Greg Phillinganes – Pulse (1984/2008)

Greg Phillinganes - Pulse (1984/2008)
Artist: Greg Phillinganes
Album: Pulse
Genre: R&B, Soul
Label: Arista/BMG Japan
Released: 1984/2008
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Behind the Mask (4:52)
Won’t Be Long Now (5:07)
Playin’ with Fire (4:45)
I Have Dreamed (4:41)
Come as You Are (4:15)
Lazy Nina (5:27)
Signals (4:58)
Countdown to Love (2:59)
Shake It (6:11)


Like Ray Parker, Jr. a half decade earlier, Greg Phillinganes came out of Detroit with a load of talent that blossomed while he was still a teen and made him one of the most sought after studio musicians in the world. “Discovered” by Stevie Wonder, Phillinganes worked with nearly every major artist of the late 70s and 80s, most notably becoming a linchpin in the now classic Quincy Jones recording sessions of the period with The Brothers Johnson, Patti Austin and, of course, Michael Jackson. While Phillinganes put bread on the table performing for others, his immense talent demanded the opportunity to stand in front, and that opportunity was realized on two LPs in the mid-80s, the latter of which was 1985’s Pulse, recently reissued by BBR/Cherry Red.
Phillinganes played a key role in Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and as part of those sessions he fell in love with a Yellow Magic Orchestra song that Jackson re-worked and recorded as “Behind the Mask.” When that song didn’t make the cut on Thriller, it became the foundation for Pulse. “Behind the Mask” is a monster funk jam, with a haunting, almost paranoid sound similar to that which crept into several Jackson songs of that time. Phillinganes is an unassuming vocalist, but he nailed “Mask” and it became a club smash, though it never received the R&B play it deserved.

Pulse’s roster of supporting artists demonstrated Phillinganes’ sterling reputation in the music business. Stars ranging from the Pointer Sisters to Mr. Mister’s Richard Page to James Ingram to Howard Hewett and many, many more all serve cameo roles supporting the project.

Half of the disc is filled with heavily electronic dance numbers, though none of them work as well as “Behind the Mask.” What is more interesting are the eclectic other selections that fill the rest of Pulse. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan wrote and produced a song at Phillinganes’ request, and “Lazy Nina” has a prototypically icy Steely Dan feel. “Countdown to Love” is an enjoyable, if trivial, take at doo wop, reversing the order of the Moonglows’ “Ten Commandments of Love.” Perhaps the most surprising addition is a gentle take on Rogers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed” (from The King and I), an unusual choice for Phillinganes’ somewhat fragile tenor, but a beautiful contribution to Pulse.

In the quarter century after Pulse, Phillinganes continued to work on countless high profile projects, and for awhile became a member of the rock group Toto, but he never had another major solo release. However, looking back at his sophomore album, while it never achieved great success it was certainly a notable LP of its time with a bevy of that period’s most talented artists involved. And while some of 80s electronics sound almost comically dated as we listen in 2012, several cuts — particularly “Behind the Mask” and “I Have Dreamed” — still sound absolutely terrific and make this a project that was well worth exhuming from the vaults and just as worthy of discovery (or rediscovery) by R&B fans. Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

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