In 1987, La Toya Jackson was a free agent. Having just been released from her record contract with Private-I Records, La Toya was living the high life: product endorsements were rolling in, magazine covers were plastered with her image and she was selling out shows all over the globe.
Even though she was already a household name – in part due to her surname – La Toya was feeling restless. She was stifled under the management of her father, Joe Jackson, and felt the need to rebel. So, taking a page from her brother Michael’s playbook, La Toya fired her father and took on a new manager, Jack Gordon.
Talking with Echoes magazine in 1988, La Toya said, “I tried several times to leave. But my father is not the kind of man to say ‘no’ to. Eventually I just put my foot down.” And with four albums under her belt, she was ready to get back in the studio and record her first album without any familial involvement.
“I want this to strictly be something I’m doing alone without the help of my brothers. I wanted to be independent of that,” she said to JET magazine.
Before she had even signed a deal, she was working in her family’s Hayvenhurst recording studio with Scottish producer Steve Harvey. The duo recorded two songs together, “Does It Really Matter” and “Trouble.”
In the summer of 1987, La Toya was scouted by the German independent label Teldec Records. Teldec’s American representative, Morris Diamond, brought La Toya to Germany to meet with Sherman Heinig, their A&R and marketing director, where she was then signed to a recording contract that would lead to two albums. The sessions with Steve Harvey were abandoned for the time being, as La Toya was soon sent to to the UK to record.
She was put into the studio with British hitmakers Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman, who had recently had huge hits with Rick Astley, Dead or Alive and Mel & Kim. Together, they wrote and recorded three tracks for an eventual album.
“I met Pete Waterman at a convention in Germany and we struck up a conversation. The next day I was in London recording the first song, plus I did two more later,” La Toya said.
She said around the time of the album’s release, “[Pete] told me that they would change their style to suit me, but that’s not what happened. When I walked into the studio to write with them the music was already done. When I objected they just told me that this was their way and if I didn’t like it they had a long list of other people who would be more than happy to take the tracks. So I had to make the best of it – we had a contractual agreement.
“On reflection, I can respect the way they think, but I’d have to say that working with them was not a stretching or growing experience. Singing over their tracks is about as difficult as saying ‘hello’ to the person next to you.
“It was a very interesting experience but they have their own tightly-defined style and they like to stick to it, whereas I wanted to expand things more and try something slightly different.”
It’s interesting that La Toya had expressed dissatisfaction with the experience, as Mario Tarradell of the Miami News remarked that that her work SAW was “right on target” and that their work together were “pop gems that display Jackson at her best.” Her SAW-produced material has consistently been deemed the highlight of the album and attracted many SAW fans to La Toya.
The first song they recorded together, “Just Say No,” was written for the American anti-drug campaign of the same name. At the request of First Lady Nancy Reagan, La Toya’s involvement with Just Say No! didn’t begin and end with just a song. She appeared as La Toya Jackstone in a primetime “Flintstone Kids” special aimed at young people who might have been facing peer pressure to indulge in drug use. She hosted events across the country, introducing and performing the song, including during a New York Knicks-Detroit Pistons basketball game.
Mixmaster Pete Hammond says of working on the SAW material, “When I came to mix her tracks, the backing track spill from the headphones onto the mic was awful – and she had the worst case of sibilance I had ever heard. I complained to Mike and Matt’s engineer, who told me, ‘We thought there was something wrong with the mic. We tried everything, but her Ssses were so loud. We couldn’t understand it. It was only when one of us went into the studio area and stood next to her by the mic during a take that we realized what was wrong: she was singing so quietly that the mic was picking up the sound from the headphones louder than her actual voice! This also meant that when she sang a word that contained an ‘S’ sound, the Ssss was much louder than her actual voice!’ I had to use every trick in the book to get a decent vocal sound on those tracks!”
La Toya’s first SAW-produced single, “(Ain’t Nobody Loves You) Like I Do,” was released in Europe, excluding the UK, near the end of 1987. Despite a handful of television performances and a music video in heavy rotation, the single failed to make much of an impact on the mainstream pop chart. It did, however, gain DJ support in Germany, making the song a club staple and further cementing La Toya’s reputation as a dancefloor queen.
Another low-key single release followed in France with “(Tell Me) He Means Nothing to You At All.” The single wasn’t given any promotion or an accompanying music video so went unnoticed.
Recording for the album continued through the spring of 1988, when La Toya was partnered with Full Force, who, at that time, were most famous for their work with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. She had to wait over six months for an opening in the group’s schedule, but she knew it would be worth the wait. “I always wanted a street sound,” she said. “I really wanted their input so I waited.”
La Toya recorded four songs with the R&B troupe, all unlike anything she’d done before. Three of the tracks were a hip-hop/dance hybrid reminiscent of James Brown or Rick James and the fourth was a melancholy ballad not too dissimilar to Janet’s “Let’s Wait Awhile.” La Toya was definitely out of her comfort zone with this record, having previously stuck to dancefloor-friendly funk-pop.
She contended that working with Full Force was more satisfying than her experience with Stock, Aitken & Waterman, in that they both asked for and acted upon her opinions. She even spent some time turning down a number of their “X-rated” lyrics and, by the end of the project, had come to terms with their ‘street’ vernacular.
Teldec also called on the talents of Bobby Hart and Harold Faltermeyer to round out the album. Hart flew from Los Angeles to New York to record “If I Could Get To You,” a jaunty mid-tempo number featuring a then-unknown John Pagano. Again, La Toya was left discontented with the process, telling Blues & Soul magazine, “It isn’t one of my favorite cuts on the album but that’s only because of the way it was recorded – the track was only part completed when we did the vocals and I’ve always reckoned it is much better to put the vocals down over an otherwise finished track because you get a much better feel that way.”
Faltermeyer, possibly best known for composing the themes to Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop, provided the LP with a saccharine-sweet, synth-laden, formulaic pop number called “Turn On The Radio” that wasn’t too unlike SAW’s late-1980s output. He too made the trek to New York, La Toya’s home base, just to record with her.
To round out the album, La Toya revisited the material she had recorded the previous year with Steve Harvey. “Does It Really Matter” was completed at Hollywood’s Oasis Studios as a six-minute stomper unlike anything La Toya had recorded for the album to this point. It mixed disco, pop, R&B and funk to create something fun and quintessentially ‘La Toya’. Because of the passage in time between its recording and the album’s release, “Trouble” had been passed on to R&B newcomer Nia Peeples – who incidentally had a top forty hit with it in the US – and it was not used for the album.
With her deadline approaching, La Toya conceded to the fact that the album might not have been exactly as she’d imagined. She did, however, appreciate the product as a whole. “I don’t think there is any project which ever turns out exactly the way that you want it to but you settle with what you get as an end result and I have to say that I am pretty pleased with the album overall.”
In October 1988, the time had come to drop the album’s launch single – the Full Force-produced “You’re Gonna Get Rocked!” La Toya recorded the song’s music video in New York’s TriBeCa neighborhood, guided by director by Greg Gold. Donning a matching rhinestone-laden leather jacket and bustier combo, she climbs down from the back of a Harley Davidson – makeup flawless and hair perfect – before throwing down in a dance-off with a group of street toughs while her Hell’s Angels pals look on. With the clip, La Toya created and prevailed at biker chic, a look that even Diana Ross emulated for her 1989 LP Workin’ Overtime.
Although the clip helped her gain more headlines than record sales, the song was a minor hit for La Toya. The track peaked at number sixty-six on Billboard’s Hot Black Singles chart and only just missed out on the Hot 100 Singles list. It also performed moderately well on an international level, hitting number ninety in the UK, eighty-two in the Netherlands and a respectable forty-two in New Zealand.
La Toya went on a full-blown media blitz to promote the album’s release, performing on television programs across the globe. She gave dozens of interviews, all talking about the satisfaction of being on her own and of writing and recording an album out from under her father’s tutelage.
“To be honest, I never thought my past albums were as good as they could be because of [my father],” she told the New York Daily News. “With this album, I feel like a bird that’s been let out of a cage. For the first time, I’m free to fly where I choose. I want to establish myself.”
It wasn’t all peaches and cream, though. Time spent writing and recording took its toll. Friendships and romantic involvement were practically nil. “I have had no private life at all for two years,” she lamented. “My whole life has been this record. It’s hard work. It’s not glamorous at all.
Some critics lambasted the effort, though, claiming that La Toya’s surname was the only reason she had a record deal. But she was defiant, telling Blues & Soul magazine, “It’s true that having a family who are all well established in the business made it easier for me to get a hearing, but, on the other hand, people’s expectations are so much higher when your last name is Jackson. If I was any other female artist then I would be doing extremely well by now and would be judged solely on my own merits rather than having people expecting me to be comparable to Michael.”
To capitalize on her heightened media exposure, further singles were released in rapid succession. In Germany, “You Blew” was the album’s third single, while “Such A Wicked Love” was given the remix treatment for an international release. To promote “Wicked Love” in the US, RCA set up a special hotline for fans to phone in and listen to the song, reaching twenty thousand listeners per day.
“Such A Wicked Love” was La Toya’s favorite Full Force cut and as such, was keen to promote it as much as possible. The NBC network’s Standards and Practices department censored her Bob Hope’s Easter Vacation in the Bahamas performance, deeming her dance moves “too prurient” for prime time television. She traveled the globe, performing the song on television and in concert, from Venezuela to Australia.
Despite her persistence, the album stalled in most markets. She remained optimistic, though, telling the Gainesville Sun, “I don’t get frustrated because when it comes to a hit record, in that sense of success, it doesn’t happen overnight.”
British reissue label Cherry Pop released a deluxe version of the album in November 2013 with intensive input from Church of La Toya. This definitive two-disc edition includes virtually every released track from the album’s recording sessions, including rare vinyl-only remixes. As a special bonus, La Toya’s recording of “Trouble” was mixed specially for this release.