This is the story of a young man from Detroit, Michigan who wanted to become a huge star in the world of music. Hailing from a family with known ties to music (including a rather influential record label), the drive to succeed was probably greater for him than most. It seems almost tragic that his biggest success was more or less a one-hit wonder that only seemed destined to be played at dance clubs every thirty-first of October.
Sometimes, you can't win 'em all.
But such is the story of Kennedy William Gordy.
Kennedy William Gordy was born on March 15, 1964. If that last name sounds familiar, it's because the name Gordy is synonymous with Motown Records. And, Kennedy William Gordy certainly has ties to the record company. His father, after all, is Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown.
TRIVIA: When Berry Gordy was naming his son, he took inspiration from a couple of famous men....John F. Kennedy and William “Smokey” Robinson.
So, here's the deal with Kennedy. Having been bitten by the music bug at a very early age, he thought about going into the recording industry as a singer. And naturally, one of the easiest ways that he could make his dream come true was to sign up with the record company his own father founded. But he didn't want to get the job through nepotism. He wanted to earn everything on his own without his father's help.
So Kennedy made the decision to seek out a recording contract with Motown Records behind his father's back to prove that he could land a contract on his own.
And you know what happened? He ended up doing just that.
To further distance himself from his famous family and go ahead with his singing career, Kennedy made the decision to go by a stage name rather than his real name. Motown Records decided to help him out by giving him the name of ROCKWELL, which Kennedy seemed to like, as he believed that he did exactly that...rock well.
Okay, so the name origin wasn't really all that cool...but the name of Rockwell's first (and biggest) hit was quite the opposite back in the day.
SONG: Somebody's Watching Me
ALBUM: Somebody's Watching Me
DATE RELEASED: January 14, 1984
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #2
Okay, so there's quite a bit to say about this particular song. First, when the song was being recorded, Rockwell was in the middle of a period of estrangement from his famous father (which could likely explain how he ended up getting the recording contract with Motown without his father knowing about it until after the fact).
At the time that the song was being recorded, Rockwell was living with his father's ex-wife, Ray Singleton (the marriage between Ray and Berry only lasted four years from 1960 until 1964). This arrangement could also have caused a bit of the problems between father and son, as Rockwell's mother was the other woman who came in between the marriage of Berry and Ray, although this is merely speculation on my part, and is not meant to be the whole truth, so don't take my word as gospel in that regard.
But while the relationship between Rockwell and Berry might have been a bit frosty at the time, surprisingly enough, Berry and Ray ended up having a more friendly arrangement. With Singleton helping Rockwell producing his debut album, she would occasionally play some of his demos for Berry to get his feedback...most of which was critically negative.
That is until Ray Singleton played the demo for “Somebody's Watching Me” for Berry and he ended up recognizing a familiar voice singing back-up in the main chorus.
That singer of course was Michael Jackson, a former Motown recording artist. Although Michael Jackson was in the middle of touring and promoting his 1982 album “Thriller” at the time that Rockwell was recording his debut, Rockwell and the Jackson 5 became very close friends. Michael and his brother Jermaine both contributed vocals to “Somebody's Watching Me”, which likely helped catapult the song to the #2 position in early 1984.
And the song itself was quite good in a creepy sort of way. With its electronically manipulated vocals at the beginning of the song, combined with organ music, it really did feel as though Dracula and the Bride of Frankenstein were having an 80s New Wave party at a haunted house. Even the music video was brilliant because it resembled a horror film. With references to Psycho, Edgar Allen Poe's “The Raven”, and other scary movies and books, the video is a smorgasbord of Halloween imagery.
Unfortunately for Rockwell, this song proved to be merely a one-trick pony. He did have a second single with “Obscene Phone Call” later on in 1984, but it barely registered on the charts, only peaking at #35. He attempted to keep his career going with two more albums, and released eight more singles between 1985 and 1991, but when the last few singles failed to chart, his recording contract was not renewed, and Rockwell's musical career was over.
So, what is the legacy of Rockwell? Well, not a whole lot from him personally...but he is hardly the only Gordy to have had success on the charts. You see, in 2011, Rockwell's half-brother Stefan and his nephew Skyler ended up forming a group and released their debut album which spawned a couple of huge hits. Of course, you might know them better as Redfoo and SkyBlu, the men behind this particular hit.
SONG: Sexy and I Know It
ALBUM: Sorry For Party Rocking
DATE RELEASED: September 16, 2011
PEAK POSITION ON THE BILLBOARD CHARTS: #1 for 2 weeks
Bet you didn't expect there to be TWO songs in this particular blog, huh? Well, the truth is that I couldn't find a whole lot of information on Rockwell, so I decided to make the Gordy connection so that I could make this blog longer. At least it ties in with the original topic anyway. They're both relatives of Berry Gordy, they both had hits on the Billboard Charts, they both have some sort of influence by Michael Jackson, and they both have incredibly scary music videos.
You see? It fits!
But here's one final scary point. In the mid-2000s, Rockwell's biggest hit ended up making a comeback of sorts in a series of advertisements by Geico. So, you can only imagine just how professional those particular commercials were.