By the time of her debut album in 1976, the resilient singer with the remarkable range had already recorded a Northern Soul favorite (“I’m Walking Away” on the small Lock Records label), performed with Minnie Riperton and Roberta Flack, and been a member of Stevie Wonder’s versatile backing group Wonderlove. This is Niecy, on Columbia Records, was produced by Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire and Charles Stepney of Chess Records fame, and their confidence in the vocalist paid off.
Now, on the occasion of its 35th anniversary, This is Niecy is receiving an expanded reissue from the U.K.’s Big Break Records, one of the Cherry Red family of labels. (BBR has previously released expanded editions of four of Williams’ albums: her sophomore effort Songbird, disco-flavored third solo album When Love Comes Calling, Thom Bell-produced soul masterpiece My Melody and pop classic Let’s Hear It For the Boy. In addition, the label’s Facebook page recently confirmed exciting plans for an upcoming reissue of the 1982 Williams/Bell Niecy.) Not wanting to be left out of the action, however, the Funky Town Grooves label has planned two more Williams reissues, both expanded: 1983’s I’m So Proud and 1986’s Hot on the Trail. (Williams’ back catalogue has been mined by numerous labels in recent memory. Both Reel Music and SPV Yellow Label have previously tackled Niecy for reissue, and the latter paired it with Let’s Hear It for the Boy. We eagerly await Big Break’s plans for the much-loved album!)
The centerpiece of This is Niecy remains “Free,” still a signature song for Williams today. Co-written by the Gary, Indiana native (as was each track on the album), “Free” scored chart victories both in the United States (No. 2 R&B, No. 25 Pop) and the United Kingdom (No. 1 Singles). “That’s What Friends Are For” (not the Burt Bacharach song, or for that matter, the Paul Williams song, either!) and “Cause You Love Me Baby” both followed “Free” up the R&B charts, and the former even cracked the U.K. Top Ten. The newly-remastered edtion of This is Niecy includes three bonus tracks: the single versions of “Free” and “That’s What Friends Are For,” as well as an alternative single mix of “Free.” Housed in a super jewel box, the 35th anniversary edition features copious liner notes, customary for BBR, based on new interviews with the album’s personnel!
The success of This is Niecy led to another success with 1977’s Song Bird, and an even bigger one in an unlikely place. Columbia teamed its new star with a label mainstay, the velvet-voiced Johnny Mathis, for a one-off single arranged by Gene Page, “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.” The song by Nat Kipner and John McIntyre Vallins took the triple crown, going all the way to No.1 on the pop, R&B and Adult Contemporary charts. It was Mathis’ first chart-topper since 1957 and the first for Williams. Its success led to an entire album of duets, 1978’s That’s What Friends Are For, which arrived in between Song Bird and When Love Comes Calling, her first LP for Maurice White’s Columbia-distributed ARC label.
Hit the jump for the scoop on Funky Town Grooves’ expanded editions of I’m So Proud and Hot on the Trail!
Williams followed the Mathis duets and the David Foster/Ray Parker, Jr.-produced When Love Comes Calling with two albums helmed by one of Philadelphia’s “Mighty Three,” Thom Bell. Williams and Bell, acting as co-producers, began a new symphonic soul phase in the vocalist’s career. The gold-selling My Melody (1981) featured some of Philly’s finest names including Bobby Eli and Don Renaldo, and produced another signature song in “Silly.” The Bell/Williams team topped that, though, with Niecy (1982) and its striking re-arrangement of The Royalettes’ “Gonna Take a Miracle.” Their take on the Teddy Randazzo/Bob Weinstein/Lou Stallman oldie went to No. 1 R&B, No. 6 AC and No. 10 Pop. Williams’ follow-up to the Bell albums was 1983’s I’m So Proud, receiving its first expanded CD release from Funky Town. Various producers worked on the album, including George Duke, who delivered a Top 10 R&B hit with “Do What You Feel,” co-written with Deniece. The title song was, of course, Curtis Mayfield’s, and also a minor hit. Johnny Mathis reunited with Williams for the smooth “So Deep in Love.” Funky Town’s reissue includes three bonus tracks: the Extended Dance Version of “Heaven In Your Eyes” plus the seven-inch single mixes of “Do What You Feel” and “It’s Okay.”
George Duke, like Thom Bell, moved Deniece Williams in yet another dramatic new direction. He produced her chart-topping “Let’s Hear It For the Boy,” a Tom Snow/Dean Pitchford song included in the film Footloose, which led to a 1984 album of the same name. (Another hit from that album was Williams’ tender reading of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “Black Butterfly.”) In 1986, Williams recorded one Christian-themed album (So Glad I Know, on the Sparrow label) and the secular LP Hot on the Trail, also being reissued by FTG. The album might be one of the least well-known in the artist’s catalogue, despite strong songwriting from Williams, who co-wrote all but one of the tracks. Tom Scott contributed the sax solo to the Latin-flavored “Video,” though most of the album consists of glossy synth-pop from various producers including Greg Mathieson, Brad Westerling, Jay Gruska, Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero. FTG’s reissue is bolstered by four bonus tracks, including the 12-inch versions of “Wiser and Weaker” and “Never Say Never,” plus an instrumental version of “Wiser and Weaker” and a dance mix of “I Confess.” (These are just a few of the many various extended mixes that exist of this album’s tracks.)
In the years since, Deniece Williams has continued to perform, and has recorded both secular and Christian music for a number of labels including MCA, Word, P.A.R., Harmony, and most recently, Shanachie. Big Break’s This is Niecy is due in stores in the U.K. on February 27, while the Funky Town Grooves titles follow on March 20. Track listings and pre-order links follow!
Deniece Williams, This is Niecy (Columbia LP 34242, 1976 – reissued Big Break Records BBR0107, 2012)
- It’s Important to Me
- That’s What Friends Are For
- Slip Away
- Cause You Love Me, Baby
- Watching Over
- If You Don’t Believe
- Free (Single Version) (from Columbia single 3-10429, 1976)
- That’s What Friends Are For (Single Version) (from Columbia single 3-10556, 1977)
- Free (Alternative Single Mix) (origin TBD)
Deniece Williams, I’m So Proud (Columbia LP 36822, 1983 – reissued Funky Town Grooves FTG-280, 2012)
- Do What You Feel
- I’m So Proud
- So Deep In Love
- I’m Glad It’s You
- Heaven In Your Eyes
- They Say
- Love, Peace And Unity
- It’s Okay
- Heaven In Your Eyes – Extended Dance Version (from Columbia 12-inch single 44-04946, 1983)
- Do What You Feel – 7″ Version (from Columbia 7-inch single 38-03807, 1983)
- It’s Okay – 7″ Version (from Columbia 7-inch single 38-04037, 1983)
Deniece Williams, Hot on the Trail (Columbia LP 40084, 1986 – reissued Funky Town Grooves FTG-281, 2012)
- Wiser And Weaker
- Hot On The Trail
- He Loves Me He Loves Me Not
- I Feel The Night
- We’re Together
- Straight From The Heart
- Wiser And Weaker- 12″ Version (from Columbia 12-inch single 44-05918, 1986)
- Wiser And Weaker – Instrumental (from Columbia 12-inch single 44-05918, 1986)
- Never Say Never – Extended 12″ Version (from Columbia 12-inch single 44-06761, 1987)
- I Confess – Dance Mix (from Columbia 12-inch single 44-06929, 1987)