Luther Vandross: Hidden Gems

Hidden Gems compiles some lesser-known Vandross tracks for hardcore fans.

Luther Vandross

Hidden Gems

Label: Epic/Legacy
US Release Date: 2012-04-17
UK Release Date: 2012-04-16

Luther Vandross was highly successful as a solo artist in the '80s and '90s on the R&B -- and to a lesser extent, the pop -- charts. But he had been in the music business long before he broke out as a solo star. As early as 1972, people were recording his songs and using him as a vocalist. His first high-profile connection was on David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans. The shape-shifting Bowie had become fascinated with the Philadelphia soul style, and an old friend of Vandross’s was his guitarist at the time. Vandross showed up, co-wrote the heavy funk of “Fascination” with Bowie, helped out during the rest of the recording sessions and went with Bowie as a singer on the resulting tour. Bowie in turn helped introduce Vandross to some other famous musicians, including Bette Midler, and before long, Vandross was singing (backing and sometimes lead vocals), writing, and arranging – not only for singers and for his own quintet, but also for musicals and commercials. The list of artists he worked with in the late '70s is a veritable who’s who of pop and R&B stars, including Chic, Carly Simon, Sister Sledge, Quincy Jones, the Spinners, Roberta Flack, Donna Summer, Ben E. King and Ringo Star.

Finally, in 1981, Vandross got a solo contract and released Never Too Much, which eventually went on to reach double platinum status in America. He released five more albums in the '80s; all of them went platinum, and three again reached double platinum. The '90s saw him put out five albums as well, with slightly less commercial success (two double platinum, two platinum, and one gold). However, he won four Grammys in the '90s to make up for the lack of the third double-platinum record. Vandross released two more albums and earned himself four more Grammys in the '00s. Over the length of his career, Vandross’s records went to number one on the R&B charts at least eight times, and to top 10 on the pop charts seven times. The man was a commercial giant, selling over 30 million albums – not including the albums he appeared on, co-wrote, arranged and contributed to.

The purpose of the recently released Hidden Gems is to expose Vandross’s fans to his “seldom-heard deep album tracks and movie soundtrack songs,” though considering how many people have already purchased his albums, this may be unnecessary. The compilation is heavily biased towards his later career material -- 12 of the 15 tracks are from the '90s or '00s – and towards his syrupy ballads. In addition, it includes two soundtrack songs, from Dustin Hoffman’s Hero (1992) and Wesley Snipes’ Money Train (1995), little-known films with soundtracks “long out of print”, according to the album’s liner notes. While “The Thrill I’m In”, from Money Train, was produced by '80s pop producers Jam & Lewis, they were far past their chart-ruling '80s heyday at this point, and these two songs are mainly notable for their rarity.

Hidden Gems contains a large assortment of lesser-known Vandross ballads, performed in his typical style – elaborately orchestrated, lush, grandiose, gliding and sugary. Two of these songs happen to be covers. One is “I Who Have Nothing”, originally sung by Ben E. King. It’s easy to see why Vandross picked this song for a cover, since King’s version is full of darting and sweeping strings and flowery, melodramatic vocals. It is almost entirely strings and bass. There is a mournful trumpet that might appear in a Sergio Leone movie, but no percussion. It is a strange song where the lavish delivery cuts against the message of being unable to get a girl due to poverty. Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway redid it as a duet, doubling the length of the original, adding drums, and making it more explicitly bluesy and jazzy. Vandross uses this version as a base, singing it with Martha Wash, and adding a saxophone that merits inclusion on the Lethal Weapon soundtrack. His other cover choice is Little Anthony & The Imperials’ “Goin’ Out Of My Head”. Like “I Who Have Nothing”, this song is about being ignored by walking women – “I see you each morning, but you just walk past me.” Little Anthony’s version is simple; the bass plays a steady three notes while Mr. Anthony sings in a very high, light, child-like voice that gets only higher. Sweet backing vocals coo behind him. Vandross gives it his treatment and transforms it into something slow, deep and churning.

A few of the tracks have more of a steady pulse. “Are You Using Me” is straight disco -- subtle horns and guitar, thumping bass and snapping drums. Vandross wails smoothly, “Are you using me,” echoed by pleasantly arranged female backing vocalists. “Like I’m Invisible”, from 2001, feels like it might have been influenced by rap. “You Really Started Something”, also from 2001, is more disco, this time driven by a keyboard. But most of Hidden Gems proceeds at a very stately pace. It is only for those who truly enjoy Vandross’s style -- but it seems likely that those fans already have the songs on this disc.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.