The guys who sang 'Rock Steady' were old? (And other cases of mistaken identity)

So I was at a diner and The Whispers’ 1987 hit "Rock Steady" came on the radio. I interrupted the conversation to inform my friend Sheila that I loved this song when I was 12. It’s the first song I remember playing again… and again… and again. Sheila said she wore out her 45. Then the waiter started singing along (and we laughed with at him).

But here’s the funny thing: I just now watched the video (below) for the first time. (I didn’t have MTV or VH1 until 1993.) I never knew it was a man band singing that song. Or that as a tween, I had better/sexier moves than they did. Just wait for the chorus to kick in, and watch them rock steady — and very low impact. I do realize that the name the Whispers should’ve tipped me off, but again, I was 12.

While I work up the courage to search for a Tony! Toni! Toné! video, tell me if this mistaken identity thing has ever happened to you. True story: I received James Blunt’s 2005 Back to Bedlam CD as a gift from someone before I’d ever heard of him. I guess I didn’t register his name either, because when I played it, I thought, I don’t like this woman’s voice. On the flipside of that, hearing Billie Myers’ name — but not seeing it spelled — had me thinking that "Kiss the Rain" was sung by a man for the longest time.

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  • Anonymous

    I didn’t know Billie Meyers was a woman either, until yesterday when the video for it came on in the rain. I first went–oh, what a great song I haven’t heard in forever. Followed by—really, a woman?

  • Emily

    As someone who was also 12 in 1987, I LOVED that song and had no idea that it was performed by a “motownesque” group. I always pictured more of a “Bel Biv Devoe” type group.
    PS: I have taken the liberty of providing for you a link to my favorite Tony! Toni! Tone! song.

  • Ceballos

    Ok, I’ll be the first borderline racist person here:
    I assumed Rich Ashley was black when I first heard “Never Gonna Give You Up” because he “sounded black.” Sorry, but I KNOW I’m not the only one.
    A more comical one is that when I was little I couldn’t grasp the concept that Chevy Chase was NOT singing in the “You Can Call Me Al” video and that instead, the person singing was the funny short guy next to him. My mind was blown for a solid month after my mom told me.

  • Ceballos

    Sorry, Rick Astley*

  • Lyn

    I particularly appreciated the fine peek-a-boo dance move that the bearded fellow was rocking out.
    I had the same experience with Chevy Chase. I also did know that singers ever lip-synced until Milli-Vinni. I was so confused back then.

  • Melissa

    I could be wrong, but could this be the first recorded (and obviously an earlier version of the) B**ch Slap?
    Before knowing her name, but after seeing her, I was sure that Tracy Chapman was a man.

  • Shane

    I’m pretty sure one of those dudes was Grady from Sanford and Son!

  • Lyn

    NO WAY!
    My man Matthew Wilder… more Weird Al than Corey Feldman.

  • BOTR

    When I was little, I thought that Air Supply were two women instead of men. Also when Ace of Base first came out, I thought they were black.

  • CD

    Sorry to disappoint but none of the members of The Whispers played Grady on Sanford and Son. The Whispers were a staple on R&B radio and BET back in the day. If anything their ballads were much better than their big crossover hit but Rock Steady was always catchy and cute. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s there were more adult male vocal groups.It’s unfortunate that they are a rarity now instead of part of the norm in today’s musical landscape.

  • Gareth

    I know for sure I wasn’t the only 12 year old who not only thought Boy George was a woman (both in appearance and vocals) but was also cute. It messed me up for awhile afterwards learning the she was actually a he.

  • emmie

    Melissa, I thought Tracy Chapman was a man too!
    When Culture Club’s “Do you really want to hurt me” came out, it was very confusing to my then 10-year old brain. I thought it was a man when I heard the song, then was surprised to see a woman when I saw the video, then found out the singer’s name was BOY George and didn’t know what the heck was going on.

  • GingerCat

    I don’t think that MTV or VH1 actually played the “Rock Steady” video back in the day, so you wouldn’t have known they were old even if you did have those channels.

  • Ep Sato

    I always liked the dude in this band with the mega sized beard. Did they have any other hits though?
    My mistaken identity? I thought the song “Neverending Story” was sung by a black woman. WRONG. Per the video, it was a white guy.
    Inversely, I thought “Hmm bop” was sung by some bubblegum teenage girls. Then I saw the video and thought the band looked like a bunch of bubblegum teenage girls. Then someone told me they were boys.
    Finally, the most embarrassing of them all: I saw a poster for the band “Poison” back around ’87 (I was maybe 10 then) and said to my friend something to the extent of “Man, those chicks in Poison are hot” Then I found out all them trampy looking leather clad long haired overly make-upped chicas were actually just some hairy dudes. Yet another one fooled by the 1980s style of sexual androgeny!

  • Ep Sato

    Last one. Anyone ever hear the reggae singer “Patra”? She had a song where she sings “I love all of them Man dem. Keep it hard and stiff”.
    You’d think with such blatant lyrics I’d be able to figure out the singer was a female. But, with her voice, I was convinced it was a dude. Looks like I’ve got to get my radar fixed, huh?

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