This group has a song titled "She's Strange"...well, one could be forgiven for thinking that she can't be any stranger than these guys. They are indeed strange...in a good way. Hard funk with a fashion sense that captures the eye and keeps it. Maybe not as outlandish as Parliament-Funkadelic, I mean, who is? But while they may not have a guitarist who wears a diaper, they do have a singer who wears a codpiece, and if it's good enough for Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson then it's good enough for Cameo's Larry Blackmon.
Blackmon, a vocalist and drummer is the man who got Cameo together in 1974 as a band thirteen members strong originally called The New York City Players. Aside from the fact that the name made them sound not so much like a funk band as a theatre troupe, there was also a very successful band called The Ohio Players and rather than invite any legal trouble the decision was made to change the name to Cameo. The band's obvious mission was to keep everyone on the dance floor and with their deeply organic funk sound they were well equipped to do so. Their early albums contained solid material such as "Rigor Mortis", "I Just Want To Be" and "Shake Your Pants".
Signed to the Casablanca Records imprint Chocolate City label in 1976, the band maintained moderate chart success into the mid-80s, when the band stripped down to a nucleus of Blackmon, Tomi Jenkins, Nathan Leftenant and Charles Singleton. The band also at this time relocated to Atlanta, Georgia from the huge New York City market, effectively making them bigger fish in a smaller pond. After their final Chocolate City album Alligator Woman featuring the single "Just Be Yourself", Blackmon started his own label Atlanta Artist Records. The new label's first album release, 1983's Style, was marked by a subtle shift to a more synthesizer-prominent sound which added to rather than overshadowing their original heavy duty funk style. This was evidenced on what became their first hit to cross over into the pop charts, "Talkin' Out The Side Of Your Neck", from the follow-up album, She's Strange
"Talkin' Out The Side Of Your Neck" is a stand-out tune, a medium-tempo funk stomper where the heavily sequenced drum machine and edgy synthesizer compliments a tight horn arrangement. While the horns unfortunately became more and more scarce as time went on in favor of the electronics, the good news is that the funk remained intact. It was the 1985 album release Single Life that significantly raised the band's profile, with the title track going to #2 on the RnB charts.
The peak of the band's success and their first trip to the top of the charts was brought to the band courtesy of their next album, 1986's Word Up. The first single release from this album was the title track, which went to #1 on the RnB charts and #6 on the pop charts. The next single from the LP, "Candy" also was a #1 RnB chart hit, going to #21 on the pop charts. This chart impact coupled with heavy rotation of the accompanying videos on MTV officially bestowed upon them superstar status. Both hits were extremely well crafted Blackmon-Jenkins compositions.
Two years would go by before the band's follow-up LP, Machismo was released. While not a big seller ( although it did go gold), the album drew highly positive critical reviews. This was also the case with their final Atlanta Artists album Real Men...Wear Black and their one release on the Reprise label, Emotional Violence. Two more independent label releases, In The Face Of Funk and Sweet Sexy Thing marked the end of their recorded output. The band also released six live albums on various labels from the late 1990s through the early 2000s.
The band's music has been sampled extensively by hip-hop artists in the U.S. and abroad, as well as appearing on video games such as Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas. "Word Up" and "Candy" appear on the soundtracks of the feature films The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Best Man. "Word Up" was also used in an episode of The Simpsons. Blackmon, Jenkins and Singleton are still active in the industry.