The Wings Of Love (Music Collection International 1993)
Subtitled “18 Soulful Love Songs” you pretty much get what was being advertised in this compilation which I’m sure was available at a budget price in 1993. The tracks date from 1975-88 but mainly fall into the middle 80’s brackets where big soul ballads became very popular and artists who may have been struggling for years had a taste of big commercial success. This was especially the case in the UK where 8 of 14 of the charting tracks scored bigger than they did in the US, with another two matching the American chart position.
With these essential compilation CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog and once again I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.
1.On The Wings Of Love- Jeffrey Osborne (1984) (UK#11, US#29)*
Jeffrey began his hit career as lead vocalist for popular R&B band LTD who scored a couple of US Top 20 pop hits during the time he was with the group, the highest charting being their 1977 number 4 hit “(Every Time I Turn Around”) Back In Love Again. Their other hit “Love Ballad” was better known over here via a 1979 hit cover version by George Benson, whose voice Jeffrey’s resembles. By the mid 80’s Benson was a huge international star which may have prompted Jeffrey’s decision to leave LTD. This track penned by Osborne alongside Peter Schless was from the debut solo album and became his second US Top 40 solo hit but actually hung around a couple of years before it began to climb up the UK charts. It’s an almost perfect example of a mid 80’s solo power-ballad with its gentle piano intro into a dramatic refrain, a soaring chorus (appropriately given the title), key changes and a switch in tempos. I bought his debut album off the back of this but really nothing else on it particularly excited me. This was his biggest European hit and the track he would be best known for internationally, in the US he scored best with his 1987 duet with Dionne Warwick “Love Power”.
2. Joanna – Kool & The Gang (1984) (UK#2, US#2)
3. Friends – Amii Stewart (1984) (UK#12)
Amii had her most shining moments commercially in the disco era of the late 70’s when she scored a US number 1 with a version of the Atlantic Soul Classic “Knock On Wood”. A one hit wonder in her homeland, the UK loved even more what she did with the Doors’ “Light My Fire” which, when it reached number 5 in 1979 had got one place higher than its predecessor. I think Amii’s finest hour came with this more subtle, sophisticated mid-tempo shuffler which gave her a 5th Top 40 hit. I had this on vinyl 12″ and used to have a thing about playing it at 33 speed for some reason but I also loved it at its normal pace. Amii is part of a disco dynasty, her half-sister is high-energy star Miquel Brown whose daughter is Sinitta. Amii fell in love with Europe and moved to Italy around the time “Friends” was released where she became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF. A remixed medley of her two most famous songs saw her back in the UK Top 10 in 1985.
4. For Ever, For Always, For Love – Luther Vandross (1982)
5. Do What You Do – Jermaine Jackson (1985) (UK#6, US#13)
6. Weekend Girl – S.O.S Band (1984)
7. I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much – Bobby Womack (1985)
8. Reasons – Earth, Wind & Fire (1975)
9. If You’re Looking For A Way Out – Odyssey (1980) (UK#6)
Odyssey seem to be a star turn on my essential compilation albums. We’ve already had their all time classic as the title track on “Native New Yorker“; “Use It Up And Wear It Out” on “Rhythm Divine 2” and “Going Back To My Roots” on “Funk Soul Anthems” but this is a very different track. Leaving the disco floor well behind this really showcases the quality of the very under-rated distinctive voice of Lillian Lopez in a track which is in many ways uncommercial and unshowy but which draws the listener in and shows a versatility from the group which may have been a surprise to the American audience who really only knew them for the disco sass of “Native New Yorker”. Having said that about Lillian’s voice this still very much feels like an ensemble piece. They still had a couple of excellent tracks in them which also reflected the gentler side of the group in “Inside Out” (I love this one) and the surprisingly melancholic “Joy (I Know It)” from 1982 and 1985.
10. You Make Me Feel Brand New – Stylistics (1974) (UK#2, US#2)
11. I’m Gonna Love You Just A Little Bit More – Barry White (1973) (UK#23, US#3)
12. (They Long To Be) Close To You – Gwen Guthrie (1986) (UK#25)
Gwen began in song-writing scoring hit tracks for Ben E King, Sister Sledge and the lovely “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter” a great female soul ballad which I’m familiar with in versions by Martha Reeves, Marlena Shaw, Roberta Flack, Angela Bofill and a great cover by Linda Lewis which featured Gwen on back-up. Her solo singing career saw her working with Sly & Robbie and Larry Levan but she scored big time with a self-produced club track, the girl-power, straight talking “Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent”, one of the coolest tracks of 1986 and a UK Top 5 hit. Therefore, it was a strange decision to follow that up with a cover of a Bacharach and David pop standard which was associated with a overly sweet version by The Carpenters and countless filling-rotting versions which followed in that track’s wake. And yet, it works, there’s a rejigging with the melody which feels fresh and Gwen puts in a great vocal which gave her consecutive UK hits. Gwen sadly passed away at the early age of 48 in 1999.
13. New York Eyes – Nicole & Timmy Thomas (1985) (UK#41)
14. And I’m Telling You That I’m Not Going – Jennifer Holliday (1982) (UK#32, US#22)
The ultimate power song. Taken from the Broadway show “Dreamgirls” this is a real tour de force. It has unfortunately become a staple of TV talent shows but I think you’ve really got to think you are a great singer if you’re going to take this on because Holliday has put such a stamp on it. Another Jennifer, Ms. Hudson got an Oscar for playing the same role of Effie in the movie version (the part Holliday played on stage for almost four years) and her version is also excellent but Holliday’s is exceptional. It was one of those tracks which didn’t get that many plays on radio when it was first released because it ends with a “follow-that!” moment and just slipping on a Phil Collins record after it would just not have cut it. In the late 80’s there used to be a drag performer called Tzarday (sadly no longer with us) who would lip-synch to this song as the highlight of her act where she would tear off beads and a fur coat, do a lot of reaching out pleadingly with quivering hands and end up on the floor in an emotional heap and every time I hear this song I am reminded of that. Jennifer Holliday herself is an under-rated performer who I thought would make a huge commercial breakthrough when she released her excellent second album “Say You Love Me” which seemed full of potential hit singles which didn’t happen. Her 8th studio album “Fresh Takes”, a gospel release came out in 2018.
15. Secret Lovers – Atlantic Starr (1986) (UK#10, US#3)
16. Let’s Make A Baby – Billy Paul (1976) (UK#30)
17. Gonna Get You Home With Me Tonight – Eugene Wilde (1984) (UK#18)
18. Piano In The Dark – Brenda Russell (1988) (UK#23, US#6)