Sylvia – Pillow Talk

19th May 2021 · 1970s, 1973, Disco, Music

Sylvia Robinson is one of the most important figures in music history. She’s been called the Mother of Hip-Hop for her key role in the birth of rap, founding Sugar Hill Records in the late Seventies. But before that she was a one-hit wonder with this saucy disco hit.

Listening to its orgasmic gasps and moans, predating Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby by a couple of years, it’s no wonder Al Green, a staunch Christian, turned it down when she first sent him her song.

It was Sylvia’s first and last UK hit, but she was already a veteran by then, with almost a quarter of a century in the music biz.

Sylvia Vanderpool was a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Harlem when she signed her first record contract with Columbia in 1950, recording with a blues trumpeter called Hot Lips Page, before signing for Savoy as solo singer Little Sylvia.

Kentucky guitarist Mickey Baker taught her to play his instrument, and they formed an unusual duo – both singing and playing guitar together – enjoying a US hit in 1956 with the Bo Diddley-penned Love Is Strange.

She also played guitar on Ike & Tina Turner’s million-selling song It’s Gonna Work Out Fine (which earned them their first Grammy nomination) before Mickey moved to Paris and Sylvia moved to New Jersey.

She married Joe Robinson and took a back seat to focus on songwriting and business, the couple setting up a soul label, All Platinum Records, with its own recording studio, Soul Sound Studios.

The label was a success and Sylvia wrote several hits for its artists, including Love On A Two-Way Street by The Moments and Shirley & Company’s 1975 disco hit Shame, Shame, Shame.

In between, she wrote Pillow Talk and, after the Reverend Al rejected it for being too raunchy, recorded it herself. It became a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic in 1973 – her only one as a solo artist – and earned her a Grammy nomination.

In the Seventies, Joe and Sylvia Robinson founded Sugar Hill Records and in1979 they released Rappers Delight by The Sugarhill Gang, regarded as the first hip-hop hit single.

Sylvia went on to produce the equally influential 1982 hit The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. In the Eighties, after Sugar Hill folded, the Robinsons bought the entire Chess Records catalogue, later selling it on to MCA. Sylvia died in 2011 at the age of 75.