Robert Allen Palmer on January 19, 1949 in Batley, West Yorkshire, England
September 26, 2003 in Paris, France
Though known more for his suave, masculine image than either his singing or songwriting prowess, British singer Robert Palmer enjoyed a solid '80s pop career that successfully capped his R&B/soul-inspired work begun a decade before. Palmer certainly made his reputation on the strength of a handful of smash hit pop singles during the middle and latter portion of the decade, but he also made the most of his peak years in building a consistent, impressive two-decade-long solo career. Unfortunately, his death in 2003 at just age 54 made sure Palmer would have no chance to make a comeback in the new millennium.
Born to a British naval officer father, Palmer grew up with a traveling bone that perhaps led him to cultivate an interest in the American jazz, blues and soul music he heard on the radio. As a teen he joined his first band, and by the time he was 20 Palmer had become a full-time professional musician. In 1974, the singer signed a solo record deal with Island, a label for which he had already recorded in a pair of promising but unsuccessful bands. A debut LP, Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley, achieved immediate success in the U.S., benefiting from collaboration with Allen Toussaint and Little Feat's Lowell George.
Building Up to '80s Stardom:
Palmer maintained a presence on the U.S. pop charts throughout the latter half of the '70s, scoring particularly as an interpreter of other songwriters' material. A pair of Top 20 singles in 1978 and 1979, respectively - "Every Kinda People" and "Bad Case of Lovin' You" - continued to prove Palmer's skill at merging rootsy styles to showcase his soulful voice. However, the advent of MTV and the rise of the music video proved to be a shot in the arm for a solo career that had yet to hit the big time. An acquaintance with members of Duran Duran got the ball rolling, as The Power Station had two hits in early 1985.
Peak Years - Formation of an '80s Icon:
Quickly returning to his solo career, Palmer recorded Riptide in 1985 and would rule much of 1986 with its two unforgettable hit singles "Addicted to Love" and "I Didn't Mean to Turn You On." The former track introduced the winning combination of the nattily clad Palmer with several scantily clad female backing "musicians" in its music video. Not content to rest on those laurels, Palmer moved to Switzerland, set up his own studio and began work on a follow-up. 1988's Heavy Nova featured more Palmer eclecticism but also produced another major hit and buzz-worthy video via his composition "Simply Irresistible."
Post-'80s Career & Early Sudden Death:
Palmer continued to record and perform well into the mid '90s, although the combination of changing pop music tastes and the singer's increasing time spent in Europe may have contributed to a declining fortune in the U.S. Perhaps Palmer's semi-retirement helped keep him an underrated '80s music figure more than would have otherwise occurred, but renewed interest in that era's pop culture wouldn't allow the artist to fade entirely. Unfortunately, Palmer's death from a heart attack suffered while on holiday in France silenced one of mainstream pop's most versatile singers and fashion-gifted performers.