Remembering Teena Marie: #4 – Cassanova Brown

teena marie and rick jamesThere’s nothing that I can write about “Cassanova Brown” that matches Mtume ya Salaam’s essay on the Teena Marie ballad. From his 2008 post from the always insightful Breath of Life: A Conversation About Black Music:

I have a story about “[Cassanova] Brown.”Back in the day in New Orleans, the leading R&B station (FM98 WYLD) used to hold an annual talent show at the Saenger Theater. The talent was usually good, if not overwhelming, although there were usually one or two singers or dancers who you could tell were destined for brighter lights and bigger stages. The same as any major talent show, I guess. Anyhow, I was there this one year when a young lady took the stage and, without accompaniment, began to sing the following:

My baby’s fine
He always keeps me guessing
But never keeps me guessing
About his love

The place went nuts. There were people screaming and yelling, falling out of their seats, waving their hands in the air — all kinds of foolishness. You would’ve thought it was ten in the morning on a Sunday and we were at church. The thing is, the girl didn’t actually sing the song all that well. If I remember correctly, she did a decent job — that is, she made it all the way through without getting booed off the stage. The place wasn’t going crazy for her. They were going crazy for the song. Teena Marie’s song.

Some background information: “Cassanova Brown” is the coda to 1983’s Robbery, which I believe is Teena’s greatest album. Funky cover art aside, this album is brilliant from start to finish. It’s also a classic case of art imitating life. Robbery is a concept album, covering the meeting, courtship, and challenges of two lovers – in this case, the lovers being Teena and her musical mentor, Rick James.

Now if you know anything about Rick James1, you know that this, or any other, relationship is probably not going to end well. And true to form, “Cassanova Brown”, like Teena and Rick’s romance, does not have a happy ending. There’s no reconciliation; no wedding bells.

That’s ok; it’s because of Teena’s pain that we get some of the most emotionally-charged, gut-wrenching, soul-bearing music I’ve ever heard (outside of gospel music). She warbles, scats, and at the close of the song serves up a 17 second wail that crests into some of the saddest lyrics you’ll ever hear.

Mtume deconstructed “Cassanova Brown” into five parts – realization , recrimination, decision, dejection, and resolution. I suggest you listen to the song as you read his detailed breakdown. And I’ll leave you with his words, which aptly define the greatness of this song:

And there you have it. An entire hopelessly-flawed love affair in all its glory and futility, compressed into six minutes of sonic brilliance. God damn, what a record.


Teena Marie – Cassanova Brown


  1. Let’s just say, we now know where he got the inspiration for “Super Freak.

2 thoughts on “Remembering Teena Marie: #4 – Cassanova Brown”

  1. This song is flat out amazing. It easily would have made it into my top 2 – except for her lyric about Howard Hughes… it just kills the entire verse for me.

    Compare that to her songwriting on "Shadow Boxing".. I mean, who uses "zephyr" in an R&B ballad?

Leave a Reply