June 12, 2021

How The Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance" Almost Didn't Get Made

By Leila Abdul-Rauf

"Someone stole my brand new Chevrolet!" cried songwriter Allee Willis as she looked through a window and witnessed some kids attempting to break into her Chevy Corvair with a screwdriver. Willis and co-writing partner Danny Sembello were recording and writing the lyrics to "Neutron Dance," a song that The Pointer Sisters made a smash hit in 1984 – and that exclamation made it into the final lyrics. Willis – famous for penning Earth, Wind & Fire's "September" and the Friends TV theme song "I'll Be There For You" – was a bit reluctant about writing the track, but she needed work at the time and hoped the song might appear on the soundtrack to Streets of Fire during a scene where a couple escaped a nuclear holocaust on a bus with a 50s doo-wop band. That film's producers passed on "Neutron Dance," but the team behind Beverly Hills Cop snatched it up, featuring the song during an early car-chase sequence that proved just as compatible with the song's music and lyrics.

The Pointer Sisters – "Neutron Dance" (Official Video)

Ruth Pointer, the longest surviving member of the Sisters, sang lead on "Neutron Dance," but somewhat reluctantly. "I didn't want to sing it," she recalled. "I liked [its] rhythm and vigorous arrangement but to me the word 'neutron' had a violent connotation on account of the neutron bomb then so much in the news." After Pointer suggested that Willis change the lyric, Willis convinced her that she was overthinking it, and Pointer gave in: "Luckily I shut up and listened. I gave 'Neutron Dance' a gospel feel and nailed it in a few takes."

"Neutron Dance" actually first appeared on The Pointer Sister's 1983 studio album, Break Out, their most top-selling album to date, but didn't peak in the charts until Beverly Hills Cop boosted its popularity in late 1984. And even that was a close call: the film's producers almost cut the song from the film, asking song producer Richard Perry to replace it with a similar-but-different track. Perry pushed back, insisting "Neutron Dance" was a "one in a million song," and the song stayed in the picture.

[RS+] [News] How The Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance" Almost Didn't Get Made - Old
Bonnie Pointer, Anita Pointer, and Ruth Pointer in 1974

The commercial success of Break Out came late in The Pointer Sisters' four-decade career, with four Billboard Hot 100 top ten singles in a row. Their tenth studio album, Break Out continued a further change in their sound that began with their 1978 full-length, Energy, when they moved away from their earlier jazz/be-bop style towards hard-edged rock. The new artistic direction coincided with a line-up change: June and Bonnie Pointer left the group in 1977, but Ruth and Anita Pointer convinced June to rejoin in 1978 while Bonnie pursued a solo career and the trio further evolved into a more pop-dance style at their peak in the 80s. Sadly, June and Bonnie have since passed away (2009 and 2020, respectively), and Anita left the group in 2015; Ruth has enlisted her daughter Issa and granddaughter Sadako to continue the family act. The Pointer Sisters – with their re-energized three-generation line-up – continue to perform their high-energy classics to this day.

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Oakland, CA. Leila is guitarist and vocalist for metal bands Vastum, Hammers of Misfortune, and ethereal post-punk band Terebellum. She also composes and produces ambient music under her own name, with electronic trio Ionophore and synth-folk duo Fyrhtu. Leila has toured internationally and is a private guitar and voice teacher in her spare time.

"The Pointer Sisters at the 'green carpet' for the Save the World Awards 2009" by Manfred Werner is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

"Pointer Sisters aangekomen op Schiphol voor optreden in Nederland" by Rob Mieremet / Anefo is in the public domain.

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