Without a doubt, Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label has been one of the most hospitable to the legendary divas of soul, and two recent releases just further underline that fact. Having previously reissued deluxe editions of Aretha Franklin’s 1982’s Jump to It and 1983’s Get It Right, both produced by Luther Vandross, the label has turned the clock backward to 1980 for the Queen’s Arista Records debut, simply titled Aretha. It’s recently been joined by Cheryl Lynn’s 1982 Columbia LP Instant Love, produced by…wait a second…Luther Vandross!
Aretha Franklin greeted the 1980s with open arms, reinvigorated by a new deal with the Arista label. Under the direction of Clive Davis, the label had already given a shot in the arm to the recording career of another legendary singer, Dionne Warwick. Like Dionne’s time at Warner Bros. Records, the final years of Aretha’s Atlantic Records contract had been less than fulfilling, artistically and commercially. Dionne’s 1979 Arista debut (also coming soon from Big Break!) earned the singer two Grammy Awards and even a new signature song (“I’ll Never Love This Way Again”). Could Arista work the same magic on Franklin?
Whereas Barry Manilow took the producer’s chair for the Dionne album, Aretha split the duties between two talents. The LP reunited the singer with longtime Atlantic arranger Arif Mardin (with whom she had some of her greatest triumphs) and another accomplished producer and songwriter, Chuck Jackson (not the “Any Day Now” singer). The Sweet Inspirations, who lent their background vocal prowess to Aretha’s 1960s classics, also were on deck. The cover photo of a relaxed Franklin reflected the music within, from an artist utterly in control of a vocal instrument still in its prime. The eclectic line-up of songs was designed to show all sides of the artist. Mardin oversaw two cover versions with the most overtly modern sounds on the album: a driving, funky reworking of Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose” and a glossy treatment of The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” a No. 1 hit just one year earlier for the band. Though including the song’s signature riff, Franklin reinvented the vocals with stunning new harmonies. Mardin was also at the helm of the opening song, the inviting, mid-tempo “Come to Me,” with its intertwined piano part from David Foster and David Paich.
Chuck Jackson produced the most successful single from the album, the anthemic “United Together,” which rose to the R&B Top 5 and remains one of the most potent items in Franklin’s considerable catalogue today. He also was behind the sweet Philly groove (just dig those flutes and horns!) of the playful “Take Me with You,” and the earnest “Together Again.” On the latter, Franklin could have been singing about herself and her bond with an audience that never left her, even in fallow days: “Well, here we are, after so many years, together again! Yes, we’re together again!”
Though Aretha only reached No. 47 on the Billboard 200 (but a strong No. 6 on the R&B chart), it’s one of the most timeless entries in her latter-day catalogue. It eased her into the new terrain of the 1980s while still appealing to her core style of classic R&B and soul. Mardin returned for 1981’s Love All the Hurt Away before Franklin disciple Vandross was brought in to bring the singer in a more contemporary urban direction. Big Break’s new edition includes four bonus tracks: 12-inch mixes of “What a Fool Believes” and “Can’t Turn You Loose,” and single versions of “Fool” and “United Together.” Christian John Wikane’s strong essay includes great reminisces from none other than Clive Davis as well as the late Arif Mardin’s son Joe.
After the jump: the scoop on Cheryl Lynn’s Instant Love, track listings with discography and order links for both releases, and more!
Cheryl Lynn may have burst onto the scene with 1978’s “Got to Be Real,” but she was hardly an overnight sensation, having paid her dues onstage (the national touring company of The Wiz) and even on television (The Gong Show). Though debut LP Cheryl Lynn was a success on the strength of “Got to Be Real” and “Star Love,” the artist was having difficulty translating her disco stardom into success as the 1980s began. Heatwave producer Barry Blue took over from the legendary jazz arranger Marty Paich and his son, Toto’s David Paich, for 1979’s In Love, and Ray Parker Jr. was in the hot spot for 1981’s In the Night, but neither album made significant inroads on the Billboard 200. Luther Vandross was then paired with the supple-voiced Lynn, already having established solo fame with his own Never Too Much in 1981.
The singer/songwriter/producer and student of classic soul brought his usual group of collaborators to the album that became Instant Love: bassist Marcus Miller, keyboardist Nat Adderley, Jr., drummer Yogi Horton, vocalist Fonzi Thornton. Paul Riser, a longtime member of the Motown family and another Vandross team member, contributed arrangements, as did Adderley and Vandross himself. Much of this same stable of talents would work on Aretha Franklin’s Jump to It the same year under the direction of Vandross, and indeed, Instant Love shares a similar sound with that album. Miller’s bass is prominent while synthesizers and keyboards burble throughout, with strings on hand to flesh out the arrangements.
Vandross and Miller wrote two originals for Lynn, the title track and “Sleep Walkin’,” while Tawatha Agee was tapped for two songs, as well: the saucy “Say You’ll Be Mine” and the tender, orchestrated ballad “Day After Day,” with its stratospheric vocal pyrotechnics. Michael Sembello (“Maniac”) co-wrote and played guitar on “Look Before You Leap,” which had previously been recorded by Rockie Robbins. Vandross looked back even further for two more tracks. Ashford and Simpson’s “Believe in Me” had been recorded by the duo in 1976 but proved a perfect match for Lynn’s gospel-inflected pipes in a classy piano-and-strings setting. “If This World Were Mine” was a Marvin Gaye composition on which Gaye originally duetted with Tammi Terrell back in 1967 at Motown. Vandross and Lynn proved a near-match for Marvin and Tammi, reviving the song in a stunningly fresh new rendition, all velvet and slow burn. (Luther is also audible on the album’s background vocals, including on the title track.)
For all that, though, Instant Love only made it to No. 133 Pop, though it scored heavily on the R&B survey with a No. 7 placement. Three singles were issued; “Instant Love” made it to No. 16 R&B/No. 105 Pop, “If This World Were Mine” went to No. 4 R&B and No. 101 Pop, and “Look Before You Leap” hit No. 77 R&B. Two of these three singles (“Instant Love” and “If This World Were Mine”) make up the bonus tracks on BBR’s new reissue. Steven E. Flemming, Jr. provides the new liner notes, shedding light both on the album itself and the period surrounding its release in which disco ceded to a new style of R&B.
Both titles arrived in stores this week in the U.K. and next week stateside. And there’s still plenty on the way this summer from BBR, including the first-ever expanded edition of Dionne Warwick’s Arista debut Dionne, produced by Barry Manilow; some exciting CD debuts from the Salsoul library; and even more from Philadelphia International! Watch this space soon for full reports soon on all of those! You can order Aretha and Instant Love at the links below!
Aretha Franklin, Aretha (Expanded Edition) (Arista LP AL-9538, 1980 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBR0173, 2012)
- Come to Me
- Can’t Turn You Loose
- United Together
- Take Me with You
- Whatever It Is
- What a Fool Believes
- Together Again
- Love Me Forever
- School Days
- What a Fool Believes (12-Inch Mix) (Arista single 12-377, 1980)
- Can’t Turn You Loose (12-Inch Mix) (Arista single 12-395, 1981)
- United Together (Single Version) (Arista single 0569, 1980)
- What a Fool Believes (Single Version) (Arista single 0591, 1981)
Cheryl Lynn, Instant Love (Expanded Edition) (Columbia FC-38057, 1982 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0172, 2012)
- Instant Love
- Sleep Walkin’
- Day After Day
- Look Before You Leap
- Say You’ll Be Mine
- I Just Wanna Be Your Fantasy
- Believe in Me
- If This World Were Mine (with Luther Vandross)
- Instant Love (Single Version) (Columbia single 02905, 1982)
- If This World Were Mine (with Luther Vandross) (Single Version) (Columbia single 03204, 1982)