PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Patti LaBelle: Classic Moments

Steve Horowitz

Don't let the title full you -- this disc doesn't compile great tracks from LaBelle's past repertoire but features all new recordings of old tunes made popular by others.

Patti Labelle

Classic Moments

Label: Def Soul
US Release Date: 2005-06-21
UK Release Date: 2005-06-27
Amazon affiliate

Patti LaBelle likes to tell the story about when she was a very young teenager in the early '60s and had her first hit record, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman". The Philadelphia native said she thought the song was about a girl who fell in love with a garbage collector and had no idea that "junkman" was slang for a heroin dealer. LaBelle's tale has the ring of authenticity. There were many hit songs from the era that concerned teens who fell in love with a person from the poor side of town. The truth is LaBelle has never especially paid attention to her lyrics. Even on her biggest hits, like "Lady Marmalade" and "New Attitude", the soul diva seemed more interested in belting out the lyrics then finding their deeper connotations and nuances. This worked on her big hits as it gave the narrator an aura of bravado -- perfect for a high-class prostitute or someone determined to change her life. This also makes her music danceable as the sound and cadence of her voice overwhelms the meaning of the language.

This rule holds true on the Philly songstress' latest effort, Classic Moments. Don't let the title full you. The disc does not compile great tracks from her past repertoire but features all new recordings of old tunes made popular by others. Some of the song selections are more inspired than others, yet with the sole exception of one serious misstep, the material seems well chosen. Perhaps now is the time to mention one truly bad choice. LaBelle performs a duet with Elton John on his early hit, "Your Song". John's composition is a gentle, sentimental ode to a loved one with a climax that sweetly says "How wonderful life is with you in the world". Here John prods LaBelle to get louder and louder. After all, that is her signature sound. But this doesn't fit the lyrics and comes off like an exercise in celebrity self-indulgence as Patti and Elton stridently call each other by their first names and declare their mutual affection.

Mary J. Blige is the other famous guest star that makes an appearance on the disc. Blige and LaBelle's duet on "Ain't No Way" works better because the Aretha and Carolyn Franklin composition is a soulful emotive cry of pain of a woman in response to a man who walks out on love. Blige and LaBelle roughly play their voices against each other's, and then join together in Gospel-style harmony as they croon their mutual sorrow. The song's beauty consists in the layering of vocal expressions of anguish as a release from the heartache. The duet may end with the screams of LaBelle fading out, but the hurt seems earned.

As the aforementioned songs suggest, almost all of the tunes on the disc concern love. Songs with love explicitly in the title include "Love Don't Live Here Anymore", "Love Ballad", "I Can't Make You Love Me", and "You're Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else", and even those without the direct naming link to that emotion are clearly about the topic, such as "Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time" and "He's Out of My Life".

The Philadelphia R&B diva may get loud, but she's always had a superb sense of rhythm. This works on up-tempo tracks, like her cover of Michael McDonald's (co-written with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller) bubbly and romantic "I Keep Forgetting" as well as slow grooves, such as her version of "Silly", originally a hit for Deniece Williams. Both of these hook-filled cuts deserve radio play.

The most surprising selection on Classic Moments is LaBelle's selection of the Pretender's brashly anthemic "I'll Stand By You". She sings to a sparse accompaniment, slowly builds to a climax, and then starts to howl. Her commitment to another person exceeds what mere words can say. The feeling comes across loud and clear in an unambiguous voice.

LaBelle has made terrific records for more than 40 years. She's performed live at the White House, Carnegie Hall, and just about every world-class venue one can name. But she's not content to rest on her laurels. She's still putting on shows and making new records. While her latest may not be earth-shaking, there's still plenty of fine stuff here. Maybe it's not a classic, but it's damn good.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.