Big Break Records has unveiled its an exciting slate of releases from The Emotions, Kool and the Gang, Gloria Gaynor, and more! But first we’d like to turn our attention to a trio of recent releases from the Cherry Red imprint that you might have missed!
First up, BBR has an expanded edition of the third solo album from the one and only Chaka Khan. What’cha Gonna Do for Me was named for the infectious title song (an R&B No. 1 hit) co-written by Ned Doheny, the underrated singer-songwriter (and unwitting “yacht rock” practitioner) recently celebrated on an acclaimed Numero Group anthology. What’cha Gonna Do continued Khan’s relationship with the legendary producer-arranger Arif Mardin (Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, The Bee Gees) who enlisted many of the day’s top players for musical support including multi-instrumentalist Larry Williams, bassist Anthony Jackson, guitarist David Williams and drummer Steve Ferrone, as well as Average White Band’s Hamish Stuart, David Foster, Paulinho da Costa, Jerry Hey, Richard Tee, The Brecker Brothers, and other recognizable names.
What’cha Gonna Do was perhaps the queen of funky soul’s most Impressive and stylistically diverse platter to that point. Mardin complemented her powerful vocals with a sleek yet brassy sound. The chanteuse tackled a wide variety of songs including a contemporary-flavored revival of The Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” Jerry Ragovoy’s smoothly sensual “Night Moves” (originally recorded by Ragovoy with Major Harris), an upbeat duet with Chaka’s brother Mark Stevens on “We Got Each Other,” and “I Know You, I Live You,” a rhythmic Mardin/Khan co-write. Chaka also remarkably showed off her jazz chops with the fusion-style performance of “The Melody Lingers On (A Night in Tunisia).” Mardin and Khan penned new lyrics to Dizzy Gillespie’s jazz classic “A Night in Tunisia,” welcoming Gillespie on trumpet as well as an all-star roster featuring Herbie Hancock, David Foster, Abe Laboriel and Paulinho da Costa.
BBR’s reissue of the Gold-certified album adds three bonus tracks: non-LP single sides “Only Once” and “Lover’s Touch” plus an extended remix of “I Know You, I Live You.” Nick Robbins and reissue producer Wayne Dickson have overseen the remastered sound, while Christian John Wikane has penned the liner notes based on fresh interviews with Ned Doheny, Larry Williams and Randy Brecker.
Brenda Russell is currently enjoying success as a co-writer of the multiple Tony Award-nominated musical revival The Color Purple now on Broadway. But BBR has turned back the clock to the singer-songwriter’s one and only LP for Warner Bros. Records, 1983’s Two Eyes. The album reunited Russell with Tommy LiPuma; the jazz, pop and R&B veteran had been running A&M’s Horizon label while Brenda was signed there. As producer of Two Eyes, LiPuma surrounded Russell with the day’s finest musicians including some of the same personnel as on Chaka’s What’cha Gonna Do for Me: David Foster, Jerry Hey, Larry Williams and Paulinho da Costa among them. John Robinson, Toto’s Jeff Porcaro, and Leon Pendarvis, who also arranged a number of the tracks, made their presence felt as well.
Like Chaka’s album, Two Eyes epitomized modern R&B with an emphasis on sleek keyboard and synthesizer textures, and bore pronounced jazz and pop influences. Russell had modeled herself after the great Carole King, and like King, her universal songwriting was adaptable to numerous sounds and genres. Co-writers on Two Eyes include David Foster (“It’s Something!”), Michael McDonald (“Hello People”) and Don (brother of Dave) Grusin (“Stay Close”). Among Russell’s solo compositions are the striking “Jarreau,” a tribute to another groundbreaking jazz/R&B artist whom LiPuma had produced and Russell had admired; the darkly evocative “New York Bars”; and the hauntingly melodic, cabaret-esque “I’ll See You Again” featuring a Stevie Wonder harmonica solo. Most heartfelt is the album’s closer, “Look Down, Young Soldier.” To bring her plea for peace to life, Russell enlisted an all-star corps of singers including James Ingram, Christopher Cross, Randy Crawford, Patrice Rushen, Rita Coolidge and Mr. Al Jarreau himself.
BBR’s expanded edition, remastered by Dickson and featuring illuminating notes by Wikane drawing on a new interview with Russell, has four bonus tracks: both sides of the WEA Sweden single “This Time (I Need You)” and “Make My Day,” the Michael Franks duet “When I Give My Love to You,” and a remix of “Two Eyes.”
Lastly, we have not a solo artist, but a trio with the label’s reissue of The Changing of the Gard from Stargard. The group’s Warner Bros. debut, Changing of the Gard followed two successful LPs recorded for MCA by the funk-disco trio. Rochelle Runnells, Debra Anderson, and Janice Williams had their first hit with the Norman Whitfield-penned “Theme Song from Which Way is Up,” a 1978 R&B chart-topper. Motown alumnus Whitfield also wrote the title track of Stargard’s sophomore LP, What You Waitin’ For, and supported Stargard with guest spots on recordings by Junior Walker and Spyder Turner. Both of Stargard’s MCA albums had been produced by Mark Davis, but for the group’s Warner Bros. debut, Verdine White of Earth, Wind and Fire was at the helm alongside his songwriting partner Robert Wright. (Davis, for his part, could still be heard on keyboards on the album, and also recorded four of the tracks.) White contributed bass to the album, as well, as did Keni Burke. Paulinho da Costa once again added his distinctive touch on percussion.
Rochelle Runnells brought the funk to her four solo compositions (“Footstompin’ Blues,” “Runnin’ from the Law,” “I Just Imagined You” and “Put on My Rollerskates”). Janice Williams wrote “Low Down Dancing” as well as the album’s ballad standout, “Once in a Lifetime (Dream Come True).” As evidenced by Runnells’ “I Just Imagined You,” Stargard was often capable of balladry and sizzling grooves even within the same song! Keyboardist Charles Gant penned the blistering “Take Me Back” with Runnells, Williams and the producers. Changing‘s biggest hit, though, was “Wear It Out.” Written by Runnells, co-producer Wright and guitarist Charles Fearing, the propulsive floor-filler and opening track earned Stargard a Top 5 Disco hit.
Changing of the Gard marked the swansong for the group’s original line-up. Debra Anderson departed after the album’s release, leaving Williams and Runnells to soldier on for one more Warner Bros. album, Back 2 Back, and a return to MCA, Nine Lives. BBR’s reissue of Changing adds a quartet of bonus cuts: the single, 12-inch vocal and instrumental versions of “Wear It Out” and the single of “Runnin’ from the Law.” Dickson and Wikane do the honors on remastering and liner notes, respectively.
All three of these titles from Cherry Red’s Big Break Records label are handsomely housed in Super Jewel Boxes and can be ordered at the links below!
- We Can Work It Out
- What’cha Gonna Do for Me
- I Know You, I Live You
- Any Old Sunday
- We Got Each Other
- And the Melody Still Lingers On (Night in Tunisia)
- Night Moods
- Heed the Warning
- Father He Said
- I Know You, I Live You (Reprise)
- Only Once (Warner Bros. single WBS-49759, 1981)
- Lover’s Touch (Warner Bros. single WBS-49692, 1981)
- I Know You, I Live You (Remix) (from Life is a Dance: The Remix Project, Warner Bros. 9 25946-2, 1989)
- I Want Love to Find Me
- It’s Something!
- Hello People
- Two Eyes
- Stay Close
- New York Bars
- I’ll See You Again
- Look Down, Young Soldier
- When I Give My Love to You – Michael Franks with Brenda Russell (Warner Bros. single 28819, 1985)
- This Time (I Need You) (WEA Sweden single 249 201-7, 1984)
- Make My Day (WEA Sweden single 249 201-7, 1984)
- Two Eyes (Remix)
- Wear It Out
- Once in a Lifetime (Dream Come True)
- Footstompin’ Music
- Take Me Back
- Runnin’ from the Law
- Bedtime Story
- I Just Imagined You
- Put on My Rollerskates
- Low Down Dancing
- Wear It Out (Single Version) (Warner Bros. single WBS-49066, 1979)
- Runnin’ from the Law (Single Version) (Warner Bros. single WBS-49165, 1980)
- Wear It Out (12-Inch Version) (Warner Bros. 12-inchs single WBS-8891, 1979)
- Wear It Out (12-Inch Instrumental Version) (Warner Bros. 12-inch single WBS-8891, 1979)