When pop singer Kennedy William Gordy aka "Rockwell"'s (a stage name he supposedly adopted because he thought he "rocked well") debut single "Somebody's Watching Me" reached all the way to number 2 on the Billboard Charts in 1984 there might have been a critic or two who considered it a triumph of nepotism. After all Kennedy William Gordy aka "Rockwell" was the son of Motown Records founder and CEO Berry Gordy and enlisted the services of the biggest celebrity in the world at the time, Michael Jackson, to sing the chorus, an undeniably fortunate position for any aspiring young pop musician. While the story goes that Kennedy, to avoid such accusations of nepotism, recorded the track as Rockwell and secured a record deal with Motown on the merits without his father's knowledge of who he was; I don't think many other artists where in the position to get their demo track immediately reviewed by producers at Motown, let alone get a Michael Jackson to sing on it.
It was easy for some doubters to write off the odd and idiosyncratically styled Rockwell as a flash in the pan, a one hit wonder, who would be nothing without an assisted chorus from the instantly recognizable vocals of the King of Pop. When he got around to releasing his follow up single, the above "Obscene Phone Caller", a song that was thematically (Rockwell really likes writing songs about looming paranoia) and structurally quite similar to his first single but missing the aid of MJ on vocals, all those doubters who said he couldn't make it on his own were proven absolutely, undeniably...correct.
If you put me on the spot I would have to say "Obscene Phone Caller" is the worst pop song ever made. Even from its cumbersome name, which they somehow manage to awkwardly stuff into the song as part of the chorus (I don't know if the "Mister or Miss" line is supposed to be a progressive touch or just there to cram in an extra beat), it all goes downhill fast. That bizarre, exaggerated British accent that we only got a hint of in "Somebody's Watching Me" comes back in full force leaving the listener to question: "is that how he sounds on every record?" Even more puzzling, the accent inexplicably disappears when he does the clumsy spoken word breakdown in the middle of the song where he sounds more like an irritated Valley Girl. The song completely fails in what I assume was its goal of sounding sexy and/or scary. Uncomfortable may be its prevailing feeling.
Musically, the crude repetitive synths sound like something you'd hear after pressing the DEMO button on a Casio keyboard with an occasional synth violin riff by the Rockman. As for the video, it's a lot less ridiculous than I what would have expected from the song. You can see how limited (or possibly lazy) an entertainer Rockwell actually is when you notice how he is stationary for most of the video, at best mustering a few exaggerated pantomimes. I did dig the cameo by the evil mailman from "Somebody's Watching Me". Also from a historical standpoint this may be the first and only music video with an Alexander Graham Bell impersonator. In the end one is left to wonder: is any this really that much different from "Werewolf Bar Mitzvah"?
While it was only a minor hit (yes, it actually climbed all the way up to #35, so he's technically a two hit wonder) and largely forgotten by everyone, "Obscene Phone Call" is probably the definitive Rockwell song. "Somebody's Watching Me" is the lasting legacy but I think this song gives a truer picture of what "Rockwell" was all about (or at least was attempting to be all about) and depending on your tastes it may or may not have been a positive that his career sputtered out in a couple of years. As for me I think that's as much Rockwell as the world needed; in terms of favorite mid-80s pop song about sex and telephones my favorite will always be "Sex over the Phone".