Surface (band)

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Surface Columbia.jpg
Background information
OriginNew Jersey
United States
GenresPop, R&B, post-disco
Years active1983–1994
Past membersBernard Jackson
David Conley
Everett Collins
Karen Copeland (deceased)
David Townsend (deceased)

Surface was an American music group from New Jersey, active from 1983 to 1994. They are best known for their #1 pop and R&B hit "The First Time". During its heyday, the group consisted of singer/bassist Bernard Jackson (born on July 11, 1959 in Stamford, Connecticut), David Townsend (born on May 17, 1955 in Inglewood, California), and David Conley (born on December 27, 1953 in Newark, New Jersey).


Early years[edit]

Surface was formed in New Jersey in 1983 with musicians David Conley, David Townsend and Everett Collins at its nucleus and Conley’s girlfriend on vocals, her name was Karen Copeland.

David Townsend was the son of late singer/songwriter, Ed Townsend, he was also a member of the band, Port Authority in the 1970s along with David Conley, who was the bassist of funk band, Mandrill from 1978 to 1981. Townsend and Conley met when Townsend was in a '70s band in Los Angeles. During the 1970s, Townsend was a friend and colleague of drummer/writer, Everett Collins, who worked with the Isley Brothers.

With this original line-up, Surface recorded three singles, "Falling in Love" (1983), "When Your X Wants You Back" (1984), and "Stop Holding Back", the latter being a "lost track" released about 15 years after being recorded. “Stop Holding Back” would only be released in 1999 when Salsoul Records was opening up their vaults, as part of a special vinyl release with the other two early Surface recordings. (It had been recorded earlier by Gwen Guthrie.) These three singles, recorded several years before Surface recorded a full album and with Karen Copeland as lead singer are referred to by music critics as "the Copeland singles".

Surface would find moderate success with the Copeland singles.

In 1983, Surface released their debut single, "Falling in Love" which peaked at #84 on the United States R&B Singles chart, staying on the chart for 4 weeks. In the UK, the song peaked at #67 on the UK Singles Chart.

A year later, they released their second single, "When Your Ex Wants You Back" which also peaked at #84 on the United States R&B chart and peaked at #52 on the UK Singles chart.

Surface later moved to Los Angeles to search for more mainstream success.

With a sound more reminiscent of Kashif and related early 1980s soul groups, these early singles contrast significantly with the smoother, ballad-style material that would later make the group successful in the U.S.

Before it was an R&B group, Surface was a dance band, they released three records with a hybrid sound often tossed in the bin marked “post-disco” and with Karen Copeland as lead vocalist whose emotive and charismatic voice brought to mind a more soulful shade of Sheila E.

Karen Copeland and David Conley then broke up. Copeland left the group, and then Conley and Townsend met Bernard Jackson in 1984.

The three met when Jackson moved from Stamford to New York to pursue a music career. While Jackson was in New York, his godfather said that he should contact his nephew, David Townsend. Conley, Townsend, and Jackson then started writing music together, they wrote songs in contemplation of the next female lead vocal who would sing them. After auditioning several women, Surface, according to Conley, "never found another girl".

After failing to find a female lead singer to replace Karen Copeland, Bernard Jackson himself became the lead singer; the group then worked on recording its first full album. During this time, the groups also wrote songs for New Edition, Gwen Guthrie, and Sister Sledge.

After leaving Surface, Karen Copeland faded into obscurity. According to Conley, she is now deceased.[2]

Songwriters/early recordings[edit]

They then became resident songwriters for EMI and wrote New Edition's "Let's Be Friends" and Sister Sledge's "You're Fine."[1] Encouraged by this success, the group called themselves Surface and began recording their own material, releasing several post-disco/early-'80s-style tracks under the name.[1]

First major label record deal[edit]

The trio then moved to Los Angeles, California, searching for more mainstream success; the song "Let's Try Again" came to the attention of Larkin Arnold of Columbia Records, who signed the band and released this track as a single in 1986. Also in 1986, Jackson met a friend, Brian Simpson, and recorded a demo tape of a track he had written entitled "The First Time", he believed it to be a hit and hired a recording studio to get the best professional conditions for the track. Their self-titled first album followed in 1987, featuring two more hit singles: "Happy", which reached #2 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks,[1] and "Lately", which reached #8. However, "The First Time" did not appear on the album and remained unreleased.

The band's follow-up album, 2nd Wave, was released in 1988 and included some of the group's biggest hits.

"I Missed" reached #3 on the R&B charts.

"Closer Than Friends" was the group's first #1 hit, topping the R&B charts for two weeks.

"Can We Spend Some Time" reached #5 on the R&B charts.

The album featured two other #1 R&B hits.

"You Are My Everything", featuring popular R&B singer Regina Belle, topped the charts for two weeks.

And the album's biggest hit,[1] "Shower Me With Your Love" went gold, reached #1 on the R&B charts and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Regina Belle was also a guest vocalist on the song "Hold On to Love", which was not released as single.

Thanks to the album's multiple hits, it managed to go platinum.

Later years[edit]

The song "The First Time", originally recorded by Jackson in 1986, was featured on the band's third album 3 Deep in 1991 and was the first single from the album; the song was a hit, going gold and becoming the group's biggest hit to date. It topped both the R&B and pop charts.

The album continued with "All I Want Is You", again featuring Regina Belle, which reached #8 on the R&B charts and helped the album go gold.

The band also recorded "A World of Our Own" which was featured in the 1991 film Return to the Blue Lagoon.

Jackson and Townsend left in 1994, and the group disbanded. In 1998, the group reformed and released Love Zone and a few years later announced a return to live appearances, only to be cancelled when Townsend was found dead at his home.[1] Townsend, son of producer/songwriter Ed Townsend[1] (co-writer of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On"), died of unknown causes on October 26, 2005, at the age of 50, almost two years after his father.


Studio albums[edit]

Year Title Chart positions[3] Record label
1986 Surface 55 11 Columbia
1988 2nd Wave 56 5 Columbia
1990 3 Deep 65 19 Columbia
1998 Love Zone[1] - - Victor Entertainment

Compilation albums[edit]

Year Title Chart positions[3] Record Label
1991 The Best of Surface...A Nice Time for Loving - - Columbia
2001 The First Time: The Best of Surface - - Sony
2001 Perfect 10 - - Columbia
2005 Our World - - Sony
2008 Super Hits: Surface - - Sony BMG Music Entertainment


Year Song US Hot 100[4] US R&B[5] US A.C.[6] US Hot Dance[7] UK Singles Chart[8]
1983 "Falling in Love" - 84 - - 67
1984 "When Your Ex Wants You Back" - 84 - - 52
1986 "Let's Try Again" - 22 - - -
1987 "Happy" 20 2 24 16 56
1987 "Lately" - 8 - - -
1988 "I Missed" - 3 - - -
1989 "Closer Than Friends" 57 1 - 39 -
1989 "Shower Me with Your Love" 5 1 3 - -
1989 "You Are My Everything" 84 1 - - -
1990 "Can We Spend Some Time" - 5 - - -
1990 "The First Time" 1 1 1 - 60
1991 "All I Want Is You" - 8 - - -
1991 "Never Gonna Let You Down" 17 24 17 - -
1991 "You're the One" / "We Don't Have to Say Good-bye" - 35 - - -
1992 "A Nice Time for Lovin'" - 52 - - -


Best-known lineup[edit]

Other members[edit]

  • Karen Copeland - vocals (born c. 1958, died December 5, 1988, Newark) (1983–1984)
  • Eric "G-Riff" Moore - vocals (born August 23, 1971, Irvington, New Jersey) (1994)
  • Everett "Jam" Benton - keyboards (1994)
  • Everett Collins - keyboards, vocals, writer (1987 - 2005)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Perrone, Pierre (December 25, 2005). "David Townsend - Singer with the soul trio Surface". - Obituaries. Archived from the original on December 25, 2005. Retrieved April 24, 2009.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b "Billboard" Albums on Allmusic
  4. ^ "Billboard" Hot 100 Singles on Allmusic
  5. ^ "Billboard" R&B Singles on Allmusic
  6. ^ "Billboard" AC Singles on Allmusic
  7. ^ "Billboard" Club Play Singles on Allmusic
  8. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 542. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.

External links[edit]