Surface stormed onto pop and soul radio in the mid-80s with a sweet pop/soul blend that initially sounded fresh and vibrant but which didn't develop far and was passÃ© within three years of the group's meteoric rise. Formed by songwriter David Townsend (the son of legendary singer/songwriter Ed Townsend), multi-instrumentalist David "Pic" Conley and singer/songwriter Bernard Jackson, the group was signed by Columbia Records after their success providing songs for other performers, including Gwen Guthrie and Sister Sledge. With Conley and Townsend as the principal musical driving forces and with Jackson's bright, somewhat effeminate lead vocals, the group scored big in 1987 with its first Columbia single, "Happy," a catchy, light tune that quickly rose to the top of the Soul Charts and landed in the Pop top 20.
Surface quickly capitalized on this success with 2nd Wave, a sophomore album that improved on its predecessor and yielded three number one soul hits, establishing the group as the successors to DeBarge as the leading purveyors of soft pop-soul. The success was deserved on the infectious lead single "Closer than Friends" and the nice dance numbers "I Missed" and "Black Shades," but it was the disc's second single, the treacly ballad "Shower Me With Your Love," that brought the group major crossover success and, unfortunately, created the template for their future releases of innocuous, fluffy ballads.
Their third album 3 Deep appeared designed to appeals to fans of "Shower Me With Your Love," opening with the sweet, slow jam "The First Time" (a pop and soul #1) and following with the equally saccharine "Never Gonna Let You Down." By this time, the group sounded increasingly formulaic, and it lost ground with its core soul music audience with shocking speed. Surface followed in 1991 with a virtually unnoticed greatest hits album and the minor hit "Right Time 4 Lovin" before splitting.
During the next decade Jackson recorded a number of independent solo releases, generally in the same vein as the group's earlier material but with little success. He also provided guest vocals for other artists, including Wayman Tisdale. Conley and Townsend continued to work together providing songs and production help to other artists, most notably to Aretha Franklin on her What You See Is What You Sweat album. The group reunited briefly in 1999 and independently released Love Zone, an album of new material that briefly made #1 on mp3.com, but didn't land on the national sales charts.
In 2005, Surface announced a reunion tour, to begin in Summer, and the recording of a new album, the group's fifth. Sadly, member David Townsend died at age 50 before the album was finished. Since then, David Conley has released a smooth jazz album and Bernard Jackson has delved more into reggae-influenced music and, more recently, big band songs.
By Chris Rizik