Between my Billboard Challenge, my Every Hot 100 Number-One Single challenge, and various other listening activities I do in the background, I feel like a good chunk of my writing work is spent writing about men in the industry. Sadly, it really isn’t too difficult to figure out why: men simply make up the bulk of the pop music world. They make up most of the producers, songwriters, engineers, and musicians. And even when women manage to find some success in this industry, the overwhelming majority of the time it’s through a series of decision-making efforts from a bunch of men on the other side of the ring. It’s a tad exhausting being a female music critic, but I couldn’t imagine how draining it must be to be a female musician on the scene and I have nothing but respect for these ladies.
Thus, it gives me so much pleasure every time I find myself in the position to write about women artists – even if it’s about a record or album I’m relatively lukewarm on! So, now for some stuff on the artist and song in question. This is far from Deniece Williams’s first hit single – a prominent R&B performer since around the mid-70s, Williams had a minor hit with “Free” in 1976. Shortly thereafter, she found herself at the top of the pop charts for the first time with the Johnny Mathis duet “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”. And it doesn’t stop there – she accomplished yet another top ten hit with her smooth R&B cover of The Royalettes’ “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”.
But 1984 would prove to grant Williams the greatest success of her career with her chart-topping smash “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”! It certainly helped that the song was propelled into popularity with its inclusion in the film Footloose and its soundtrack, and this popularity was enough to make it a Hot 100 #1 single for two straight weeks. However, with time it also became clear that this would be her last major pop hit, as she never quite managed to bounce back from the unprecedented slump her career experienced after “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”‘s success. A reinvention was in order, which was accomplished by Williams’s switch from secular pop to Christian gospel music near the end of the decade. It is on this trajectory that Williams has been on for about thirty years going, leaving behind the bouncy, polished pop that defined the first half of her career.
I guess I should mention now that I generally don’t care for “Let’s Hear It For the Boy”. I can’t believe it took me this long to realize it, but the backing track and chord progressions are eerily similar to New Edition’s “Cool It Now”, hi-hat synths, handclaps, buzzing synths, and all. I guess this is where the synthpop of the 80s begins to sound really monotonous and monolithic; if you were play this music for me without Williams’s vocals, it would probably take me a minute to place the record. With that being said, though, it makes for some pretty fun danceable fare and even the chorus of “Let’s hear it for the boy / Let’s give the boy a hand” is fun as hell to sing along to.
And as for Williams’s vocal performance, it certainly is one of the standout qualities of the track. She sings each line with an appropriate amount of energy and enthusiasm, and her personality really keeps the track from falling flat on its face, which it very well could have done. She even does some neat little vocalizations in the outro, which seem a bit pasted on but are warmly welcomed nonetheless. With that being said, I dare say that I’m glad that she ended up choosing the gospel route soon after this single. The production and style of this entire song is so limiting to her undeniably impressive range, which I’m sure would be better highlighted in an entire genre that tends to emphasize these exact traits. I guess the “time and place” excuse probably makes for the best explanation of this song’s success. Footloose was wildly popular in its day and being on the soundtrack certainly doesn’t hurt its chances, but beyond that, this just sounds like it would fit neatly alongside a range of other mid-80s pop fare, especially those that are bass-heavy and synth-laden. I may not be the biggest fan of this single, but its universal appeal is far from surprising.