Remembering Sherman Hemsley's Electro-Funk Legacy

We at the Weekly were saddened yesterday to hear about the passing of the great Sherman Hemsley. While he was most known for his acting roles on television and in film, it's worth mentioning that the 74-year old actor, who died at his home in El Paso Texas, had many talents also included singing. It is with our glasses raised that we reflect on his song “Ain't That a Kick in the Head.”


Released as a single in 1990 on New York's Sutra Records (home of The Fat Boys and The Cover Girls), the song's indicative of the studio-effect-heavy electric-funk that backed a number of novelty songs at the turn of the decade. At that point, Hemsley was doing well. He was staring in the successful NBC sitcom “Amen,” so “…Kick in the Head's” origins didn't stem from desperation or a quick cash-in. Rather, you can hear the passion in Hemsley's voice as he gives the track some gravelly-voiced soul.

But this wasn't the first time audiences had the chance to hear “Ain't That a Kick in the Head.” The song debuted during a segment on the Scotch Videotapes sponsored NBC Fall '89 Television Line-up preview “Paul Reiser's Hollywood Adventure” that saw the “My Two Dads” star attempting to find the network's biggest names in their natural habitat in order to promote their shows in a segment that reeks of Hollywood cheesiness. “Amen” was already an established hit, so Reiser spends the part of the time in the comedy short visiting Hemsley in the studio and talking about the song. While the on-screen exchange is a touch uncomfortable and overproduced, it does give us the hilarity of Reiser dubbing Hemsley's back-up dancers, “The Shermanettes.” The troupe later toured with Hemsley through the following year, which included joining him for an appearance on “Soul Train.”

Two years later, Hemsley dropped the Shermanettes in favor of a straight-forward R&B album titled Dance. While “Ain't That a Kick in the Head” didn't make the tracklisting, the single, with its colorful cartoon artwork, has become something of a cherished item for fans of absurd novelty singles. The song's producer, Ralph Hawkins, went on work with another actor-turned-singer, producing Eddie Murphy's 1992 serious R&B album Love's Alright. As “…Kick in the Head” is now enjoying a minor resurgence in popularity in wake of Hemsley's death, it'll always be a fun footnote in an incredible entertainer's legacy.

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