Sunday, August 29, 2021

“You Gotta Believe” by the Pointer Sisters

Richard Pryor and the Pointer Sisters on the Car Wash set
Richard Pryor and the Pointer Sisters on Car Wash set
“You Gotta Believe” is one of the Pointer Sisters’ funkiest tracks. The bodacious groove lands smack dab in the funk zone and doesn’t let up. The song showcases the legendary group’s powerful gospel-infused vocals. The talented quartet brings tons of soul and fiery conviction to the mix. They kick things off in epic fashion with, “Doodle wop a-rat-a-tat boom/I'll make the sound of a jet plane zoom.” That’s one hell of an opener. Rose Royce bassist Lequeint "Duke" Jobe serves up a wicked thumpin’ bass line that’s sure to bring a big smile to the faces of funk lovers and bass players. The track also features some dirty guitar licks and a mammoth rumbling beat. 

The Pointer Sisters performed the song in a spirited scene from the 1976 cult comedy classic Car Wash. They play the Wilson Sisters, who are devoted acolytes of a silver-tongued Reverend Ike-type evangelist named Daddy Rich, portrayed with verve and devilish charm by Richard Pryor. Although the song is specifically directed at the character Abdullah, it could be taken in a broader context and applied to anyone who shares a similar attitude. It’s about how many people these days don’t have any faith, hope or belief in anything and often imprison themselves mentally with their own negativity, cynicism and anger—and they frequently take it out on others rather than taking a hard look at themselves. And the fact that the Wilson Sisters are followers of a rapacious charlatan doesn’t make their message any less valid. Sometimes deep wisdom can come from the mouths of snakes. The lyrics also have an underlying feminist theme and reflect on the tensions between black women and black men during that time. The Wilson Sisters indirectly ask the militant Abdullah if they can be allies in his “revolution” as opposed to them being adversaries. But he first needs to drop his chauvinistic and disdainful attitude toward black women before they can work together for the common good of the movement.

“You Gotta Believe” was co-written by Jobe and Rose Royce drummer Henry Garner, who also played drums on the track. The other players on the song were guitarists Kenji Brown and Melvin “Wah Wah” Ragin, who were both members of Rose Royce. 

The song was included on the Car Wash soundtrack, which was produced by Norman Whitfield. And it’s the only track on the album that wasn’t sung by a member of Rose Royce. “You Gotta Believe” had a pretty strong showing on the U.S. R&B singles chart, peaking at #14.

The Pointer Sisters—Anita, June, Bonnie and Ruth—already had a few hits and a Grammy under their belt by the time they recorded “You Gotta Believe,” and their appearance in Car Wash helped further increase their popularity. Their star steadily continued to rise in the ensuing years, and by the ‘80s, they were one of the biggest music acts in the world with a string of huge crossover hits to their credit. They received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994 and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2005. The group earned three Grammys during their career. 

Bonnie left the Pointer Sisters in 1977 to pursue a solo career and signed with Motown Records the following year. She landed several modest hits as a solo artist. Her biggest hit was a disco cover of the Elgins’ song “Heaven Must Have Sent You” ( #11 pop charts, #8 on the dance charts, and #52 on the R&B chart). She died last year from Cardiac Arrest at age 69. Anita and Ruth are the only surviving original members of the group. 

The Pointer Sisters performing "You Gotta Believe" in a scene from Car Wash

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