago, shorty6100 said:

I hear "Word UP" and "Candy" at work as we sometimes play the 80s satellite station.


"Candy" is one of the fine songs of Cameo


It was released as the second single from their 1986 album Word Up!. It reached number twenty-one on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the R&B charts in 1987 in the U.S. The song has been featured in the 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and can be heard on the Bounce FM radio station in the game.

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