Nov 242023

Cover Classics takes a closer look at all-cover albums of the past, their genesis, and their legacy.

The Pointer Sisters

When we think of The Pointer Sisters–June, Ruth, and Anita, L to R above–we tend to think of their fun, frothy, soul-pop ’80s mega-hits like “He’s So Shy,” “I’m So Excited,” “Jump (For My Love),” and “Automatic” (to name a handful). These deliriously happy 40-year-old (!) songs, with their “roller rink-aerobics class-cruise the strip in a neon pink convertible” vibes, still have the power to kickstart even the most jaded heart.

But those hits don’t tell the whole Pointer Sisters story. You see, in the late ’70s, just before the aforementioned hot fudge sundae of singles was unleashed, The Pointer Sisters released two bona fide, screaming, strutting, sexy ROCK albums in a row. This is the story of those rebellious years when The Pointer Sisters, beloved AM radio sweethearts, went totally FM. Let the fantastical and improbable tale begin…

Back in 1978, visionary producer Richard Perry started his own record label called Planet (which was an offshoot of big boy label Elektra). At that point of his career, Perry’s production credits included Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” Nilsson’s “Without You,” Ringo Starr’s “Photograph,” and Leo Sayers’ “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing,” all of which hit number one in the pop charts. Simply put, the man knew what he was doing and then some. When an Elektra exec asked Perry if he’d be interested in meeting with The Pointer Sisters and signing them to his new label, Perry, who had liked both the group’s initial LPs and their sartorial style, leapt at the chance.

At that point, the group was at a serious crossroads. While their first two albums of retro-flavored, novelty-esque, jazzy-bluesy R&B tunes hit the charts and spawned a couple of top-ten hits, the two that followed didn’t do nearly as well. By 1977, two of the group’s four members, Bonnie and June Pointer, had departed (the former went solo, the latter was ill and needed a break from the biz), leaving sisters Anita and Ruth to soldier on as a duo. The two ended up recruiting a non-Pointer sister to replace their departed siblings. It was this incarnation of The Pointer Sisters that came to audition for Perry. Yes, audition, for despite his digging the group, he needed to see where they were performance-wise before fully committing to working with them.

The three women sang for Perry. He thought they were, and I quote, “dreadful.” The problem to his ears was that the new non-sister recruit simply didn’t sing as well as Anita and Ruth, who were compensating for her shortcomings by holding back their own voices.

Though Perry felt this group line-up was doomed for failure, he wanted to work with Anita and Ruth, for despite their terrible vocal showing, he found them to be extremely engaging and just plain cool. After the audition, he pulled the sisters aside and told them he was interested in working with them and helping get their careers back on track…but that before they could move forward, the non-Pointer member had to be replaced with a stronger vocalist. The sisters were well aware of their shaky status within the fickle pop universe at that time so they decided to let Perry take the reins. The other girl was let go and replaced by a better, more experienced new singer handpicked by the producer himself.

The new and improved Pointers began cutting demos with their new member singing lead. But something still didn’t sound right. It was becoming more and more apparent that the vocal mix of the original Pointer lineup couldn’t be improvised.

Perry realized that in order for Anita and Ruth to get anywhere career-wise at this stage, they’d need to persuade sister June to rejoin the group and reestablish that genuine sisterly chemistry that had brought them success in the first place (FYI: The possibility of Bonnie rejoining was a non-starter as she was still pursuing solo activities). After much negotiating with June’s manager-husband (ugh), it was agreed that she would rejoin.

The first song he had the newly reunited trio sing together was Sly and The Family Stone’s “Everybody is a Star,” which had revolving leads. It enabled him to hear each sister stretch out individually and harmonize as a unit on the same track. As Pointer-heads can tell you, Anita, Ruth, and June have distinctly different voices from one another. Perry ecstatically described the feeling of hearing them sing the track to him for the first time, in his highly entertaining 2021 memoir Cloud Nine, like this: “With Ruth on the bottom, Anita in the middle, and June on top, I finally had the real Pointer Sisters!”

Hearing the way they nailed the Sly track gave Perry an idea regarding the Pointer’s future sound. He knew that the sisters had grown up in Oakland and in their younger days had provided backing vocals for a number of bands at the legendary Fillmore West (including Tower of Power and Dave Mason, to name a couple). In his book, he described his vision for the group in the most comically straightforward way imaginable: “I thought it would be unique for a black female group with their distinctive voices to sing soulful covers of songs written by established rock artists.”

The Pointers were down for anything that would change their musical fortunes. In her 2016 memoir Still So Excited, Ruth pointedly noted that as the group’s career was at a standstill, deferring to an established hitmaker like Perry made sense. And with that, the recording of the group’s first album as a trio, and their fifth overall, 1978’s Energy, began in earnest.


Energy is an eccentric, engaging mix of white-boy FM radio deep cuts and soft-rockers with a couple of funky old classics thrown in for added spice. The Pointers and Perry chose all the tracks and you can probably guess who suggested what (Spoiler: Perry picked songs by the FM rock boys, and the Pointers went for the soft-rockers and soulful thangs more reminiscent of their previous work ).

Okay, let’s talk some “Fire”!

The Pointer Sisters – Fire (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Bruce Springsteen wrote “Fire” for Elvis Presley and had hoped The King would someday record the song. A demo was sent to Elvis in 1977, but by then it was already too late. Presley was already in ill health and died before he and Bruce were able to connect officially. Springsteen ended up offering the song to rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, who then recorded a fine but kitschy version for his new album in 1978.

Somehow along the way, Perry got hold of Bruce’s demo and presented it to the Pointers. Says Ruth in her book, “At the time I scratched my head about why he (Perry) figured this slow rockabilly number was right for us. But he called the shots and this one was a bullseye. The song totally revitalized our career.”

The Pointer’s “Fire” is essentially a duet between Anita and the nasty guitar of longtime Elton John axe-man Davey Johnstone. Their interplay is hilariously, almost cartoonishly on the nose. They sound as if they’ve been instructed by Perry to “make it sound sexy.” Bolstered by some down ‘n’ dirty sisterly harmonizing, “Fire” is just plain hot fun.

It became the sisters’ first gold-certified single and rose to #2 on the Billboard pop chart, the highest position they’d ever achieved up to that point. The song that kept it from reaching the top spot was, wait for it, Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy,” which may just be the most perfect pop-rock cock-block ever.

The Pointer Sisters – Hypnotized (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Fleetwood Mac’s “Hypnotized,” written and sung by Bob Welch, originally appeared on the band’s 1973 album Mystery To Me (hear the stunning original here). The Mac version is nighttime-breezy, spaced-out easy, and has always sounded like Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear)The Reaper’s” Dad to me (if songs could have other songs as parents, that is). With its ponderings of alien visits and unexplained phenomena, “Hypnotized” is not a sexy song… or at least it wasn’t until Perry and The Pointer Sisters got a hold of it. Their version is incongruously sensual, sitting somewhere between smokin’ hot and outright weird.

Sister Ruth’s best-known vocal performance is the one she laid down for the group’s 1983 smash ‘Automatic.” Her cool ‘n’ sonorous delivery on the verses literally made the song (and maybe invented T-Boz of TLC years later). But while she mostly resides in “the basement” (as Karen Carpenter called her own lower vocal register), Ruth can sound as raw and raucous as any rock god when called upon to do so. On The Pointers’ cover of the Roger Daltrey solo track, “Come and Get Your Love,” we get to hear Ruth truly let loose which is an absolute blast. If you only know of her vocal stylings from “Automatic,” this performance will blow yer mind. It did mine; I first started spending quality time with Energy after those ’80s hits had dropped and had absolutely no idea Ruth could sing and steamroll a song this way.

FYI: This is not the hit song by Redbone, but a Russ Ballard-penned tune that originally appeared on Daltrey’s majestically-sleeved 1975 album Ride A Rock Horse. Hear the original here.

The Pointer Sisters – Come and Get Your Love (Roger Daltrey cover)

Was that more fiery than the fiery “Fire”? Yes.

As for the rest of the tracks, I’ve already spilled on my love/hate relationship with the Sisters’ version of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work” here, but will summarize by saying I find it exceedingly shrill yet utterly captivating (P.S. I 99.9% love it).

Other highlights include a version of Stephen Stills’s “As I Come Of Age” which features some superior sisterly harmonizing and sultry shredding from guitar legend Waddy Wachtel, and a welcomingly aggressive version of Yacht Rock softies Loggins and Messina’s “Angry Eyes,” that kicks the original’s ass all over the damn playground with June acting as lead bully on vocals.

The first single the Sisters ever released was a cover of New Orleans musical legend Allen Toussaint’s sonic barnacle “Yes We Can.” It was their first actual hit, climbing to #11 on the Billboard pop chart and supergluing its insidious chorus onto the minds of all it touched forever (yes it did did). Energy‘s second most popular/streamed track after “Fire,” is a funky-dirty disco cover of another Toussaint-penned classic “Happiness.” It has been the go-to opening track at Pointer shows for decades and is now regarded as one of the trio’s signature tunes.

Energy got as high as #13 on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart and was certified gold. Keep in mind that the gals’ previous album, 1977’s Having A Party, had been a letdown by Pointer standards, only getting to #76 in the Billboard pop LP chart. Perry’s experiment had worked, and The Pointer Sisters were officially back (baby). In her memoir, Ruth offered this sweet and funny description of what happened next: “If we caused a puzzled ripple with our Rock and Roll debut, then we almost certainly broke the dam on the ballsy, bluesed-out follow-up Priority.”

Energy had been split pretty evenly between Rock and Soft Rock. But there was nothing remotely coy or tentative about the album that followed. Ruth wasn’t exaggerating in her description. Priority flipped tables and threw punches. It was ballsy… and it absolutely rocked.


The front cover of Priority features a simple yet casually glamorous portrait of The Pointers in their street clothes. Here’s Ruth explaining how the pic came to be from her Still So Excited! memoir in hilariously horrified fashion:

While Richard’s judgment concerning Priority was right on, I thought he was out of his freakin’ mind when it came to make the album cover. At the time our preferred off-stage wardrobe was a wild brand of punk-funk, rock, and disco: leopard skin patterns, tight blue jeans, outrageous colored socks, suede boots, and sometimes hot pants and high heels. That’s how we showed up one day for rehearsal, and as soon as Richard got a gander at us he exclaimed, “I like the way you look! We’re going to take a picture today and it’s going to be the album cover.” Sweet Jesus, we didn’t even have any make-up on.

Message to Ruth from me: But you still looked really fierce and cool.

Priority is a riotously fun album. Producer Perry gathered an all-star band of musicians with stupidly stacked CVs to back Anita, June, and Ruth on the album. The badass roll call included pianists Bill Payne (Little Feat) and Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who), guitarists Waddy Wachtel (Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon) and David Spinozza (James Taylor, Paul McCartney), and drummer Rick Marotta (Steely Dan). They are as much fun to listen to as the sisters themselves and serve up an absolute flood of memorable and smile-inducing solos throughout the album.

As far as the track selection, Perry and The Pointers eschewed the well-known hits and instead focused on covering charismatic deep cuts and in-the-know fan faves.

The Pointer Sisters – Who Do You Love (Ian Hunter cover)

Ian Hunter’s anthem of joyful jealousy “Who Do You Love” first appeared on the former Mott The Hoople frontman’s 1975 debut solo album. The original chugs calmly for a minute before the piano starts its banging, the guitar starts screaming and Hunter turns up his glammy wail and begins to properly rock (hear it here).

The Pointers version, on the other hand, doesn’t waste any time. It booms big from the very beginning. June yells her warning “Whoa!” in the opening seconds, and just like that, the song is brazenly thefted away forever by the sisters and their crackin’ band. The cover features one of the wildest and most ferocious leads June ever laid down on any Pointer record, but the song’s secret weapon are the nasty-cool vocals on the chorus by Anita and Ruth; once they arrive, the real party begins.

The Pointer Sisters – Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart (Richard & Linda Thompson cover)

The Pointers’ cover of the Richard and Linda Thompson deep cut from 1978’s First Light album reshapes the low-key groove of the original into something gloriously nasty. The vocal arrangement features Anita (high) and Ruth (low down) on the verses with June coming in on the chorus to seamlessly glue the two together. The result is a slow-burning, hypnotic little devil child of a cover.

Honestly, it’s hard to single out tracks on Priority as being significantly better than others. It’s a back alley beauty pageant full of babes. June tears it up (again) on the seriously fulsome cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” Bob Seger’s “All Your Love”–with Ruth on lead–is a scorcher that makes the fired-up original sound like a freakin’ demo. There’s a grimy ‘n’ rousing version of the Stones’s “Happy.” Scottish duo Stealers Wheel’s aggressively joyful chugger “Blind Faith” is awash in ridiculously wonderful Nicky Hopkins piano and fabulous Bowie-esque “bop-shoo-bops.”

The Pointer Sisters – The Fever (Bruce Springsteen cover)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Pointer-rock album without the requisite Boss tune. “The Fever” began life in 1973 as just another amazing Bruce Springsteen demo. His then-manager leaked the song to select radio stations and it developed a bit of a cult following. The crazy thing is that its first officially sanctioned appearance was not on an actual Bruce album, but on a Southside Johnny and the Jukes LP in 1976. Their beer-scented cover is slathered in horns, sax, and harmonica, and emits something of a “theatrical barroom” vibe. The Pointers version ain’t like that. It is a world-weary piece of lustful, old-school blues-rock. It lasts for over six minutes, thus making it bigger than Southside J’s, which lasts for a mere five. Ruth’s lead vocal smacks of “I’ve been there.” Dirty. Desperate. Very, very good.

In Conclusion

In judgmental pop music parlance, The Pointer Sisters were a singles band, one of those groups that consistently released stellar singles but made underwhelming albums (like The Supremes or ABBA). If you think about it that way, it makes total sense that the hit compilations are their best-selling and most popular releases.

Like the rest of the world, I still dig The Pointer’s pop hits (“Automatic” all night long). But given the choice, I’d rather ride with Anita, June, and Ruth in the dirty, loud jacked-up hot rod of sounds found on Energy ‘n’ Priority than with any of the sweet pop LPs that dominate their ’80s discography (Hot Take: Wild Pointers > Cute Pointers). Anita, June, and Ruth deliver the most accomplished, inventive, and exciting vocal performances of their career on these two albums. Nothing else they ever did comes close. And the Richard Perry-curated band, as well as his production, is inspired, accomplished, and, okay,  just really f*cking good. Energy and Priority are uninhibited, unpredictable, and unbelievably fun. And when set next to the rest of the group’s discography, they sound absolutely freakin’ crazy. This is why listening to Eternity and Priority now, decades removed from their initial release, still feels so revelatory.

Producer Richard Perry continues to gush about both Energy and Priority to this day, especially the latter, stating in his memoir, “This is a record of which I am extremely proud…and I still listen to it all the time.”

Rock ‘n’ Roll Pointer Sisters FOREVER.

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  4 Responses to “Cover Classics: The Pointer Sisters’ ‘Energy’ & ‘Priority’”

Comments (4)
  1. I’m embarrassed to admit (or maybe I shouldn’t be?) that I always thought most of these were Pointer Sister songs. I enjoyed being educated. Thank you! But I may continue to imagine these rockers covering songs by the Sisters. Rock n roll Pointer Sisters Forever, indeed!

  2. I thought I was the only one who loved these two records. No one I knew played them. People I knew listened to either the earlier retro stuff or the later mega hits. Thompson, of course, is quite funny between songs live, and I recall him once just prior to playing Don’t Let a Thief, musing humorously about the indignity of having mega stars record one of his songs on an album that remained obscure.

    I’ve never thought of it this way before, but these songs may be the genesis of my obsession with covers.

    • To be clear. I bought these LPs when they first came out.

    • Love hearing this! The first Pointers record I ever bought was the 7″ of carnal cornball “Slowhand” and I didn’t hear these two albums until years after you! Of course, I could not believe how freakin’great they were once I got them. I remain genuinely disappointed that The Pointers abandoned their rock pursuits after these two. But hey, at least we have these wondrous things right?! Just gotta keep spreading the word :)!

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