Collaborations between successful solo artists don’t always work. Musical history proves this. There’s all sorts of pitfalls involved. Then there’s the fact that two egos are involved. So, what looks like being a musical marriage made in heaven, can quickly, turn into a nightmare. Rather than the album being a commercial success, it’s destined for the bargain bin. That isn’t always the case. Proof of this is an album that was released thirty years ago, Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack’s Born To Love, which was recently released by SoulMusic Records.

Born To Love was released by Capitol Records on 22nd June 1983. This was three years after the pair released Live and More. It was well received by critics, and proved commercially successful, reaching number ten in the US R&B Charts. This was no surprise. After all, both artists had enjoyed successful careers. 

Roberta Flack had released nine albums since her 1969 debut. She’d also released two albums with Donny Hathaway. Peabo Bryson only released his debut Peabo in 1976. This was the first of seven solo albums he released between 1976 and 1982. He’d also recorded an album with Natalie Cole. Now three years after Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack released Live and More, the pair joined forces to record Born To Love.

For Born To Love, Capitol Records spared no expense. Capitol Records, it seemed, were determined that Born To Love, would be a commercial success. So they brought together the best songwriters and musicians to work on Born To Love. Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin cowrote Tonight I Celebrate My Love and Comin’ Alive. Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sayer penned Blame It On Me, and cowrote Maybe with Marvin Hamlisch. Bob Crewe and Ben Gaudio wrote Heaven Above Me and with Jerry Corbetta, cowrote You’re Lookin’ Like Love To Me. Terry Skinner, Jerry Wallace and Ken Bell contributed I Just Came Here To Dance. Roberta Flack cowrote just one song, the album closer, Can We Find Love, with Al Johnson. Peabo Bryson only wrote one song, the title-track Born To Love. The nine songs that became Born To Love were recorded at various studio, with a variety of producers and musicians.

Among the studios used to record Born To Love, were A&M Records Studio, Studio Sound, Westlake Studios, Music Grinder New Sound Labs, Los Angeles and the Record Plant in New York. As if using seven separate studios wasn’t somewhat excessive, five producers were used. This included Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Michael Masser, Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe plus Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sayer. Born To Love was certainly not going to have a uniform production style. Especially with so many musicians involved.

Each producer brought in their favored musicians. Born To Love involved a constantly revolving cast of musicians, working in different studios. Among them, were rhythm sections that consisted of either bassist Nathan East, drummer Carlos Vega and guitarist Paul Jackson, or bassist Abe Laboriel, drummer Jim Keltner and guitarists Paul Jackson Jr. and Dan Huff. Other musicians included percussionist Paulinho DaCosta, pianist Greg Phillinganes, drummer Buddy Williams, keyboardist Richard Tee and bassist and keyboardist Marcus Miller. Once nine tracks were recorded at five studios, by five producers and numerous musicians, Born To Love was ready to be released in June 1983.

Tonight I Celebrate My Love, was released as the lead single from Born To Love. It reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. Born To Love was released on 22nd June 1983, reaching number twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. The other two singles didn’t fare as well as Tonight I Celebrate My Love. You’re Looking Like Love To Me reached just number fifty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number forty-one in the US R&B Charts. Maybe then stalled at number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. However, overall, Born To Love, which I’ll tell you about, have been a commercial success.

Opening Born To Love is is a familiar track, Tonight I Celebrate My Love. It was the most successful single from Born To Love. Keyboards accompany Roberta’s tender heartfelt vocal. When her vocal drops out, Peabo’s vocal takes centre-stage. Impassioned, and accompanied by lush strings and keyboards, the drama and emotion starts to build. The rhythm section help build the drama, as the song heads towards an emotive, dramatic and soulful crescendo.

There’s a change of style on Blame It On Me, which was written by Burt Bacharach and Carol Bayer Sayer. It’s a meandering, spacious track where funk and soul combine. Just a slow, thoughtful rhythm section joins synths and guitars. They leave space for Peabo’s powerful, emotive vocal. When Roberta’s vocal enters, it’s tender, but wistful. Growing in power, regret and confusion fill her vocal, before screaming guitars are sprayed all over the arrangement. Not only do they overpower Roberta’s vocal, but ruin what was shaping to be, a beautiful song about love gone wrong.

Eighties electronic drums and keyboards create the backdrop for Roberta and Peabo’s vocal. Uniting, their vocals soar above the arrangement. They deliver the lyrics as if they mean it. Their vocals are like a musical ying and yang, proving the perfect foil for each other. The arrangement is driven along by banks of synths while the drums add the heartbeat. Backing vocalists accompany what is, one of Peabo and Roberta’s most soulful and heartfelt performances.

Born To Love has a slow, spacious and funky arrangement. A bass meanders, wandering along the arrangement, while drums, synths and guitars combine. Peabo’s vocal is slow, filled with emotion and sincerity. Harmonies sweep in, adding to the emotion. So do the horns, as the vocal drops out and the band explore the song’s subtleties and nuances. Crucial to the song is the funkiest of bass lines and the sincerity and emotion in Peabo’s pleading vocal.

Just synths accompany Roberta’s tender vocal on Maybe. You focus on her vocal and her delivery of the lyrics. Harmonies accompany a vocal that’s tender and sincere. Then when Peabo’s vocal enters, it’s very different. He combines power, emotion and hope. When their vocals unite,the rhythm section, synths and percussion accompany them, while strings add to the finishing touch to this beautiful, hopeful ballad.

I Just Came Here To Dance was the B-side of Maybe, the second single released from Born To Love. Written and produced by Peabo Bryson, Peabo and Roberta are accompanied by a mid-tempo arrangement. Synths, Fender Rhodes, rhythm section and strings create the backdrop for their vocal. Again, it’s heartfelt and impassioned, growing in emotion and drama, as Peabo and Roberta get a chance to demonstrate their vocal prowess.

After a series of ballads and mid-tempo tracks, at last, Roberta and Peabo get the chance to kick loose on Comin’ Alive. Roberta unleashes a vampish vocal, while banks of synths, a pounding rhythm section and punchy harmonies accompany her. Soon, Peabo’s vocal enters. He matches Roberta’s power every step of the way. As they sing about “Comin’ Alive,” you sense this is true. They’re enjoying getting the opportunity to demonstrate their versatility, on a track that’s catchy and dance-floor friendly.

Although You’re Looking Like Love To Me is another ballad, it’s one of the best on Born To Love. What sounds like an uncomplicated arrangement accompanies Roberta and Peabo’s needy vocals. However, there’s more to the arrangement than you think. It’s multilayered, with synths at the forefront of the arrangement. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and percussion provide the heartbeat. Harmonies occasionally accompany the vocals, complimenting vocals that are needy and filled with longing.

Closing Born To Love is Can We Find Love Again, which was written and produced by Roberta Flack and Al Johnson. Synths, Fender Rhodes and meandering rhythm section accompany Roberta’s hopeful vocal. She combines power, passion and emotion, asking, pleading “Can We Find Love Again?” Accompanied by cooing, sweeping harmonies, the drama and emotion builds. Chiming guitars, keyboards and harmonies accompany Roberta on what is, the highlight of Born To Love. 

While musical history is littered with collaborations that weren’t commercially successful, Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack’s Born To Love was a commercial success. On its release in 1983, Born To Love reached number twenty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. This was helped by the commercial success of the lead single, Tonight I Celebrate My Love. It was one of four hit singles on Born To Love. Mind you, two of the singles were just minor hits. Born To Love surpassed the commercial success of Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack’s previous collaboration, 1980s Live and More. However, given the way Born To Love was recorded, that might not have been the case.

Born To Love was a collaboration in the true sense of the word. The nine songs were written by eight songwriting teams, while five producers recorded Born To Love at seven studios. In these studios, each production team used their favored musician. Despite this, Born To Love works. Born To Love flows along, with ballads and mid-tempo tracks very much the flavor of the month. The exception was Comin’ Alive, when Roberta and Peabo kicked loose, demonstrating their versatility. However, rather than showcase Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack’s versatility, Born To Love played to their strengths. 

Ballads and mid-tempo tracks were where Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack were at their best. On ballads, they could breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. The only problem with this, was that Born To Love wouldn’t appeal to a younger audience. Maybe Capitol Records, realizing soul music wasn’t as popular with younger people, took the risk that Born To Love would appeal to an older, more mature audience. This proved to be the case. Tonight I Celebrate My Love and You’re Looking Like Love To Me were hits on the Adult Contemporary Charts, reaching numbers four and five respectively. Releasing an album that was aimed at an older audience was a gamble, one that paid of. Not only that, but Born To Love, which was recently released by SoulMusic Records, was the final and most successful collaboration between Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. Standout Tracks: Tonight I Celebrate My Love, Born To Love, Maybe and You’re Looking Like Love To Me.


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