Midnight Star's Emergency

The group's "Operator" remembered in this week's Forgotten Video
  • Midnight Star's "Operator"
November 04, 2010 -- 8:00 am PDT
GRAMMY.com

Welcome to Forgotten Videos. Well, for some forgotten, for others just filed away, and for others still, a totally brand-new discovery. Whichever category you fall into, each week we'll feature a video that's possibly been collecting dust when what it really deserves is a fresh look. Or, we'll be giving a fresh look at a video that deserves to be collecting dust. We're not here to judge, we just want to take you on a little trip down memory lane. Yep, you'll remember when hair was really that big, when drums were that up front in the mix, when video was young(er) and so were you.

Midnight Star
"Operator"
1984

It's been just a few days since the ghosts and goblins were out trick-or-treating, so the timing still feels right for Midnight Star. Incorporating sci-fi instrumentation and elements of funk, the band took their cues from George Clinton's Paliament Funkadelic, telepathing their influence to contemporary artists such as Janelle Monáe. "Operator" was a computer-age dance-floor smash, featuring keyboard blips and bleeps and lyrics suggesting computers and sex make for surprisingly natural bedfellows. Somehow, on this track they prove the point.

With a nonstop groove, vocoder-enhanced vocals, spacey spandex outfits and Tron-inspired graphics, "Operator" climbed the Billboard Hot 100 to No. 18 with a futuristic funk sound that was beginning to define the mid-'80s. But, despite all the adventurous trappings, the song was really a fairly conventional metaphor: a love so hot, it required a 911 call to douse the flames. Actually, there are a few other metaphors in this mixed-metaphor masterpiece, including the idea of operating one's body like (in the words of James Brown) a sex machine, as well as time-honored phone-sex metaphors ("Person-to-person is how it's got to be…We'll get together on the party line").

Formed in 1976 at Kentucky State University, Midnight Star was the creation of brothers Reginald and Vincent Calloway and singer Belinda Lipscomb. From 1983 to 1986, the group landed three Top 10 Billboard R&B albums. In 1988, the Calloway brothers left the group to form Calloway, which scored the No. 2 hit "I Wanna Be Rich," sort of a precursor to Bruno Mars and Travie McCoy's "Billionaire." Among little-known Calloway facts: They introduced Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds' band the Deele to executives at their label Solar, and they owned the world's largest working phone.

Do you own a vocoder? How about a really large phone? Got a Forgotten Video recommendation? Leave us a comment.

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