January 1984: Rockwell Releases "Somebody's Watching Me" the Album

CIRCA 1985: Kennedy William Gordy, better known by his stage name Rockwell, poses for a portrait circa 1985 in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)
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(Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)

It's the strange but incredibly true story of Kennedy Gordy, son of Motown founder and music legend, Berry Gordy. In the early '80s, the teen fell out with his father and went to live with his mom, Raynoma "Ray" Singleton. Under his mom's watchful eye, he started making music.

When his mom heard an early demo of the song "Somebody's Watching Me," she encouraged him to finish it. Legend has it that he was inspired to call up a buddy--who just so happened to be Michael Jackson--and asked him to hang out in the studio. His plan worked: when Jackson heard the song, he like it so much he asked to sing on the track.

RELATED: January 1983: Michael Jackson Moonwalks to #1 with "Billie Jean"

When mom took the tune to Motown and got Kennedy signed, the singer's father was less than excited to discover what had happened.

“When he found out I was signed to Motown, he called me up one day and said, ‘How did you get signed? How does that happen? What happened?'” Rockwell told Rolling Stone. “I said, ‘I don’t know. I guess they liked my music.’ He seemed like he was upset about it. I still, to this day, don’t know what his reservations were for me to be signed.”

Coming up with the name Rockwell, the paranoid synth-pop tune "Somebody's Watching Me" would be released as a single on January 14, 1984. It would be followed by a full-length album, also called Somebody's Watching Me, which dropped on January 30, 1984.

The single was a worldwide smash, hitting the Top 5 in countries including Germany, Sweden, and New Zealand. In America, "Somebody's Watching Me" would get as high as #2 on the Hot 100 on March 24, 1984. The song that would block Rockwell from the top spot: "Jump" by Van Halen. The album would peak at #15 on the Billboard 200 on March 31, 1984.

Rockwell would bring a similar paranoid theme to the album's second single, "Obscene Phone Caller." Doubling down on his fast fame, the song's video cast the singer as a pop star being pursued by just that: an obscene phone caller. The clip even uses the music of "Somebody's Watching Me" in the intro to remind viewers this was indeed a new Rockwell song. The rack would have a respectable chart run, crashing the Top 40 and peaking at #35 on June 29, 1984.

While there would be no other singles from the album, it did come a synth--heavy New Wave take on The Beatles' "Tax Man."

 

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