LEON WARE-ROCKIN’ YOU ETERNALLY.
LEON WARE-ROCKIN’ YOU ETERNALLY.
Some time ago I was researching an article on Marvin Gaye and his seminal album Let’s Get It On, when I read about how Leon Ware had collaborated with Marvin on his 1976 album I Want You. This was something I’d forgotten, as it was a long time since I’d either listened to I Want You or any of Leon Ware’s music. For many years, I’ve been a fan of Leon’s music, and lurking in a dark corner of my record collection were his albums. Before I listened to them, I put on I Want You. Straight away, I realized what I’d been missing as the familiar strains of Marvin’s music washed over me, and for me, it’s an album that’s hugely underrated. However, what many people don’t realize however, is how close to releasing the album Leon was. Originally, he had planned to release I Want You as his second album, on the Motown label, but when Betty Gordy heard the demos, decided it would be a good fit for Marvin Gaye. After that, Marvin and Leon collaborated, with Marvin co-writing four songs on the album, and Leon co-producing the album. Having listened to I Want You, i turned to Leon’s music. I was spoiled for choice, as I own most of his albums. Once I’d listened to each album, it was decision time. Which of his albums would I review? It was a hard choice, but after a while, I decided to write about Rocking You Eternally, his fourth album, released on Elektra in 1981. This is one of his best albums, and features some great music. Before I tell you about the album, I’ll briefly, tell you about Leon’s career.
Leon was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1940, and started his career in 1967 as a songwriter. During his career, he was written songs for a number of artists, including Donny Hathaway, The Miracles, The Jackson Five and The Average White Band. He also wrote I Wanna Be Where You Are for Michael Jackson in 1972 and two songs for Quincy Jones’ jazz-funk 1974 album Body Heat. However, one of his most famous tracks is one he cowrote with Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph, Inside My Love. This was one of two songs he cowrote on Minnie’s Adventures In Paradise album, the other being Baby, This Love I Have. Previously, I’ve written about Minnie’s career, including Adventures In Paradise, one of her best albums.
Apart from writing songs, he has produced and co-produced albums, as well as releasing eleven solo albums between 1972 and 2008. His debut solo album was entitled Leon Ware, and released in 1972. There was a gap of four years, before he released the follow-up album, Musical Massage, on Motown in 1976. That was one of his best albums, featuring some wonderful music. Leon’s only album that charted was Inside My Love released in 1979, which reached number sixty-two in the R&B Charts. The album this article is about, Rockin’ You Eternally, was released in 1981, on Elektra. After that, the gaps between Leon’s albums became greater, with him busy writing and collaborating with other artists, including Maxwell. Another seven albums followed with 2008’s Moon Ride being released on Stax. However, I like many people, prefer the music on his first four albums. To me this was his “classic” period, when the music he was releasing was of the highest quality. This includes Rockin’ You Eternally, which I’ll now tell you about.
Rockin’ You Eternally opens A Little Boogie (Hurt No One), a fast paced, uptempo track, complete with Leon singing the introduction through a vocoder, surrounded by keyboards, synths, driving rhythm section rhythm and guitars. The track progresses at breakneck speed with Leon’s joyous, but powerful vocal, sounding like the inspiration for Jamiroquai’s later music. Anyone who likes JK will love this. It’s a track that moves melodically along, with a joyful combination of synths, keyboards, funky bass, fast, pounding drums and chiming guitars, that soar. Later, strings sweep quickly in, their sound lush and sweet. During the track, Leon unleashes a vocoder made popular by groups like Kraftwerk. Unlike other tracks I’ve heard, the sound doesn’t grate with Leon deploying it subtly. By the end of what is a hook laden track, sung with power and passion, and featuring an arrangement that’s perfect for any dance-floor, you can’t help but be swept along with this joyous sounding and excellent track.
There’s no let up in the tempo as Baby Don’t Stop Me begins. Although slightly slower, it’s still a quick track, one with a full arrangement. The rhythm section, keyboards and synths open the track, their sound upbeat, a combination of soul and funk. When Leon sings, his voice is just as strong, full of character and emotion, accompanied by backing vocalists how soulfully and subtly interject. Meanwhile, a combination of funk laden bass, punchy drums, guitars and keyboards combine to produce an arrangement where space is at a premium. Like Leon, the arrangement is energetic and upbeat, made all the better by the interaction between Leon and his backing vocalists. While his vocal is loud, joyful and energetic, their interjections provide a contrast, being much gentler, melodic and much more subtle. Together with an arrangement that’s full energy, melodies and rhythms, it’s an irresistible combination. My only quibble however, is that some of the keyboards have a slightly dated eighties sound. Apart from that, it’s a great track.
It’s a lovely lush string lead sound that opens Sure Do Want You Now, with drums, synths and bass combining before Leon enters. When he does, his voice is much gentler, backed by backing vocalists. Here, we’re seeing a glimpse of another side of him, complete with a lovely lush and sweet arrangement. Although his voice is gentle, there’s a slight roughness, almost husky sound that’s can be heard. He delivers the lyrics thoughtfully and carefully, as he sings about his regrets and what he should’ve said before his girlfriend left him. Behind him, the arrangement is still string lead, with the rhythm section and synths combining with them to produce a very different arrangement to the previous tracks. Personally, this track has always been a favorite side of mine. Here, Leon demonstrates just how good a vocalist he is, delivering the lyrics with tenderly and thoughtfully. The addition of backing vocalists and the lush string lead arrangement, helps to make this track, one of the album’s highlights.
After what was a lovely gentle track, the tempo quickens with Our Time, the quickest song on the album. It’s the rhythm section, strings, percussion and keyboards that open the track, producing a sound that’s both bright and dramatic. Again, Leon’s vocal is gentler at the start, but quickly it become much louder, full of power and emotion. The arrangement seems to build, with a bass prominent in the mix, while guitars chime, and strings that wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic disco track, lushly and quickly sweep. Like previous tracks, Leon’s vocal is supplemented by backing vocalists, as an arrangement grand, and full of drama has unfolded. By now, a combination, of some hugely funky bass and chiming guitars, take the track on funk lead diversion, before it returns to grander, soulful territory, with Leon at the helm singing emotively and passionately. This a track that combines funk, soul and disco ends, and does so masterfully, thanks to a great vocal and fulsome, fast paced arrangement.
The title track, Rockin’ You Eternally, is a song that Leon cowrote with Marcus Valle, and is the slowest song on the album. It opens with a combination of bass and piano that combine to create a dark and dramatic sound, before things change when strings, keyboards and a flute combine, before Leon and his backing vocalists enter. Thankfully, the earlier dark sound has been replaced by a much brighter, melodic sound. Already, the arrangement has grown, with strings keyboards, rhythm section and horns combining to produce one of the best arrangements on the album. It’s a combination of a light, melodic, uplifting sound, with sudden bursts of drama. Here, waves of beautiful music unfold, so much so, that it’s hard to focus on particular parts of the arrangement. Much better is to consider it as a whole. Supplementing Leon’s vocal are breathy backing vocals, which seem to gasp in wonder at the beauty of the music. I’m sure that when you hear this gorgeous track, it’ll take your breath away.
Richard Rudolph, Minnie Riperton’s husband, cowrote Got To Be Loved with Marcus Valle and Leon. It’s another of the slower tracks on the album. The track opens with a Rhodes piano playing, creating that unmistakable sound. It’s joined by horns and strings, before quickly, the arrangement grows, with the rhythm section and guitars joining in. Like the arrangement, Leon’s voice grows in power, his voice strengthening, becoming louder, but thoughtful, and laden in emotion. Behind him, yet another beautiful arrangement has unfolded. It has lush, sometimes grand, sweeping sound, that although melodic, features some funky bass playing thanks to Chet Willis. As Leon sings there’s an insecurity in his voice, which matches the lyrics and the longing to be loved. When Leon’s delivery of Richard Rudolph’s lyrics is combined with the arrangement, this is a potent combination, which to me, results in one of the album’s highlights.
Don’t Stay In Our Garden is a very different sounding track, one that’s mostly instrumental. It opens with a huge variety of instruments making their presence felt. Strings, percussion, keyboards, rhythm section and guitars combining to produce a track that has a quick tempo, and a sound that’s a mixture of funk and disco. Occasionally, brief bursts of vocals sweep in, but mostly, disco strings combine with funk laden bass, quick pounding drums, and dramatic interjections from percussion and keyboards. It’s a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on a compilation of classic disco tracks. The is sweet and lush, the tempo about 122 beats per minute, perfect for any dance-floor that needs a retro sound to liven it up.
Rockin’ You Eternally closes with In Our Garden, a much slower song than the previous track. It’s a dramatic sweeping string lead track, with chiming, shimmery guitars, percussion and woodwind combining with the rhythm section before Leon’s breathy vocal enters. He sings the lyrics thoughtfully, with feeling, as the tempo quicken slightly, the same lovely lush and dramatic sound still present. By then, the drama is building, with waves of hugely beautiful music rising and falling, like waves on the sea. Leon meanwhile, gives a heartfelt rendition of the lyrics, while the rhythm section, strings, keyboards and guitars, produce the perfect backdrop for his vocal. My only concern is the inclusion of a sample, which sounds like a radio playing. It to me, slightly spoils the flow of the track. That however, is only a minor point, but after the third time, it begins to grate. Personally, this would’ve been a far better track without its inclusion. Having said that, it’s a good track, although one that could’ve been a great track, to end the album. Leon produced one of his best vocals, absolutely heartfelt, and apart from that sample, the arrangement is really good.
Although many people won’t have heard of Leon Ware, or heard any of his solo material, they may have heard some of the songs he has written for other people. If you own albums by Martin Gaye, Bobby Womack, The Jackson 5, The Miracle or The Average White Band, you may have heard one of his songs. His fourth album, Rockin’ You Eternally features some great music and demonstrated his talent singer songwriter and producer. This album features a combination of slow and fast songs, songs combine soul, funk, R&B and disco. There’s something on the album for everyone. On this album, Leon wrote or cowrote each of the songs on the album, as well as producing the album. As if that’s not enough, he contributed backing vocals on the album. Leon is truly a hugely talented man, and to me, his first four albums are among the best he has ever recorded. If you’ve never heard Leon’s music, this is a good starting point. It demonstrates his versatility as a vocalist, and his talent as a songwriter and producer. Standout Tracks: A Little Boogie (Hurt No One), Sure Do Want You Now, Rockin’ You Eternally and Got To Be Loved.
LEON WARE-ROCKIN’ YOU ETERNALLY.