Jheri Curl Fridays: “Digital Display”
Get ready to jump back into the time machine with me as we travel to the year 1985. “Back to the Future” and “Cocoon” were the top movies of the year, “The Cosby Show” was establishing itself as a television juggernaut, and Prince was one year removed from his Purple Reign atop the music world. If there’s one thing Prince did besides teach the world that it was OK to wear bikini briefs and high heels, it was spawn imitators. Within months of his breakthrough success, everyone seemed to be toying with the synthesizer (and the Linn drum machine that became his trademark), working the androgynous image and toying with sexual imagery in their lyrics. One group that found quite a bit of success with a Prince-like influence was Flint, MI’s Ready for the World.
Led by Melvin Riley, RFTW was a synth-funk ensemble who specialized in randy double entendres and robotic dance jams. They also must have had stock in Care Free Curl, their heads were so damn greasy. Their biggest hit was “Oh Sheila”, which topped the pop and R&B charts, but they scored several major R&B hits from 1985 into the early Nineties (and they were especially big in their hometown…I lived in Detroit from 1984-1987 and those guys were omnipresent on the radio). The follow-up to “Oh Sheila” was a danceable little tune called “Digital Display”, and from the stiff groove to Riley’s purring vocal, there’s no way that folks unfamiliar with RFTW didn’t listen to this song and go…”Prince?”
“Digital Display” was one of several hit singles off of their self-titled debut and helped it attain Platinum status. RFTW scored one more huge hit a year later with the young man/older woman ballad “Love You Down”, but their pop audience quickly faded away. They’d broken up by the mid-Nineties. Riley made one solo album before he and the band faded away for good. However, RFTW is on the comeback trail, and I’m sure “Digital Display” remains a mainstay of their set when they play shows.