Planet Patrol - Biography
By Eric Brightwell
ORIGINS - Planet Patrol was originally a vocal quintet from Boston called "The Energetics." Their conversion to electro was conceived by electro architects John Robie and Arthur Henry Baker, who performed and produced the act’s music.
The Energetics were a Bostonian pop soul group that included Joey Lites, Melvin B. Franklin (not to be confused with Melvin Franklin of The Temptations), Herbert Jackson, Tony Borders and Calvin Shepard. In 1974 they released “You Make Me Nothing” b/w “Rainy Days and Mornings” on Cobra, as The Energettics. They released a single, “Me and My Girl” b/w “If at First” through Top Top Records in 1975. After they were taken under the wing of Brian and Eddie Holland, they recorded an album, Come Down to Earth (1979-Atlantic). It produced two singles, “Living by the Strength of Your Love” and “Come Down to Earth,” whose middling performance cemented their status as a regional act – except inevitably among a segment of British and Japanese fans of obsuro soul. After being dropped from Atlantic, they moved to New York and struggled to continue. Shepard and Borders left, Rodney Butler and Michael Anthony Jones replaced them.
Their story seemed likely to end there until in 1982 a fellow Bostonian expatriate living in New York contacted them. That person was Arthur Baker, one of the principle architects of a new sound in hip-hop that used a Roland 808 and PCM (digital Delay Unit) to provide the backing tracks instead of samples. With John Robie playing keyboards and Baker producing, the duo teamed with Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force to inject Teutonic funkiness into hip-hop with “Planet Rock.” The Energetics, reborn as the more suitably sci-fi Planet Patrol, recorded “Play at Your Own Risk” the same night at Intergalactic Studios. Though both songs virtually defined electro and the production was similar, the effects were quite dissimilar. Where Soul Sonic force bounced raps off each other; Planet Patrol, with their roots in the ‘70s R&B scene were stridently soulful. “Play at Your Own Risk” was a hit, reaching #21 in the charts and the group performed on Soul Train. Though “Planet Rock” tends to receive all the critical praise, “Play at Your Own Risk,” in the long run, was probably the more influential of the two, directly inspiring the Freestyle explosion of the following year.
The full-length, Planet Patrol (1983-Tommy Boy Music), was cranked out in a single week at Vanguard Recording. Baker and Robie had already completed the music although the singers contributed to the lyrics, which continued to be more emotional in their orientation than other electro acts. Nearly every song on it was released as a single, including the John Robie and Arthur Henry Baker co-written “Danger Zone” and “Cheap Thrills (#30),” a cover of Gary Glitter’s “I Didn’t Know I Love you (Till I Saw You Rock ‘n’ Roll)” and a cover of Todd Rundgren’s “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference.” In fact, only one track, “Don’t Tell Me,” wasn’t a single – it was a B-side.
After the release of the album, Robie and Baker continued producing other projects, occasionally collaborating but more often not. Without their involvement, the members Planet Patrol drifted apart. One member was incapacitated by botched surgery. Another, Melvin B. Franklin, worked a series of blue collar jobs including a thirteen year stint as a doorman at the Westin Hotel. After two years working as a skycap at Boston’s Logan Airport, he was shot to death by an unknown assailant on October 15th, 1996. Herb Jackson was pronounced dead after ingesting a large quantity of acid and blow. Luckily, he was revived. As many who’ve survived a brush with death do, Jackson found God and became an ordained minister. As many fewer do, he revived his old band, now calling them Planet Patrol III and joined by Andre “Dre Devine” DuBose and Sonny “Hazel Eyez” Thompson. They’re currently said to be working on an album tentatively titled The Challenge.