When you think of the group Surface, the term disco dancefloor doesn't come to mind. The '80s soft soul vocal trio known for such lush ballads as Closer Than Friends and the million-selling singles Shower Me With Your Love and the number one pop hit The First Time had one of its first charting records as artists signed to dance music pioneer Salsoul Records. Falling in Love, co-written by Surface member David Conley, doesn't have much in common with the aforementioned titles other than the group name and a (presumably) Conley flute solo. The single made it to number 84 R&B in summer 1983 and the U.K. pop charts. Singer Bernard Jackson who grew up in Stamford, CT, got into the music business through his cousin who lived in New York. Seizing the opportunity, he relocated to New York and began performing around the city. While doing a show in Stamford, his godfather suggested that he contact his nephew David Townsend who was also in the music business. Townsend, a former touring guitarist for the Isley Brothers, was the son of singer/songwriter/producer Ed Townsend who had a hit with For Your Love in summer 1958 and wrote the Impressions' Finally Got Myself Together (I'm a Changed Man) and co-wrote Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On. Around 1973, Townsend joined a band called the Port Authority where he met David Pic Conley. Townsend, whose father shared hit songwriting tips with him, began writing songs with Conley. After Townsend and Conley met Jackson it was decided that they'd write songs together. The trio became staff writers for EMI Music. Their songs were covered by New Edition (Let's Be Friends from their 1985 MCA LP All for Love) and Sister Sledge (You're So Fine). The trio became performers using the name Surface and moved to Los Angeles. An EMI Music executive brought one of their songs, Let's Try Again, to the attention of Larkin Arnold of Columbia Records. Arnold's previous successes include Natalie Cole and Peabo Bryson. He signed the group to Columbia and their first single Let's Try Again charted number 80 R&B in late 1986. The debut album Surface included the smooth and sweet Happy, which hit number two R&B for two weeks in early 1987, Lately (number eight R&B), and the reissued Let's Try Again. The next LP, 2nd Wave yielded I Missed (number three R&B), Closer Than Friends (number one R&B for two weeks in early 1989), the wedding standard Shower Me With Your Love (gold, number one R&B/number five pop), You Are My Everything (number one R&B for two weeks), and Can We Spend Some Time (number five R&B). Jackson brought the sheet music to a song he had written in 1986 to his friend, songwriter Brian Simpson, who had a recording studio in his garage. After listening to the finished demo tape, Jackson thought that he had a hit. Hiring a mobile 24-track recording studio truck to capture his vocal in the best professional conditions, Jackson sang The First Time in Simpson's house. The First Time was the first single from Surface's 3 Deep album and went gold hitting number one R&B and holding the number one pop for two weeks in early 1991. While The First Time was topping the charts, Surface was one of the presenters at the American Music Awards and were enthusiastically congratulated. The hits continued with All I Want Is You (number eight R&B, early 1991) and Never Gonna Let You Down. You're the One billed as Surface featuring Bernard Jackson made it to number 24 R&B, summer 1991. The group's last charting single was A Nice Time for Lovin' included on their 1991 greatest hits LP The Best Surface: A Nice Time for Loving. Conley and Townsend also produced sides on Rebbie Jackson (Reaction) that are on The Rebbie Jackson Collection from U.K. label Expansion distributed by Sony/3MV. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi

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