The eighties aren't traditionally remembered as a halcyon period for classic soul. R&B eventually took on new meaning as it splintered into hip-hop, rap and urban genres that were as integral to their day as street-corner doo-wop and soul were to their own. Big Break Records, a Cherry Red imprint, has long been committed to rediscovering perhaps-neglected works by some of the biggest names in soul and R&B, and a particularly fascinating series of recent reissues has turned its attention to two legendary ladies of soul as they transformed themselves for a new generation, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick. Both Franklin's Love All the Hurt Away and Warwick's Heartbreaker were produced under the aegis of Clive Davis for Arista Records in the early days of the 1980s (1981 and 1982, respectively), and both of these classic albums have just received gleaming new editions from BBR.
Love All the Hurt Away follows BBR's recent reissues of Aretha (1980), Jump to It (1982) and Get It Right (1983), completing the initial quartet of Arista releases from the Queen of Soul. Franklin's sophomore Arista album found her as a sort of nexus of R&B's past and present. At the helm was her longtime Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin, who had earlier reunited with Franklin when he co-produced her Arista debut in 1980. Songs came from friends old (Burt Bacharach, David Porter and Isaac Hayes) and new (Rod Temperton, Bacharach's collaborator and eventual wife, Carole Bayer Sager), a duet was recorded with another veteran artist who had scored a major crossover from jazz to pop (George Benson) and the rhythm section featured some of the hottest names in eighties rock, pop and soul: Jeff Porcaro and Paulinho da Costa on drums, Marcus Miller on bass, Steve Lukather on guitar, Greg Phillinganes on anything with keys! Even the song selection was split between originals and reworkings of old favorites. With this album perhaps more than any other, Franklin looked both forward and back, and of course, she would reach the zenith of her eighties "comeback" with 1985's Who's Zoomin' Who.
Mardin had produced a handful of tracks on 1980's Aretha, but must have felt sufficiently rejuvenated to oversee every track on Love All the Hurt Away. He applied gloss and funk to versions of "Can't Turn You Loose" and "What a Fool Believes" on Aretha, and here, the same treatment was applied to Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and more interestingly, The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." The former rendition retained the original's trademark horn riff, with arrangers Jerry Hey and Larry Williams embellishing it further while Marcus Miller's bass adds to an almost Kool & the Gang-esque "Celebrate" feel. Franklin raps a bit, and Robbie Buchanan's "mini-Moog" sounds add another modern slant to the track. For "You Can't Always Get What You Want," Mardin took a similar approach, retaining the original's choir but adding electronic sounds from Greg Phillinganes on the mini-Moog and David Paich on the electric piano; Franklin's vocal floats airily above Miller's burbling bass, Porcaro's drums and the guitars of Steve Lukather and David Williams. Franklin took the opportunity to alter the Glimmer Twins' lyrics, personalizing the song and delivering an offhand, funky and up-tempo take on the song that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Rod Temperton's "Living in the Streets" can sit comfortably alongside the danceable R&B he penned for Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones on albums like Off the Wall and Thriller, with a rhythmic groove that doesn't let up. Chuck Jackson returned from Aretha to contribute the sensitive "Search On," one of the album's classic soul throwbacks with a dynamic melody and sweet backing vocals from Jo Ann Harris. The pleasant title duet with George Benson as well as Allee Willis, David Lasley and Don Yowell's "There's a Star for Everyone" also snugly fit into this category. Franklin herself supplied two songs: the seductive, joyous "Whole Lot of Me," and the album-closing, string-swathed "Kind of Man" in which she heaps praise upon the "kind of man that every little boy looks up to and wants to be."
There's more on Aretha, plus Dionne's Heartbreaker, after the jump!
The emotional high point of the album, however, is "It's My Turn," on which she gives Diana Ross a run for her money with the then-recent Ross hit penned by Michael Masser and Carole Bayer Sager. The difference between the two legendary vocalists has perhaps never been more pronounced than when comparing their versions of this song. Whereas Ross' reading plays up the qualities of a kitten discovering her own strength, Franklin's version s a three-act play, ultimately bringing the song to church and taking no prisoners. Ross' production is a bit cleaner and more stately, but the Queen of Soul transforms the very personal lyric ("It's my turn, to see what I can see/I hope you'll understand that this time's just for me") into a direct, raw assertion of fierce independence. Embodying and identifying with Sager's sentiments, she growls, hollers and wails, pushing her voice further and further into the stratosphere. Sager also supplied the lyrics to "Truth and Honesty," co-written with Bacharach and entertainer Peter Allen ("Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)." Bacharach recalls in Christian John Wikane's liner notes that the song was written specifically for Franklin, but he didn't produce the session himself. Instead, Aretha took an enlarged role, co-producing it with Mardin. If it's not as memorable as the later Bacharach/Sager/Franklin hit "Ever Changing Times" it's a swaggering, affirmative gospel romp, without much of Bacharach's signature sound but with inspired backing vocals from the Sweet Inspirations and Darlene Love.
The package has been assembled with utmost care. Wikane customarily can be counted on to provide new, specific interview material to support his critical analysis of an album. Here he draws on quotes from Arif Mardin's son Joe, Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, and Franklin's contemporaries Margie Joseph, Linda Lewis, Melba Moore and Ruth Pointer. Three bonus tracks have been included: the extended 12-inch mix of "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and "Livin' in the Streets," plus the single edit (more than one minute shorter) of "It's My Turn." (Unfortunately discographical annotation is missing for the 12-inch mixes.) Nick Robbins has remastered the album.
Aretha Franklin took a page from Dionne Warwick in signing with Arista Records. Warwick's commercial peak with the label, however, came earlier than Franklin's, via albums like the just-expanded Dionne and the current reissue of 1982's Heartbreaker. Following the Barry Manilow-produced Dionne, Warwick and Clive Davis turned to other producers for each of Warwick's subsequent albums, including Steve Buckingham, Michael Masser and Jay Graydon. But one of her most sympathetic producers of all time was one Barry Alan Gibb. As one-third of the Bee Gees, the prolific producer/songwriter/singer released six straight No. 1 hits, earning him a place in the record books. Guinness even cites him as the second most successful songwriter of all time, only following Paul McCartney. When not working as the Bee Gees, however, Barry, Robin and Maurice frequently extended their songwriting largesse to favorite artists, with Barry serving as producer. Barry and the Gibbs worked their magic touch on younger brother Andy, not to mention Barbra Streisand, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Samantha Sang, and in 1982, Dionne Warwick.
Warwick reveals in Christian John Wikane's liner notes that the title song, a No. 10 Pop/No. 1 AC hit, was another "Do You Know the Way to San Jose." The singer famously felt that Bacharach/David song was wrong for her, but the songwriters prevailed upon her to record it anyway, leading to a No. 10 Pop single. She tells Wikane in his excellent notes that "[it] brought back memories of how I felt about 'Do You Know the Way to San Jose,' as we all know I did not feel it was a song that I would record. I was finally convinced by both the Brothers Gibb and Clive Davis to record 'Heartbreaker,' proving again that I am no criteria for picking hits!" Gibb remembers in the notes, "Clive completely freaked out when he heard the demo of 'Heartbreaker.'" Davis picks up the story: "This thing sounded like such a hit! To get a record that the Bee Gees could have done and yet he was turning it over to Dionne! I just couldn't believe it."
And a hit it was. The song seems tailor-made by Barry, Robin and Maurice for Warwick's strengths. Set to a perky, up-tempo melody and a memorable riff introduced on Gibb's Synclavier, the meaty lyrics gave Warwick plenty to interpret. An assertive woman is spurned, working out her troubled relationship by confronting her man: "I got to say it, and it's hard for me/You got me cryin' like I thought I would never be," she begins, before revealing that her lover "let [her] down: how can I love you when you ain't around?" She believes, "Love should be everything or not at all...I made a life out of loving you." It was easy to identify with the lyrical hook: "Why do you have to be a heartbreaker? Is it a lesson that I never knew?" The song was as immaculately crafted and flawlessly polished as any Bee Gees record, and it couldn't have hurt the song's commercial prospects that Gibb's familiar falsetto doubled Warwick's voice on the choruses. Warwick was accustomed to Hal David's bittersweet lyrics, and the Gibbs carried the torch admirably, with the singer adding a resolute dimension of innate strength as she pleads, "Tell me, when do we try, or should we say goodbye?" Though "Heartbreaker" was the only substantial hit in the U.S. on the album of the same name, the LP's remaining nine songs (all produced by Barry, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten) live up to its high standard.
Heartbreaker almost plays like a mini-concept album on the title theme, and virtually every song is directed at a lover, errant or otherwise. Gibb's falsetto recurs forcefully on "It Makes No Difference": "It makes no difference now. There is no other you...I'd rather die without you than let you go! My seasons in the sun...so many moments wasted! My love is living for you...and you should know!" Warwick unleashes the gospel fervor that's always informed her singing, with Barry echoing her on the intense lyrics over an instrumental bed that's as fiery and sleek as Warwick herself. She's equally emotional with her partner in "Yours": "To think that only yesterday, you held me in your hands and I became a woman/And you became the world to me...You led me to believe that I was yours/I swallowed every lie..." This was heady stuff, and Warwick sang it with both passion and subtlety.
"Take the Short Way Home" has the pronounced R&B style that dated as far back as The Bee Gees' 1975 Main Course. Gibb takes another prominent vocal part, but he never threatens to overpower Warwick. She seems to relish the opportunity to cut loose on such a funky track and navigates its melody with ease. Even trickier than is "Misunderstood," with a flurry of words and a twisting melody that Bacharach would envy. Warwick sings gracefully over Gibb's falsetto, Tim Renwick's electric guitar, pianos and synthesizers (played by Richard Tee, George Bitzer and/or Albhy Galuten) in another prime example of truly adult pop-soul. Dionne is sweeter on the gently cascading paean to a loved one, "All the Love in the World," a pretty mid-tempo ballad enhanced by strings. The second single, it peaked at No. 10 in the United Kingdom. It shares a similarity of tone with "I Can't See Anything But You," with its undercurrent of Bacharach-style melancholy in the melody and the way it builds to a heightened crescendo of unrestrained emotion, similar to earlier triumphs like "Anyone Who Had a Heart." It's just one of the album's showcases for the blasts of the Bonnaroo Horns.
Like the original LP, with its ravishing cover photo of Warwick looking as lithe as the cat she poses with on the album's back cover, BBR's reissue is packaged with care and attention to detail (including period-appropriate Arista style labels). Alas, the originally announced bonus tracks do not appear on the CD. We reached out to BBR's Wayne Dickson, and he kindly filled us in: "The U.S. 7-inch versions of 'Heartbreaker' and 'Take the Short Way Home' both have timings on them that suggest they are alternative versions. In fact, they are exactly the same in mix and length as the album versions!" Dickson was as disappointed as we were to discover this. Nonetheless, Barry Gibb, Karl Richardson and Albhy Galuten's shimmering productions sounds as good as ever in Nick Robbins' remastering, and Wikane's essay makes this an essential purchase even if you already own a prior edition.
Warwick and Gibb concluded Heartbreaker with a glistening, breezy cover of Ruby and the Romantics' 1963 hit "Our Day Will Come," a song which Gibb recalls Warwick having originally demo-ed for writers Bob Hilliard and Mort Garson. The day has come for Warwick's Arista years, like Franklin's, to be revisited. Though the artists' eighties work will inevitably take a back seat to 1960s triumphs at Scepter and Atlantic, respectively, Clive Davis' empire afforded both artists a rare chance for reinvention. Both women seized that opportunity with spirit and verve, and the results are yours to own in these new reissues.
Both titles can be ordered below!
Aretha Franklin, Love All the Hurt Away (Arista LP 9552, 1981 - reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0189, 2012)
- Love All the Hurt Away (Duet with George Benson)
- Hold On, I'm Comin'
- Livin' in the Streets
- There's a Star for Everyone
- You Can't Always Get What You Want
- It's My Turn
- Truth and Honesty
- Search On
- Whole Lot of Me
- Kind of Man
- Hold On, I'm Comin' (Extended 12-Inch Mix) (from Arista single 12-442, 1981)
- Livin' in the Streets (Extended 12-Inch Mix) (from Arista single SP 126, 1981)
- It's My Turn (Single Version) (from Arista single 0646, 1981)
Dionne Warwick, Heartbreaker (Arista LP 9609, 1982 - reissued Big Break Records CDBBR 0188, 2012)
- It Makes No Difference
- Take the Short Way Home
- All the Love in the World
- I Can't See Anything (But You)
- Just One More Night
- You Are My Love
- Our Day Will Come