The curriculum vitae of Deniece Williams can boast some of the most esteemed names in popular music: Maurice White, Charles Stepney, David Foster, Thom Bell and George Duke, just to name a few. All of those gentlemen produced albums for, or with, Williams, whose career has been the subject of a series of deluxe reissues from Big Break Records. Earlier this year, BBR (part of the Cherry Red group of labels) added Williams’ 1976 debut This is Niecy to its previous four titles from the artist: her sophomore effort Song Bird, 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. Two more titles have since been added to BBR’s Williams catalogue, meaning that her first seven solo albums are now on BBR. These latest additions are 1982’s Niecy, co-produced by Williams and Thom Bell, and its 1983 follow-up, the George Duke-produced I’m So Proud. That latter title was expanded just this past March by Funky Town Grooves, but the BBR edition goes it one better with more comprehensive notes and two additional bonus tracks.
Niecy may be the most beloved album in Williams’ catalogue. Reteaming the singer with Philadelphia’s Thom Bell, it built on the sound of its gold-selling predecessor, My Melody (1981). Bell seamlessly and tastefully integrated the sound of a synthesizer into his lush, symphonic soundscapes. Adding to the album’s singular sound, Bell recorded Williams with a live rhythm section, quite anomalous for a production circa 1982. Even that rhythm section itself was surprising; Bell brought in new musicians to the newer, largely untried studio at Sigma Sound, joining familiar names like Bobby Eli and Don Renaldo. Williams wrote every track on the album save one, and four of her songs were co-written with Bell. But the one song Williams didn’t write, ironically, became the album’s calling card.
Both Thom Bell and Deniece Williams had history with the Teddy Randazzo/Bob Weinstein/Lou Stallman song “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” originally performed by The Royalettes in 1965. When Williams told Bell one day that it was a song she had wanted to tackle ever since performing it in a school talent show, Bell recounted his own history with the song. He had arranged it and even played piano for Laura Nyro on her 1971 album produced by Gamble and Huff. The album’s title? Gonna Take a Miracle. The song became Bell’s ultimate tribute to Randazzo and producer Don Costa, two of the talents he most admired. The reworked but still faithful take on the oldie went to No. 1 R&B, No. 6 AC and No. 10 Pop. It also helped Niecy make the Top 20 pop album chart, and earned Williams her first Grammy nomination. Clearly “waiting” was on the minds of Bell and Williams. Follow-up singles “Waiting by the Hotline” and “Waiting” (both written by the duo) appeared later in the year, and though they didn’t repeat the success of “Gonna Take a Miracle,” all three songs illustrate the high quality of songwriting, singing and production on Niecy.
Whereas an otherwise-exemplary 2008 edition on the Reel Music label didn’t add any new material, and 2009’s SPV reissue paired the LP with Let’s Hear It for the Boy, Big Break’s reissue includes the single versions of “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” “Waiting” and “How Does It Feel” (the B-side of “Waiting”). Christian John Wikane’s great, entertaining essay includes candid recollections from Bell, which are worth the price of admission alone. Reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson has remastered.
Hit the jump for the scoop on I’m So Proud!
1983’s I’m So Proud joins Niecy on BBR. Thom Bell and Deniece Williams opted to go out “on top,” and they amicably parted ways after Niecy. Columbia Records was eager for a follow-up, though, and enlisted various producers for the album that became I’m So Proud. The most notable among them was George Duke, a jazz great who had branched out into pop, soul and R&B, working with artists from Jeffrey Osborne to Frank Zappa. Duke delivered a Top 10 R&B hit with “Do What You Feel,” co-written with Deniece, and produced three other songs for the album including the shimmering album opener, “Do What You Feel.” I’m So Proud, though, would just be an appetizer for Duke’s next project with Williams: a little song called “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” for the film Footloose!
Supplementing Duke’s work, Williams and Bill Neale co-produced the album’s title song, a new interpretation of Curtis Mayfield’s 1964 Impressions classic. “I’m So Proud” became a minor hit in Williams’ hands. She and Neale also produced another teaming with Johnny Mathis. Williams and Mathis’ 1978 duet on “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” remains a beloved item in both artists’ catalogues, and they gained further immortality as a team when they recorded the theme to NBC’s sitcom Family Ties. Here, they reunited for the smooth soul excursion of Jeff Barry and Bruce Roberts’ “So Deep in Love.” Williams also looked forward to her future Christian and gospel albums with Skip Scarborough’s affecting “They Say,” on which she was joined by another great and distinct vocalist: Earth, Wind and Fire’s Philip Bailey.
Big Break’s reissue, annotated by Wikane and remastered by Dickson and Nick Robbins, includes five bonus tracks: the 12-inch version of “Heaven in Your Eyes” plus the seven-inch single mixes of “Do What You Feel,” “It’s Okay,” “I’m So Proud” and “Heaven in Your Eyes.” The latter two tracks are exclusive to BBR’s edition.
Both Niecy and I’m So Proud are available now from Big Break, and can be ordered just below!
Deniece Williams, Niecy (ARC/Columbia LP FC-37952, 1982 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0141, 2012)
- Waiting by the Hotline
- It’s Gonna Take a Miracle
- Love Notes
- I Believe in Miracles
- How Does It Feel
- Now is the Time for Love
- A Part of Love
- It’s Gonna Take a Miracle – Single Version (from ARC single 18-02812, 1982)
- Waiting – Single Version (from ARC single 38-03261, 1982)
- How Does It Feel – Single Version (from ARC single 38-03261, 1982)
Deniece Williams, I’m So Proud (Columbia LP 36822, 1983 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0148, 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 04946, 1983)
- Do What You Feel – Single Version (from Columbia single 03807, 1983)
- It’s Okay – Single Version (from Columbia single 04037, 1983)
- I’m So Proud – Single Version (from Columbia single 04037, 1983)
- Heaven In Your Eyes – Single Version (from Columbia single 04218, 1983)