Life, Love and Pain was released on November 1, 1986 by Warner Bros. Records. Club Nouveau arrived onto the music scene in remarkable fashion with their lead single, “Jealousy.” This song was in response to Timex Social Club’s “Rumors” record that was blazing up the charts during the same year.
Club Nouveau was borne due to the group Timex Social Club going their separate ways by signing with another record label. The producers of Timex Social Club broke ties with the group and launched the group JetSet, which later became Club Nouveau, a French name translated as New Club.
Their sound and eclectic styles took the charts by storm and led to an incredibly successful debut album. The effective and potent mixture of instruments ranging from the Juno 106 keyboard to the 808 and LinnDrum machines gave the group the perfect combination of disco, funk and R&B to be embraced by the mainstream music audience.
Aesthetically, they were reminiscent of the famous 1970s R&B group, Rufus. During this juncture, R&B groups were still relevant, but more solo acts were branching out to find success on their own. This along with other factors allowed Club Nouveau to establish themselves as a dominant player in the music industry with this album. It ultimately became their highest selling effort to date.
The history behind Club Nouveau begins in Sacramento, California. Jay King, the founding member of the group, began assembling members after the split of Timex Social Club. Timex Social Club was being managed by King and signed to his independent label, Jay Records. After the split, King immediately chose the talented crop of individuals who would become the nucleus for the Club Nouveau sound.
Club Nouveau consisted of Denzil Foster, Thomas McElroy, Samuelle Prater, Valerie Watson and Jay King. Foster, McElroy and King provided the music for the group and King assumed the role of being manager as well. The group’s big break would occur in 1986 when Benny Medina, then Vice President and General Manager of the Urban Music Division at Warner Bros. Records heard their songs and signed them to Warner Bros. Records to release their debut album.
The Life, Love and Pain album was recorded in various studios in the Sacramento, Richmond, and Oakland, California.
SoulCulture recently sat down with Club Nouveau’s founder, Jay King to talk about the history behind the album and its legacy.
King tells the story of how Timex Social Club disbanded and how Club Nouveau became a group.
“We had a group called Timex Social Club that included Denzil Foster, Thomas McElroy and I,” says King. “We were producers and writers for that group. The group at that time also consisted of Michael Marshall, Alex Hill and Marcus Thompson. I put Valerie in the group because the guys weren’t very attractive, but also because they weren’t styled the way that I thought a group should be. I thought by adding a girl to the group it would add another flavor to it. Plus, Michael had an interesting singing voice and so did Valerie.
“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. We didn’t call ourselves Club Nouveau at first. Our original name was JetSet. We decided later on to change the group name to Club Nouveau. Club Nouveau used the music that was written for Timex Social Club and that’s how the group got started.”
King recalls how the group received their record deal and his feelings during that time.
“A lot of people were trying to sign us to a record deal and they were trying to woo me because I was still independent,” says King. “I didn’t want to sign to a major label. I didn’t know if a major label would “get us” or understand us or even know how to work with us. When it’s all in someone else’s hands you just never know how it’s going to work out. You have to let the chips fall where they may and hope it falls in your favor. A lot of what happens in this business has to do with timing, luck and a gift from God.
“I remember how everyone wanted me to fly into Los Angeles to meet with them. People like Louil Silas, Jr., Larkin Arnold, Jerry Griffin – but there was one guy that just left Motown who called and asked if he could fly out to see me and he was Benny Medina. He told me he was new at Warner Bros. Records and that he wanted to sign me. He promised me that if I made him a hit record he would do everything he could to make sure I got everything I wanted. He told me, ‘I’ll give you a label deal and I’ll make it happen.’ He was true to his word and he was able to do it after I gave him a hit record.
“But Benny Medina was also the first person to teach me what a ‘Hollywood Friend’ was. When I was hot, Benny wanted to be my friend, but when I wasn’t hot, he didn’t want to be my friend. Benny wasn’t like that with just me. He was the same way with Prince, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis and everyone else. I respect him for teaching me that lesson.”
King spoke on the creative forces behind constructing the album’s sound.
“We made music the way we felt it based on our experiences and what we were listening to,” says King. “In particular, Pop and R&B were really starting to homogenize and morph into each other. Especially in the 1960s and 1970s there was a definite sound of what was Pop and R&B music. There were a few R&B bands that had crossed over into the Pop mainstream, but for the most part Pop was Pop and R&B was R&B.
“Whereas, today R&B songs are considered Pop songs and vice versa. At that time, we were listening to groups such as the ABC Band and their song ‘Tell Me How to be A Millionaire,’ She Blinded Me with Science’ by Thomas Dolby, ‘Steppin’ Out’ by Joe Jackson, and ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ by Culture Club. Music was really taking on two personas in R&B and Pop. We just happened to be in that bubble and then Hip Hop arrived and we were young enough to be in the Hip Hop scene as well.
“So we were just making music based on what was in front of us and what we were inspired by and that’s where our sound came from. One my favorite groups were Tears For Fears. The drums from our song ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad’ really came from the Tears For Fears song ‘Shout.’ I basically took a small part of that drum beat and created a portion of ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad.’
Club Nouveau – “Why You Treat Me So Bad”:
King went on to describe the process involved in creating the group’s sound.
“I was the chief songwriter and constructor of our melodies, but Denny, Tommy and I all played a part in the songs,” says King. “The groove of the songs belonged to Denny, the middle parts and all the keyboard lines belonged to Tommy and the melody and lyrics belonged to me.”
“Denny, Tommy and I had a real magical thing between us in the studio. We could just get in the studio and make “it” happen. We would argue back and forth, but it would be a part of the process of putting the songs together. Sometimes I would lead with a melody or a piece of a lyric or Denny or Tommy would have something in mind already and we would take it from that point on.”
“Back then, it wasn’t like it is now. People didn’t have their own home studios. You had to really work in a professional studio to get that professional sound. There were no Protools, digital recordings and hard disk recordings. You had to use two inch tape and that was pro. If you were on a half inch or one inch tape, it was cool. But if you had a 16 track one inch tape you weren’t going to get that fat, round sound that you were going to get with a professional two inch tape recording.”
The lead single from the album would be ‘Jealousy.’ It peaked at #8 on the Billboard R&B Chart, #38 on the Billboard Dance Chart and #80 on the UK Singles Chart.
King revealed his emotions behind making the record.
“‘Jealousy’ was a song about me being mad at Timex Social Club for what they did,” says King. “Here I was suffering and putting my life and marriage on the line for these guys and they go and sign a contract behind my back. They were really upset at my label, Jay Records for getting the fanfare as the label who broke that record. I tried to help some friends get their lives on track. They were out there spreading rumors and I had to come back out with some facts. It was really just about me speaking about my life and my relationship with them.”
The next single to be released would be the pop heavy tune “Situation #9.” This record broke into the top five of the Billboard Charts by landing at the #4 spot on the Billboard R&B Chart.
“‘Situation # 9’ was about being in the worst situation you could be in,” says King. “I wanted to attack the song from another avenue. I aimed to be clever in my word usage and what I was trying to say was there are different degrees for the situations you can put yourself in. It was all about the wordplay and not being so direct, but being original and clever.”
“The strongest part for me was working on the melody and lyrics to make it have some strength so when people would hear it years from now they would be able to tell you put some effort into writing the song, which I think we accomplished because here we are speaking about the record 25 years later.”
The third single to be distributed would see Club Nouveau reach unprecedented success by landing their first #1 record. ‘Lean On Me’ was a remake of the classic 1972 Bill Withers song. The song peaked at #1 on the Billboard Dance Chart, Billboard Hot 100 Chart, New Zealand Singles Chart, #2 on the Billboard R&B Chart and #3 on the UK Singles Chart.
King delves into how the song came together.
“‘Lean On Me’ was one of those songs we did a few times before we got it just right,” says King. “We had to play with it and get it the way we wanted it sound for it to be ‘the record.’ The song was really fashioned after what was happening in Go-Go music. Denny and I would listen to Go-Go music late at night because that’s what would be on BET. At that time, BET would play a lot of Red and The Boys and whatever was happening in the Washington, DC area. So we would go to Tower Records and get those albums and listen to them.
“The rest of the group went over to the Caribbean islands, but I couldn’t go because I had business to tend to here for us. And part of the song where we say, ‘We Be Jammin’, Hey!’ came directly from the group’s visit over there. We didn’t know we were going to have that type of impact with “Lean On Me” it was just a song for us to remake. Bill Withers left a lot of room for interpretation. He is such a great writer and a lot of his songs can be interpreted in a 100 different ways depending on who is doing them. We happened to come up with something that really worked.”
The final two singles to be released were the highly popular ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad’ and ‘Heavy On My Mind.’ ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad’ peaked at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #2 on the Billboard R&B Chart and #22 on the Billboard Dance Chart. ‘Heavy On My Mind’ peaked at #42 on the Billboard R&B Chart.
“‘Why You Treat Me So Bad’ was a song that we wrote after hearing Timex Social Club’s ‘Thinking About You’,” says King. “We liked Timex Social Club’s song, but we weren’t in love with it. So we changed the arrangement of the song around to come up with ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad.’ I made the track slower and changed the tempo on it, but when they heard it they didn’t like it. When we broke up and they left to sign with someone else, we took the track we had and flipped it to make it ‘Why You Treat Me So Bad.’
“‘Heavy On My Mind’ was an idea I had with two other writers. Denny, Tommy and I got together and took the song and really refashioned it. Instead of saying something like ‘Thinking About You” or something to that effect we wanted to be creative and came up with ‘Heavy On My Mind.’
Club Nouveau – “Heavy On My Mind”:
We were trying to find a melody that hadn’t been used yet. We were trying to create a vibration that we thought was cool. Again, we didn’t have the thought process to say, ‘Yea, this is going to be hit’ or anything of the sort. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Another song from the album that stood out to King was ‘Let Me Go’ because of how personal the lyrics were and the quality of the music;”‘Let Me Go’ was a song I was working on with another guy from Dallas, Texas,” says King. “Denny, Tommy and I got together and rearranged the song. ‘Let Me Go’ was a letter that I was writing at the time to my wife.”
Club Nouveau – “Let Me Go”:
“I married really young and when I did the song ‘Rumors’ I sold everything we owned while she was out of town. It weighed on the relationship, but those are the kind of chances that you take when you’re a musician. I wasn’t doing any drugs or drinking. I’ve never drank or smoke or done any type of drugs, but I did love music and I took a lot of chances. I had a little boy at the time too and his mother didn’t play that. So this song was written to her because I was in love.”
King discusses the impact of the record’s success on the group.
“You think you’re prepared for the recognition, but you’re not. You have to remember we were kids then. Denny and I were both 24 and we were the oldest out of the rest of the group. Sam was only 19, Valerie was 22 and Tommy was 22 as well. You can never be prepared for that kind of success because it’s just too much. We eventually got through it. I was the guy who was dealing with the day to day business. I was the one fighting with the label. I was the artist, manager, producer, writer and owner of my own record company.
“I was the first of my kind. I was before Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, L.A Reid & Babyface, Andre Harrell, Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons. I had this type of deal before any of them. Any mistake that was going to be made was going to be made by me and I made my share. If I had to do it again, I would have look at the dynamic as it being a relationship instead of fighting with the label constantly.”
Life, Love and Pain peaked at #2 on the Billboard R&B Albums Chart in the winter of 1986 and #6 on the Billboard 200 Albums chart. The remake of ‘Lean On Me’ garnered a Grammy Award in 1987 for Best R&B Song. This album earned a plethora of Grammy Award, Billboard Music Award and Soul Train Music Award nominations. The eight song offering proves that Life, Love and Pain contains all of the essential ingredients to be a classic album.