LUTHER VANDROSS-GIVE ME THE REASON.

LUTHER VANDROSS-GIVE ME THE REASON.

There aren’t many singers that go from singing backing vocals to releasing a string of gold and platinum albums. While that might sound like the stuff of fiction, that’s what happened to Luther Vandross. During the late seventies, Luther was singing backing vocals for Chic, while no doubt studying Niles Rogers and Bernard Edwards production secrets. This would help him in years to come. By the time Luther Vandross headed to the studio to record his fifth album Give Me the Reason in 1986, he’d become one of the most successful soul singers of the first half of the eighties. His four previous albums been either certified platinum of double-platinum in America. He’d also become a successful and well-respected producer, producing artists like Aretha Franklin and successfully rejuvenating her flagging career. Luther Vandross had come a long way in a short space of time. Would Luther Vandross’ run of successful albums continue when he released Give Me the Reason in September 1986? 

Luther Vandross’ run of commercially successful started with his 1981 debut album Never Too Much. It reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, and was certified double-platinum in America. Having taken America by storm, Luther’s debut album only reached number forty-one in the UK. However, his second album would see him conquer the UK.

When Forever, For Always, For Love was released in 1982, it built on the success of Never Too Much. It reached number twenty in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, and was certified platinum. Over the Atlantic in the UK, Forever, For Always, For Love reached number twenty-three, resulting in the album being certified silver. Having conquered the US and the UK, Luther’s third album wouldn’t prove as popular as his first two albums.

1983s Busy Body was Luther’s least successful album, reaching number thirty-two in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. It was still certified platinum in the US, while it only reached number forty-two in the UK. Luther’s fourth album The Night I Fell In Love would prove to be a return to form 

The Night I Fell In Love was released in 1984, and was a very much a return to form from Luther Vandross. Not only did The Night I Fell In Love reach reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, but was certified double-platinum. Over in the UK, The Night I Fell In Love failed to chart, regardless of its success in the UK. With Luther Vandross now one of the most successful soul singers of the eighties, could things get any better for Luther when he released Give Me the Reason in 1986?

For Luther Vandross’ fifth album Give Me the Reason, the album comprised nine tracks. Luther cowrote six tracks on Give Me the Reason and wrote two tracks. These two tracks were So Amazing and Because It’s Really Love. Of the six tracks Luther cowrote, three of them were with Marcus Miller, two with Nad Adderley Jr. and There’s Nothing Better Than Love with Skip Anderson. The other track on Give Me the Reason was a cover of Bacharach and David’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. These nine tracks were recorded at three studios with a tight, talented band.

Give Me the Reason was recorded at AIR Studios Monsterrat, New York’s Minot Sound and Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood. Accompanying Luther Vandross were a rhythm section of drummer Yogi Horton, bassist Marcus Miller and guitarist Pul Jackson Jr, Doc Powell and Ira Siegel. Percussionist and conga player Paulinho Da Costa joined Jason Miles on synths and backing vocalists Cissy Houston, Fonzi Thornton and Cheryl Lynn. Gregory Hines duetted with Luther on There’s Nothing Better Than Love. Arranging horns and strings was Paul Riser, while Luther arranged and produced Give Me the Reason. With the nine tracks that comprise Give Me the Reason recorded, Give Me the Reason was released in September 1986. Would Give Me the Reason match or better the success of Luther Vandross’ four previous albums?

Before Give Me the Reason was released in September 1986, the title-track was released as a single, reaching number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. When Give Me the Reason was released it reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. In the UK, Give Me the Reason became Luther’s most successful album, reaching number three and was certified double-platinum. Stop To Love was then released as a single, reaching number fifteen in the US R&B Charts and number one in the US R&B Charts. There’s Nothing Better Than Love then reached number fifty in the US R&B Charts and number one in the US R&B Charts. The fourth single released from Give Me the Reason was I Really Didn’t Mean It, which reached number six in the US R&B Charts. So Amazing was the final single released from the album, stalling at a lowly number ninety-four in the US R&B Charts. Give Me the Reason was Luther’s most successful album and featured two number one US R&B singles. However, why was Give Me the Reason such a successful album? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the music on Give Me the Reason.

Opening Give Me the Reason is Stop To Love, written by Luther and Nat Adderley Jr. Straight away, the arrangement has a real eighties sound. Like many eighties arrangements, it hasn’t exactly aged well. The crisp drums and synths have a synthetic sound. In other ways it’s effective, providing the track with a punchy heartbeat that drives the track along. When Luther’s heartfelt vocal enters, it’s accompanied by guitars, percussion, strings and stabs of keyboards. By now things are improving. Then when the dramatic, punchy and uplifting harmonies accompany Luther’s impassioned vocal, things get a whole lot better. These testifying backing vocalists seem to drive him to greater heights. Although the track hasn’t aged well, you can’t fault the passion and emotion in Luther’s vocal.

See Me is a slower track, one that slowly reveals its subtleties and surprises. Even though the drums are similar on this track, they work well and don’t overpower the rest of the mix. A funky slap bass, guitars and keyboards combine to create a spacious, laid-back arrangement. Luther’s vocal is tinged with sadness and emotion, as the arrangement flows along. Bursts of guitar, dramatic stabs and flourishes of piano accompany Luther, while tender, cooing backing vocalists augment Luther’s vocal. Throughout the track, the piano and bass are at the heart of the arrangement’s sound and success. The longer the track progresses, the better it gets, with this track featuring one of Luther’s most heartfelt vocals on Give Me the Reason.

Gave It Up (When I Fell In Love) bursts dramatically into life. It’s an uptempo track, with an irresistible, hook-laden sound. Eighties sounding drums crack, while a funky bass, synths and blazing horns combine. Luther’s vocal is a combination of power and sassiness and together with backing vocalists are crucial to the track’s sound, ensures the track swings. Without the backing vocalists, the track wouldn’t be half as good. Just when you think things can’t get any better, rasping saxophone solo manages to do so. After a percussive break, the horns, piano and backing vocalists combine with Luther, taking the track to it’s hook-laden and swinging ending. 

Of the five singles released from Give Me the Reason, So Amazing was final single and least successful single. To me, its the most beautiful track on Give Me the Reason and features one of Luther’s most emotive, heartfelt vocals. The slow cascading arrangement sees the piano, lush strings and percussion combine with a slow, subtle rhythm section. Adding the finishing touch to this beautiful love song are tender and equally heartfelt harmonies. They play their part in what is a classic track from Luther Vandross.

Closing Side One of Give Me The Reason is the title-track Give Me The Reason. It was a track from the soundtrack to the movie Ruthless People. It’s very different from the previous track. Chalk and Cheese spring to mind. The pounding rhythm section and synths combine with Luther’s soaring vocal. His vocal is a mixture of power and anger, while bursts of rocky guitars, keyboards and tight, punchy harmonies add to the track’s dramatic sound. Unlike the previous track, which has a timeless sound, this track is very much of its day. You could almost date it within a year or two by its sound. Having said that, it’s still a good track, with a dramatic sound, where Luther and his band fuse elements of soul, funk, rock and eighties electronic music. 

There’s Nothing Better Than Love opens Side Two of Give Me The Reason. Here, Luther duets with Gregory Hines and their voices work well together. They’re accompanied by a slow arrangement, that grows in power and drama. It’s just piano,  percussion and the rhythm section that accompany the vocals. They sit well together and combining and complimenting each other. Luther and Gregory bring out the subtleties, nuances and beauty in the lyrics.

When I Really Didn’t Mean It opens, I was wondering if I was listening to same album. The drums and percussion that open the track have an Acid House sound. I keep expecting Luther to sing “Acieed.” This is a quicker track, one for the dance-floor. When Luther’s vocal enters, it’s full of sadness and regret, at what he said. His vocal has echo added, which the rhythm section and synths are augmented by backing vocalists. They add tight, sweeping harmonies, while Luther’s echo drenched vocal is a mixture of sorrow and hope, hope that all will be forgiven. Like several other tracks, this track has a real eighties sound, but one that works.

I always think Luther’s at his best singing ballads and Because It’s Really Love sees Luther what he does so well. This is one of his most impassioned and sincere performances. Like other tracks on Give Me the Reason, the arrangement is slow, spacious and allows Luther vocal to take centre-stage. Just the slow rhythm section, synths, percussion and lush strings combine. Backing vocals add tender harmonies, before the drums help the track move through the gears. Luther’s vocal grows in power and passion, as another beautiful bedroom ballad from Luther unfolds. For over six-minutes, Luther has you spellbound and mesmerised, as he gives one of his best performances on Give Me the Reason.

Luther closes Give Me the Reason with a cover of Bacharach and David’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. Of all the Bacharach and David songs he could’ve chosen, he made a strange choice, choosing a song more suited to a female vocalist. However, he pulls it off. He slows the song way down, combining the rhythm section, percussion, a sultry saxophone solo and melodic keyboards. His deliver is slow, quite dramatic and leaving space within the song. This is effective, bringing new life and meaning to the track and is a lovely way to close Give Me the Reason.

By the time Luther Vandross released his fifth album Give Me the Reason, he’d become an accomplished and experienced performer and producer. He’d matured as a songwriter and singer, and was able to bring out the subtleties and nuances in a song. Songs like See Me, So Amazing, Because It’s Really Love and Bacharach and David’s Anyone Who Had A Heart are examples of this. To me, Luther Vandross is at his best singing ballads. One of the ballads I wasn’t sure about when I first bought Give Me the Reason, was Luther’s cover of Bacharach and David’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. I was wondering how he’d approach the song? Having heard many cover versions of the track, many of which didn’t work, I wasn’t sure this was the right Bacharach and David song for Luther. I needn’t have worried, as Luther’s interpretation of the track brought new life and meaning to the track, bringing out the songs subtleties, nuances and beauty.

While Luther was at his best on the ballads on Give Me the Reason, some of the quicker tracks haven’t aged as well. They’re very much a mixed bag. I Gave It Up (When I Fell In Love) is the best of the uptempo songs on Give Me the Reason, while I Really Didn’t Mean It works well after an unexpected opening. During that track, you’ll hear another side to Luther Vandross. Stop To Love has a quite eighties sound, but is saved by Luther’s impassioned vocal. The title-track Give Me The Reason is another track with an eighties sound, where Luther and his band fuse musical genres. Of all the tracks on Side One, this is the that hasn’t aged well. 

Overall, Give Me the Reason, like the previous Luther Vandross album I reviewed Never Too Much, is another of Luther’s best albums. For anyone looking for an introduction to Luther Vandross’ music, these are two of his best albums. Mind you, between 1981 when Luther released Never Too Much and his final albums in 2003 Dance With My Father, Luther Vandross didn’t release many bad albums. Each album was either certified gold, platinum or double-platinum in the US. This meant Luther Vandross was one of the most successful artists of that era, and Give Me the Reason shows just why. With its combination of bedroom ballads and dance-floor friendly tracks, Give Me the Reason is Luther Vandross doing what he does best and what made him one of the biggest and most successful soul singers of that time. Standout Tracks: See Me, So Amazing, Because It’s Really Love and Anyone Who Had A Heart.

LUTHER VANDROSS-GIVE ME THE REASON.

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