Everlasting – Natalie Cole (EMI/Manhattan Records 1987)
UK Chart Position – 62
US Chart Position – 42
This was Natalie’s 11th solo studio album. Her debut “Inseparable” from 1975 had marked a superb arrival onto the music scene. Critically acclaimed, it was a fresh, vibrant sound which got record buyers excited and their parents recalling the music of her father. I had a vinyl copy given to me as a Christmas present and it was the first album I owned which wasn’t by a well-established chart act. The first single “This Will Be” is an all-time classic and is still Natalie’s most streamed track on Spotify. It got to number 6 in her homeland but bizarrely only made 32 in the UK. It was a track ahead of its time. British radio did not know quite what to make of this fresh, energetic sound with more than a nod back to the greatest moments of Aretha. Despite that lowly chart placing it is still a very well known track over here, one that has certainly lasted the test of time. It won a Grammy for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Natalie was named Best New Artist. The first album would be an essential CD but I don’t own it on CD as it took years for it to be released, by which time I had bought various anthology releases which had the best tracks from it. The same would apply to its follow-up “Natalie” from 1976 which had a greater range of musical styles and a greater gloss of sophistication. Natalie’s chart career peak at this stage of her career was in 1977 when “I’ve Got Love On My Mind” gave her a US Top 5 record and the album from whence it came “Unpredictable” became her first platinum album reaching number 8 in the US album charts.
But Natalie was a troubled artist and that trouble came in the form of drugs. Her addictions have been catalogued by her in her impressively honest autobiography “Angel On My Shoulder” (Warner 2000). By the 80’s the career was in freefall. The record buying public had largely deserted her and the quality of her album releases was decidedly patchy. 1987 saw a reversal of fortunes. She signed to EMI/Manhattan records and was teamed up with a combination of the hot and the vintage to produce her first gold album for eight years. It was her first ever to chart in the UK and gave her two Top 20 US Singles, her second ever Top 5 US and very first UK Top 5 single together with three other UK Top 40 hits. Natalie was back.
Production duty on this album was shared. In the early days Natalie had a very identifiable gospelesque sound developed with her production team Chuck Jackson & Marvin Yancy. In the meantime Cole and Yancy had married, divorced and Yancy had died of a heart attack two years before the release of this album at the age of 34. For this album production honours were spread out between a number of producers which meant the album did not have as much as a cohesive feel as some that had gone before but encompassed a range of styles. The album contains three tracks produced by Dennis Lambert (including one famously remixed by Robert Clivilles and David Cole), two by the legendary songwriting/production husband and wife time Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager and one by then hot production team Reggie and Vincent Calloway (plus one other by Reggie on his own), one by Marcus Miller one by her uncle Eddie. Jerry Knight, Aaron Zigman, Bruce Roberts, Andy Goldmark and Gerry Griffith complete the production team.
The album kicks off with the title track written and produced by Knight and Zigman. Jerry Knight had been a founder of the band Raydio in the late 70’s with Ray Parker Jnr and Zigman has since become a prolific film score composer. Working as a team they had scored a top 3 US, top 5 UK hit earlier on in the year with “Crush On You” by family group The Jets and this track does have a similar feel. It launches Natalie directly into the Pop/R& B market and makes her a relevant artist again from the outset. It’s a tale of total commitment to a relationship. It became a British hit single reaching number 28 when it was released over here as the third single off the album. Feeling very contemporary on release was “Jump Start” with its heavy beats and car imagery;
“Feels like my battery is in need of a jump
Our love is running down, done fell into a slump
Give me a spark to get the fire burning
Get my engine movin, set these wheels a turnin”
Okay it’s not exactly subtle but Natalie gives an Aretha-esque performance and the production is heavy and effective. The Calloway brothers who wrote and produced this were at the time members of the band Midnight Star and they had also charted a couple of times in 1986 in the UK with “Midas Touch” being their biggest hit (number 8). This has a heavier feel than their hits and sounds a little like what Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were doing with great success at this time with Janet Jackson. When it gets to the “Jump Start My Heart” chant you can’t help but feel this is a major hit in the making. It was chosen as the first single and as Natalie had gone so cold as an artist had to make up the ground by attracting radio play. In the UK it hovered just outside the top 40 but was re-released once Natalie had become hot again the following year and got to 36. In the States it was the track that heralded the return of Natalie Cole getting to number 13, her biggest hit for 9 years.
The uptempo pace is maintained by “The Urge To Merge” a track which sounds like it would be very much at home on Whitney Houston’s mega-selling second album also released in 1987 as it has a “Love Is A Contact Sport/So Emotional” feel to it. It’s a good track, it has diminished somewhat for me because my partner sings the hook line “I get the urge to burp” whenever it plays. Don’t start me on misheard lyrics, I think that’s a blog post of its own (and Peter Kay has probably cornered the market with these).
I have a real soft spot for the two Bacharach/Bayer-Sager songs and they are amongst the best written by this particular partnership. “Split Decision” extends a courtroom metaphor to look at the state of a relationship and “In My Reality” is a warm, mid-tempo track beautifully performed. Both these tracks ooze class and would appeal to those who had traditionally supported Cole as well as those discovering her through the more commercial tracks.
The big hit on the album is Natalie’s version of a Bruce Springsteen song, which would not have seemed that promising in development but it was transformed by a Clivilles and Cole Turbo Remix taking her Top 5 in both US and UK. Natalie’s version of “Pink Cadillac” may just be the very best song about a car, (and we’re not counting “GTO” by Sinitta, as I’m not even sure what that is about!!). On my first vinyl version of this was the original mix, produced by Dennis Lambert which had a rockier edge but it was the club version that sold with its stuttering vocals and driving (pun intended) rhythms. The album was repackaged to replace the original with the Turbo mix and it is that which has made its way onto the CD. I had two vinyl copies of this because, one of the risks of vinyl, youngsters, I dropped the needle on my first copy which caused a scratch and jumping on one of my favourite tracks. When I bought my second vinyl copy it was the repackaged disc. This is the original cover art for the album.
At this point in her career Natalie had been reluctant to cover her father’s songs. There had been an album recorded with Johnny Mathis in 1983 which was turned into a TV special but that was more Mathis’ baby than Natalie’s. The time was not right for Natalie to do much more than this and the occasional song performed live. In interviews she was asked regularly when she would be recording her father’s songs. Almost as a concession to this Natalie does cover “When I Fall In Love” on this album, but in a stroke of genius, the song is completely transformed into a mid 80’s Soul ballad. Produced by Marcus Miller of Luther Vandross fame the pace is slowed, the melody is revealed at a leisurely pace and the whole thing works superbly. Many of the listeners to this album would not have realised that this was a song from the early 50’s. “I Live For Your Love” was another ballad which confirmed Cole’s soul roots and got to number 13 in the US and 23 in the UK. The song won Cole a Best Female Single category in the Soul Train Awards, an honour that Natalie was particularly thrilled by as she states in her autobiography;
“There is a funny line black artists have to walk when they cross over to the pop charts, and getting this award from my peers meant that they still felt I was black, too. At the awards ceremony, I felt very grateful, and I got a chance to thank those who had seen me come and go- and come again.”
“More Than The Stars” was an affectionate nod to her family. It was the only track written by Natalie and produced by her uncle Eddie and has combines a contemporary feel with a nostalgic, relaxed jazz feel which makes it sound like a song her father would have recorded. Its Latin flavour is boosted by a superb guitar solo by Jose Feliciano. You can’t help but feel that this was a musical direction that Natalie was favouring. This was the track I dropped the needle on making it jump. I’ve had the CD copy for years and whenever it gets to the point where the record started to skip I find myself holding my breath. What’s that all about? By the mid 80’s vinyl was pretty inferior anyway and wafer thin compared to the thickness of albums ten or so years before.
This is a transition album – it has the commercial aspects which made her once again relevant and had her selling in quantities that the younger generation of Whitney and Janet Jackson would have respected; it had the class of the Bacharach numbers; it had the jazz feel of “More Than The Stars” and it had a recording of one of her father’s most famous songs. With the success of this album Natalie had clout again and if you combine all the elements of this album it’s no surprise that it would lead to a decision to revisit her father’s back catalogue without stinting on the finances and building on the success she had achieved as a valid, relevant artist and come up with the best album of her career. But that’s for another blog………………………….
This video is for the original Dennis Lambert produced version and is a perfect example of the 80’s pop video!
At time of writing this CD can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk for £6.98 new and used from £0.24. It can be downloaded for £8.49. American listeners can buy new from $13.31 and used from $0.01 and as a download for $9.49.