If ever a group lived up to its name, that group was Change. The brainchild of French-Italian music impresario and producer Jacques Fred Petrus, in collaboration with Italian-based producer/arranger Mauro Malavasi and bassist Davide Romani, Change released six albums between 1980 and 1985. Built on infectiously danceable rhythms, melodic hooks and sublimely soulful vocals, the sound of Change was primarily created by a rotating cast of Italian-based musicians and America-based vocalists. Groove Line Records has recently celebrated the legacy of Change in truly definitive style with Reach for the Sky: Anthology, a 2-CD, 28-track collection drawing on album cuts, original, extended and promotional single mixes, and even previously unreleased versions.
Change is most fondly remembered today for its uptempo, sleek productions in the spirit of CHIC, and a number of players in the Change story were, indeed, alumni of the CHIC Organization. As Reach for the Sky recounts, Change started on top. The shimmering, exuberant and funky “Lover’s Holiday” from its 1980 debut album The Glow of Love provided Change with its only Top 40 hit on the Hot 100. One of those CHIC alumni, Luther Vandross, was on the cusp of his own superstardom when he laid down the passionate lead vocal for the romantic title track to The Glow of Love, underscoring the element of soul that gilded Change’s dance records. (Its 12-inch long version is included here.) Luther also was up front on “Searching,” a sophisticated and slick dancer with more pronounced jazz elements and an atmospheric nighttime vibe. (“A Lover’s Holiday,” “The Glow of Love” and “Searching” all topped the Disco chart.) Vandross wasn’t the only accomplished vocalist on Glow; Jocelyn Brown of Inner Life fame lent her expectedly powerful vocals to “Angel in My Pocket.”
Vandross, Brown, Dennis Collins and Krystal Davis all returned for the sophomore Change album, 1981’s Miracles, and were joined by familiar names like Gordon Grody, Benny Diggs, and CHIC veterans Diva Gray, Ullanda McCullough and Fonzi Thornton. Gray took the lead on the R&B Top 10 hit “Paradise,” anchored (like many Change tracks) by a pulsating, tight electro-bassline. Vandross provided the vocal arrangement on which he sang alongside Brown and Thornton. His arrangement of the even more bass-driven “Heaven of My Life” is also in the spotlight here, with Luther, Fonzi, Diva and Jocelyn sharing vocal duties. The Fonzi Thornton touch is unmistakable on “Hold Tight,” a track very reminiscent of CHIC’s “Good Times” as Thornton admits in his track commentary. “Stop for Love” showcased the mellower side of Change, with James “Crabbe” Robinson bringing intensity to the lead on this smooth yet imploring ballad; Robinson also led the bright disco splendor of title track “Miracles.” Change was on a roll; “Paradise,” “Hold Tight” and “Heaven” notched them three more Disco chart-toppers.
1982’s Sharing Your Love marked a turning point for Change, as a self-contained group had emerged in the wake of the Miracles tour. The album identified Robinson (lead vocals), Timmy Allen (bass), Mike Campbell (guitar), Vincent Henry (saxophone/guitar), Jeff Bova (keyboards) and Rick Galwey (percussion) as Change, though a small army still contributed to the record including Thornton, Brown, Grody, Collins and further guests like Randy Brecker and Roz Ryan.
R&B Top 20 hit “The Very Best in You” still had a pronounced CHIC influence, but the production moved the group closer to an eighties R&B style. That Change was leaving the seventies behind was also evident in the big drums and cooler electronic sound of “Hard Times (It’s Gonna Be Alright),” an anthem to positivity co-written by Thornton, who sings the clipped vocals on the track along with Gordon Grody and Mic Murphy. Robinson penned the smoldering, string-laden ballad “Sharing Your Love” (presented here in its single edit), and Thornton also conjured a strong mid-tempo offering with the sensual address of “Promise Your Love” which likewise blended traditional disco orchestration with a modern feel.
An electronic pulse throbs on the title track of 1983’s This is Your Time, which arrived after some tumult; new recruit Rick Brennan was set to replace James “Crabbe” Robinson on lead vocals before Mauro Malavasi changed his mind and brought in Robinson to replace Brennan on all but two tracks. One of those two, “Got to Get Up,” has been included on Reach for the Sky; the song also happened to be among the most heavily synthesized music released by Change to that point. Robinson shines on the ballad material such as “You’ll Never Realize,” heard in its single version, but the colder, more sterile sounds on this album didn’t showcase Change’s exuberant strengths.
Mauro Malavasi, a key player since Change’s first LP, parted ways with Jacques Fred Petrus’ Little Macho production company after This is Your Time. That might have signaled the end of Change if not for Vincent Henry’s suggestion that Petrus look in the direction of Minneapolis. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had already produced hits for Cheryl Lynn and The S.O.S. Band when they were courted to produce Change. Soon, they were on a flight bound for Italy, and the resulting album Change of Heart – featuring a clearly not bitter Rick Brennan (lead vocals), Timmy Allen (bass/keyboards/background vocals), Debra Cooper (lead/background vocals), Vincent Henry (guitar/saxophone), Mike Campbell (guitar), Jeff Bova (synthesizer/keyboards) and Toby Johnson (drums) – reinvigorated Change.
Jam and Lewis keenly understood the new sounds of the 1980s, and the title track “Change of Heart” (presented here in its 12-inch version) brimmed with a confidence and a focus lacking from the previous LP. The potent slice of electronically burbling new wave funk made it all the way to No. 7 on the Billboard R&B chart, Change’s biggest hit since “Paradise.” Reach for the Sky also includes Timmy Allen’s slick “It Burns Me Up,” Jam and Lewis’ “You Are My Melody” (with its blend of soulful vocals and up-to-the-minute production values), the uptempo Deborah Cooper-led “Warm” and the Cooper/Brennan duet of the sweeping “Say You Love Me Again.”
But Jam and Lewis only stayed with Change for one album, and the cut-down line-up of Brennan, Cooper, Henry and Campbell joined forces with Timmy Allen, now in the producer’s chair, for one final album. Happily, 1985’s Turn on the Radio continued in the style of its predecessor and even gained the group a Top 40 dance hit with the sultry “Let’s Go Together.” Allen’s “Mutual Attraction” has a glossy pop feel, while “Oh, What a Feeling” tried to recapture the dancefloor magic.
“Oh What a Feeling” concludes the main portion of Reach for the Sky on a high note; Mike Maurro’s 2015 extended remix of “It’s a Girl’s Affair” (soon to be available on vinyl from Groove Line) is a welcome bonus track. The anthology, produced and sequenced for Groove Line by the label’s Wayne A. Dickson, also features a lavish 24-page color booklet featuring liner notes by Christian John Wikane and track-by-track notes featuring comments and memories by many of the key players. Nick Robbins has remastered all tracks for stellar, punchy sound.
Tracing the evolution of dance music from classic disco to the more electronic sounds that have largely thrived since, Reach for the Sky is a beautifully-designed, -sequenced and -annotated tribute to a group that thrived in the first half of the 1980s despite the so-called “disco backlash.” As such, it’s an essential addition to any dance, disco, soul or R&B shelf.
Watch this space for more Groove Line Records reviews soon!
- A Lover’s Holiday
- The Glow of Love (12″ Long Version)
- Angel in My Pocket
- Hold Tight (Long Version (previously unreleased)
- Stop for Love
- Heaven of My Life
- The Very Best in You
- Hard Times (It’s Gonna Be Alright)
- Keep on It (Alternate Mix) (previously unreleased)
- Sharing Your Love (Single Version)
- Promise Your Love
- This is Your Time
- Don’t Wait Another Night
- You’ll Never Realize (Single Version)
- Magical Night (Single Version)
- Got to Get Up (12″ Remix)
- Change of Heart (U.S. 12″ Long Version)
- It Burns Me Up (Single Version)
- You Are My Melody
- Say You Love Me Again
- Let’s Go Together
- Mutual Attraction (12″ Remix)
- Oh What a Feeling (U.K. Paul Hardcastle 12″ Remix)
- It’s a Girl’s Affair (Mike Maurro Disco Remix) (previously unreleased)
CD 1, Tracks 1-4 original versions from The Glow of Love, RFC/Warner Bros. LP 3438, 1980
CD 1, Tracks 5-9 original versions from Miracles, RFC/Atlantic LPSD-19301, 1981
CD 1, Tracks 10-14 original versions from Sharing Your Love, Atlantic SD-19342, 1982
CD 2, Tracks 1-5 original versions from This is Your Time, Atlantic 80053-1, 1983
CD 2, Tracks 6-10 from Change of Heart, Atlantic 80151-1, 1984
CD 2, Tracks 11-13 from Turn On Your Radio, Atlantic 81243-1, 1985
CD 2, Track 14 original version from The Glow of Love, this mix also issued on vinyl as Groove Line GLRMX12 0001, 2016