Breakin’ Down (Sugar Samba) – Julia & Company
…I’m telling you this, you can’t resist you gotta get up and dance, breakin’ it down…
It’s hard to remember just how dominant dance music was in 1984 – punk and new wave had been and gone, leaving Elvis Costello and Paul Weller to re-invent themselves with each LP (they both did dance LPs around this time) 2-tone had sealed the deal, and the disco underground of the 1970s was now mainstream chart music. Bestriding the world like a colossus was Michael Jackson, who was burned filming a Pepsi Commercial in January just before the release of his ground-breaking and game-changing video film for Thriller, the final single from that record-breaking album. Number one in Britain for weeks were Frankie Goes To Hollywood with “Relax“, a genuine british dance hit record which the BBC refused to play presumably because it references orgasm. Their 2nd single Two Tribes would also reach number 1 in April. In the previous year, when I’d been at the Donmar Warehouse for five months (!) in Steven Berkoff’s WEST, even David Bowie had gone disco with Nile Rogers and Let’s Dance.
And this surge of popularity gave many smaller acts their chance in the spotlight: Sharon Redd, The Pointer Sisters, and Washington D.C. resident Julia Nixon who produced a stunning 45rpm 7-inch single called Breakin’ Down (Sugar Samba) first on a local label District of Columbia then later on London Records – the one which I bought in a picture sleeve. It is a major groove and will, under almost any conditions, make people dance…
Knowing nothing about this group until recently when I learned that Julia Nixon had replaced Jennifer Holiday in Dreamgirls on Broadway, and that after this cracking single in 1984 and the follow-up I’m So Happy, she finally released her first solo LP in 2007 some 23 years later.
Now, I’ve been an actor for some 33 years myself, and I consider myself lucky to have lived for the bulk of my working life doing what I am capable of, and what I enjoy. To be precise : what I enjoy is the actual act of acting. The business of show less so, because of revelations like this : a clearly great singer (listen to the song) with a hit single who has had to wait for over 30 years to get one miserable solo LP released. She is clearly a better singer than the majority of chart acts, but pop music is merciless with talent, as is the TV and Film industry. I’ve thought about this many times, why does person a) get work and person b) doesn’t ?
I’m not pretending to know the answers to this but certain things are clear. Talent isn’t enough to succeed. There are other elements at work : luck, connections, and the greasing of the wheels. Whether someone wants to have sex with you or not. Whether they think that you’ll make them some money. In the acting industry the disappointment of rejection becomes your regular companion; if you took every defeat on the chin you’d never get up. Some don’t. In the music industry again the rejections may or may not fuel the fires of creativity, or someone younger and sexier might just jump into the gap. Good actors often decide that the lack of control they feel doing screen work can only be balanced by regular stage work, where the actor is king. Screen work generally is paid 10 times stage work. Good musicians will often be happier with regular paid session work, playing on other people’s hit songs, or writing other people’s hit songs (secret corn!) than sitting at home trying to plot an assault on the charts under their own name. And in both industries there are filters at work; gatekeepers, paid to streamline the flow of artists into the hallowed name positions.
Julia Nixon has carried on acting and singing, and still earns her living from doing it. She was recently nominated for a Helen Hayes Award in ‘Caroline, or Change’ in Washington D.C.
I was at the beginning of my working life when I heard this song, which I still love today, if I ever DJ for a brief nostalgic hour at a party or some such this record is Always In The Box along with Kid Creole & The Coconuts and TLC. I didn’t really have a plan in 1984, no strategy, no idea what I was doing frankly. Following my nose. No one ever sat me down and explained the industry to me. People just don’t do that. I wouldn’t have listened anyway. Young people don’t listen – they surge, they feel, they deal with it. The endless thought process dealing with “how it all works” is like trying to understand the dawn of time, or how dogs can smell cancer, or the endless mystery of why people are racist. Why does the river flow into the sea? Why is the sky blue ? (oxygen molecules) Why can’t I bend my left leg in the same way as my right? Does it matter?
We all get our moment in the sun. This is a superb song. Smooth, funky, sexy. I give you the seven-inch :
London Records re-mixed the 12-inch version :
the original District Of Columbia 12-inch single :