Happy 30th Anniversary to Wendy & Lisa’s Debut Album Wendy and Lisa, originally released August 24, 1987.
Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman graced the cover of the April 24, 1986 issue of Rolling Stone, just a few days shy of a month after the late March release of Prince’s eighth album, Parade. In the piece, titled on the cover as “Wendy and Lisa: Prince’s Women,” writer/interviewer Neal Karlen worked to understand the dynamic between Melvoin, Coleman and Prince. But, the cover’s title egregiously cast Wendy and Lisa as female asides to Prince rather than his actual equals, which they were, despite Karlen’s best intentions.
Both women were Californians, born to Mike Melvoin and Gary Coleman, two members of the iconic Los Angeles session players guild known as The Wrecking Crew. Raised as neighbors with similar backgrounds, their love of music united them, forming a personal connection that gave way to a 22-year romance before they amicably parted. They have maintained their friendship and creative partnership.
Opportunity arrived in their late teens to early twenties, with each experiencing a professional break that changed their lives. Coleman replaced Gayle Chapman in one of the first configurations of Prince’s touring and studio group, The Revolution, in 1981. Soon after, in 1982, Melvoin joined her by replacing Dez Dickerson. Purple Rain (1984), Around the World in a Day (1985) and Parade (1986) were produced during Melvoin and Coleman’s tenure with Prince, their working relationship a mutually beneficial exchange of culture and sonic ideas that impacted these records.
When Prince surprisingly disbanded The Revolution toward the end of 1986, Melvoin and Coleman wasted no time acquiring their own deal with Columbia Records domestically and Virgin Records internationally. Their eponymous debut album appeared on August 24, 1987.
Wendy and Lisa was primarily written, arranged, produced and played by the two women themselves. Guitar, bass guitar, organ, drums and percussion were all steered by Melvoin; Coleman helmed piano, keyboards and synthesizers. The LP featured supplementary input from a few select friends and family. Former Revolution drummer Robert Rivkin (Bobby Z.) co-wrote five songs with Melvoin and Coleman. Various friends, siblings and one parent of the two ladies provided peripheral instrumentation, but Wendy and Lisa’s autonomy was maintained by its titular heroines.
The album is an incredibly attractive mix of breezy pop melodies (“Honeymoon Express”), cerebral jazz improvisation (“White”), shapely funk (“Blues Away”) and rock (“Waterfall”). Their handsome, inimitable harmonies hadn’t lost their gorgeousness. However, they appealed individually too, as heard on the radio primed ballad “Stay” or the sophisti-pop pose of “Everything But You.” The former composition was an autobiographical declaration of love and devotion to one another, its lyrics hidden in plain sight. Further real life experiences powered the pointed “Song About,” addressing their split with Prince: “So strange that no one stayed at the end of the parade.”
Sadly, records as artful as Wendy and Lisa were not promised chart consideration. The long player demurely dented album listings in America (U.S Billboard 200 #88) and in England (UK Official Album Charts #84). Wendy and Lisa birthed three charting singles: “Waterfall” (US #56, UK #66), “Sideshow” (UK #49), and “Honeymoon Express.” “Waterfall” was curiously reprised again as a stand-alone single in 1989, albeit remixed, as “Waterfall ‘89” (UK #69).
Post-Wendy and Lisa, four more albums of original material followed: Fruit at the Bottom (1989), Eroica (1990), Girl Bros. (1998), and White Flags of Winter Chimneys (2008). Additional career paths beckoned too, as the pair went on to become in-demand session players, their contributions featured on projects for Seal, k.d. lang, Madonna, Grace Jones, Neil Finn (of Split Enz and Crowded House) and more. Melvoin and Coleman also applied their skillset to film and television scores from 1995 onward; nominations (and wins) for Emmy’s and ASCAP Awards eventuated.
The line to these achievements can be traced back to their first declaration of independence from the legacy of Prince, Wendy and Lisa. Pretty but not preening, brazen but not rude, Wendy and Lisa was a formidable foundation for the many musical adventures Melvoin and Coleman have had and will continue to have.