NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN-LOOKING AT YOU, LOOKING AT ME, THE NATURE OF THINGS AND DIVINE EMOTION.

Narada Michael Walden-Looking At You, Looking At Me, The Nature of Things and Divine Emotion.

Label: BGO Records.

The first many record buyers heard of Narada Michael Walden, was when he was announced as Billy Cobham’s replacement in the second lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1974. By then, Narada Michael Walden was just twenty-two and the Mahavishnu Orchestra was one of the top fusion bands. However, Narada Michael Walden seemed to settle into the role and played on the four albums the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s released between 1974 and 1976s Inner Worlds. That was the last album the second lineup of the Mahavishnu Orchestra would release, and it would be eight years before the fusion pioneers returned with a new album. 

Inner Worlds was the last Mahavishnu Orchestra album that Narada Michael Walden played on, and later in 1976 was signed by Atlantic Records where he realised seven albums between 1976 and 1982. This included Looking At You which is the first three albums on two CD set released by BGO Records. Joining Looking At You is The Nature of Things and Divine Emotion which were released on Warner Bros and was the start of a new chapter for Narada Michael Walden. However, much had happened to since his solo career began in 1976.

Garden Of Love Light.

In late 1976, Narada Michael Walden released his debut album Garden Of Love Light on Atlantic Records. The label offered Narada Michael Walden the choice of two producers, but given the album had a rocky sound, he chose staff producer Tom Dowd  who had an enviable track record. 

Between the ’21st’ of August and the ‘6th’ of September 1976, nine songs were recorded, including seven penned by Narada Michael Walden. They showcased a talented singer-songwriter who Atlantic Records had high hopes for. 

When Garden Of Love Light was released, Narada Michael Walden’s debut album sunk without trace. This was a huge disappointment for the twenty-four year old.

I Cry, I Smile.

For his sophomore album I Cry, I Smile, Narada Michael Walden  wrote ten new tracks and decided to take charge of production. He had decided to change direction and recorded his first fusion album during April and May 1977.,

I Cry, I Smile was released by Atlantic Records later in 1977, and history repeated itself when his sophomore album failed to chart. This was a disaster for Narada Michael Walden who realised that he needed a hit single.

Atlantic Records had invested heavily in Narada Michael Walden and were yet to see any return on their investment. The two albums that Narada Michael Walden hadn’t even troubled charts and if his third album failed to make an impression on the US Billboard 200 and US R&B charts, Narada Michael Walden’s career could be over before it began. Fortunately, Narada Michael Walden had a plan.

Awakening.

By the time Narada Michael Walden began work on his third album, disco was at the peak of his popularity, and many artists looking to revive ailing and failing careers had jumped on the disco bandwagon. For some artists, a discover makeover  had done wonders for their career. Narada Michael Walden was hoping that this would be the case when he began recording the nine new songs he had written for Awakening.

Recording of Narada Michael Walden’s third album Awakening took place at three of New York’s top studios, the Power Station, Electric Ladyland, and Crystal Sound. Narada Michael Walden brought onboard Bob Clearmountain who recorded and mixed five of the nine tracks on the album. The other songs were recorded by Jim Shifflett and Alan Sides, while Patrick Adams and Sonny Burke co-produced Awakening with Narada Michael Walden. When it was completed, the release was scheduled for early 1979.

Before the release of Awakening, Don’t Want Nobody Else (To Dance With You) was released as a single in early 1979 reaching forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and nine in the US R&B charts. Narada Michael Walden’s luck changed when Awakening then made it into the top twenty in the US R&B charts. Buoyed by this success Narada Michael Walden began work on his fourth album, The Dance Of Life.

The Dance Of Life.

After the success of Awakening, Narada Michael Walden  began writing what became The Dance Of Life. This time, he wrote three songs and cowrote the other five with various songwriting partners. They were recorded by a small band at Filmways-Heider Recordings, where Narada Michael Walden and Bob Clearmountain co-produced The Dance Of Life which featured disco, R&B and soul.

Prior to the release of The Dance Of Life, I Shoulda Loved Ya was released as a single and reached sixty-six in the US Billboard 100 and four in the US R&B charts. When The Dance Of Life was released it charted in the US R&B charts, but didn’t replicate the commercial success of Awakening. However, by then, Narada Michael Walden thought that disco had saved his career which had been at a crossroads before the release of The Dance Of Life.

Then on the ’12th’ of July 1979, the disco bubble burst, and suddenly, after the events of the Disco Demolition Derby, at Comiskey Park, Chicago. Suddenly, record companies were dropping disco artists and groups, which was worry for Narada Michael Walden. What did the future hold for him?

Victory.

Despite the disco bubble bursting in spectacular style, Narada Michael Walden returned to the studio later in 1979, to record   his fifth album Victory. It featured three Narada Michael Walden compositions and five that he cowrote with various songwriting partners. Just like The Dance Of Life, Narada Michael Walden and Bob Clearmountain took charge of production on Victory, which featured a band that included top session players and backing vocalists.

When Victory was released in 1980, the album featured a mixture of disco, funk, R&B and soul. The only problem was that the record buying public didn’t want to buy disco albums, and Victory failed to replicate the success of Awakening and The Dance Of Live when it stalled in the lower reaches of the US R&B charts and failed to replicate the success of Awakening and The Dance Of Live. It was one step forward, and two steps back for Narada Michael Walden.

Confidence.

After the commercial failure of Victory, it was two years before Narada Michael Walden returned with his sixth studio album Confidence. It featured eight tracks which Narada Michael Walden had written with variety of different songwriting partners. These songs were recorded during 1981 and 1982 with a small, but talented band at three studios. This time, there was no sign of Bob Clearmountain, and Narada Michael Walden took charge of production.

Narada Michael Walden produced another album dancefloor friendly album of soul and R&B. Confidence was released in 1982, stalled in the lower reaches of the US R&B charts,despite the album featuring two minor US R&B hits. Summer Lady reached just thirty-nine and You’re # 1 which reached nineteen and was Narada Michael Walden’s most successful single in three years. However, these two singles were hiding the fact that the time had come for Narada Michael Walden to reinvent himself musically.

Looking At You, Looking At Me.

Eventually, Narada Michael Walden realised this, and when he began work on his seventh album Looking At You, Looking At Me. Narada Michael Walden wrote six songs with songwriting partner Jeffrey Cohen, and the pair also joined forces with Preston Glass and Theo Martin. These songs were joined by covers of Reach Out I’ll Be There and Never Wanna Be Without Your Love where Narada Michael Walden duetted with Angela Bofill. 

When Narada Michael Walden recorded Looking At You, Looking At Me, he was joined by the musicians that had featured on the majority of his album. This included bassist Randy Jackson and guitarists Corrado Rustici who were part of a much larger band than had featured on previous albums. It included bassist David Sancious, a horn section and backing vocalists Jim Gilstrap, Frankie Beverley and Maze, Sheila Escovedo. They all featured on Looking At You, Looking At Me where Narada Michael Walden set about reinventing himself on an album that was poppy, soulful, funky and dancefloor friendly.

Looking At You, Looking At Me opens with a muscular, eighties reinvention of Reach Out I’ll Be There, which gives way to the pop soul of Looking At You, Looking At Me. It’s all change on the dancefloor friendly Burning Up where Randy Jackson’s bass plays a leading role. Narada Michael Walden and Angela Bofill duet on the mid-tempo Never Wanna Be Without Your Love, before he takes charge on the uber funky describes Shake It Off. Very different is the ballad Dream Maker, where strings accompany Narada Michael Walden, before pop, rock and soul combine on Tina. Languid and laid-back with a Caribbean influence describes Ain’t Nobody Ever Loved You, before the ballad Black Boy closes the album on a high.

When Looking At You, Looking At Me was released in 1982, the album wasn’t the success that Narada Michael Walden nor executives at Atlantic Records had hoped and stalled at fifty-one in the US R&B charts. To make matters worse, the lead single Black Boy failed to trouble the charts. However, the cover of Reach Out I’ll Be There reached forty in the US R&B chart and gave Narada Michael Walden a minor hit single. This was another disappointment for the thirty-year old singer, songwriter, arranger and producer, and was the last album he released on Atlantic Records.

After the disappointment of Looking At You, Looking At Me, it was another three years before Narada Michael Walden returned with his eighth album. During that three-year period, Narada Michael Walden concentrated on his burgeoning production career, before returning with The Nature of Things in 1985 on Warner Bros.

The Nature of Things.

After spending much of the time between 1982 and 1985 producing albums for other artists and groups, Narada Michael Walden returned with The Nature of Things in 1985. It featured eight new tracks with he had written with his songwriting partner Jeffrey Cohen and various songwriting partners for his Warner Bros’ debut.

For The Nature of Things, Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen wrote High Above The Clouds and Wear Your Love before joining forces with Preston Glass to write Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Suspicion and The Nature of Things. Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen then teamed up with Walter Afanasieff to pen Live It Up, before the trio wrote Dancin’ On Main Street with Preston Glass. The Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen songwriting team wrote That’s The Way It Is with Corrado Rustici. These eight songs were by then arranged and produced by Narada Michael Walden with his “house band” and a few friends including Patti Austin.

Opening The Nature Of Things was That’s The Way It Is which was a dancefloor friendly pop track. It gives way to ruminative pop of High Above The Clouds, and then the smooth and soulful upbeat duet with Patti Austin, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and the anthemic and rocky Live It Up. The thoughtful sounding The Nature Of Things could only have been recorded in the eighties, given the reliance of Linn drums and sequencers. Then electro-pop and funk combine on Suspicion, before Dancin’ On Main St. is a driving pop-rock anthem. Closing the album was Wear Your Love, where  Caribbean and Latin influences combine on this uptempo, catchy song.

The Nature Of Things was a truly eclectic album, and one that the Warner Bros’ A&R department had high hopes for. However, when the album was released in 1985, it failed commercially and never came close to troubling the charts. The only success came when Narada Michael Walden’s duet with Patti Austin on Gimme, Gimme, Gimme was released as a single and reached the top forty in the US R&B charts. That was as good as it got for Narada Michael Walden.

Divine Emotion.

After the commercial failure of The Nature Of Things, Narada Michael Walden returned to his production career and didn’t return with a new album until 1988s Divine Emotion. It was another album which showcased Narada Michael Walden’s songwriting skills.

For Divine Emotion, Narada Michael Walden penned We Still Have A Dream and with Jeffrey Cohen cowrote Wild Thing, Explosion, Belong, Certain Kind Of Lover, Jam The Night and But What Up Doh? Narada Michael Walden joined forces with  Corrado Rustic to write and That’s The Way I Feel About Cha. He then wrote How Can I Make You Stay with Walter Afanasieff and David Frazer, then Narada Michael Walden penned Divine Emotions with Jeffrey Cohen, David Frazer and Bongo Bob Smith. These eleven tracks were recorded by a band that featured familiar faces and new names, and became Divine Emotion.

Divine Emotions, a slick and soulful dance track opens the album, and gives way to Can’t Get You Out Of My Head where Narada Michael Walden delivers an emotive vocal against an  arrangement that is reliant upon the new technology that was making its presence felt in music during the eighties. The tempo drops on soulful late-night ballad That’s The Way I Feel About Cha, and gives way to Wild Thing a mid-tempo soulful song before the needy ballad How Can I Make You Stay is one of the album’s highlights. 

The explosive pop-rock of Explosion opens side two, and is followed by I Belong which is a fusion of electro and pop-soul. Quite different is the red-hot pop-rock of But What Up Doh? and Certain Kind Of Lover which is a doo wop tinged soulful ballad, while Jam The Night is a funky synth driven track that has obviously been inspired by Alexander O’Neal’s Fake. Closing Divine Emotion is We Still Have A Dream where Narada Michael Walden uses part of Dr Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream speech on this funky instrumental. However, this was nothing new, and Bobby Womack had beaten Narada Michael Walden to the punch on American Dream, a track from Bobby Womack’s 1984 album Poet II. Even despite the lack of originality, it’s a poignant way to close Divine Emotion.

After a three-year absence,Narada Michael Walden released Divine Emotions as a single, and it reached number twenty-one in the US R&B charts and topped the US Dance charts. This augured well for the release of Divine Emotion in 1988. However, the album stalled at sixty-seven in the US R&B charts. Meanwhile, Divine Emotions reached eight in the UK single’s charts while the album Divine Emotion reached sixty in the album charts.

Although Narada Michael Walden was back in the charts on both sides of Atlantic, he was in no hurry to release a new album, and seven years passed before Sending Love To Everyone was released in 1995. By then, Narada Michael Walden was a successful producer who was working with some of the biggest names in music. 

Between 1982 and 1988, which is the period that BGO Records’ new two CD set covers, saw Narada Michael Walden release just a trio of albums Looking At You, Looking At Me, The Nature of Things and Divine Emotion, as he started to concentrate on his career as a producer. His production career began in 1980, and by 1988, he was enjoying more success as a producer than a singer. 

In 1982, Narada Michael Walden released his final album for Atlantic Records was Looking At You, Looking At Me and although it charted, it didn’t find the audience it deserved, Looking At You, Looking At Me is an underrated album and to some extent, is the one that got away. 

Narada Michael Walden left Atlantic Records and signed to Warner Bros, and in 1985 released The Nature Of Things. It failed to trouble the charts, and is an oft-overlooked and eclectic album that showcases Narada Michael Walden’s versatility and talents as a singer, songwriter and musician. However, when Narada Michael Walden returned in 1988 with  Divine Emotion it featured Divine Emotions which gave him a hit single in Britain and America. It was one of the biggest singles of Narada Michael Walden’s career. 

Despite only releasing three albums between 1982 and 1988, Divine Emotion was the ninth album that had Narada Michael Walden released since releasing his debut in 1976, Since then, Narada Michael Walden had reinvented himself several times in the pursuit of a commercial successful album. That is the case on Looking At You, Looking At Me, The Nature Of Things and Divine Emotion which show the different sides to musical chameleon Narada Michael Walden on a triumvirate of his eighties albums.

Narada Michael Walden-Looking At You, Looking At Me, The Nature Of Things and Divine Emotion.

1 Comment

  1. Nicely done, thank you. Saw NMW once with MO and once behind the kit for the TOMMY BOLIN BAND May of 1976.

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