SoulBounce’s Class Of 1991: Luther Vandross ‘Power Of Love’

You know how you can tell that your favorite artist has made it? If all you have to do is say his or her first name and everybody knows who you’re talking about. Aretha. Stevie. Michael. And then there was Luther. Although it’s been six years since we lost him, simply saying the name “Luther” instantly brings on a massive case of the warm fuzzies for anyone who came of age during or before the ’80s. From his humble beginnings as the founder of the Patti LaBelle fan club and background singer for the likes of David Bowie and Roberta Flack to becoming one of soul music’s best balladeers, Luther Vandross more than made it. If your childhood was anything like mine, then chances are that at one time or another you heard your mom sing along to “Forever, For Always, For Love” or watched your dad bust out a mean two-step to “Bad Boy/Having A Party” from his earlier works. But it was 1991’s Power of Love that brought him closer than ever to my generation. It was on this album that we heard him step into the ’90s by experimenting more with the sounds that defined that decade with the influence of the dance music sounds that prevailed at the time. We were no longer singing along to our parents’ music; we were singing along to music that managed to straddle the lines between generations.

Although Luther always managed to include a midtempo song or two on each of his previous albums, Power of Love stands out in my mind’s eye as one of his more uptempo works. Though the ballads that made him a radio staple still remained, it was the more upbeat tunes that made their impact. The album’s title song, “Power of Love/Love Power,” became one of the top crossover hits of his career. Out of the 23 songs he had that made it to the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it was “Power of Love” that would chart the highest, quickly climbing to the #4 spot in June 1991. While Vandross had always been R&B’s best kept secret, “Power of Love” helped seal his fate as a pop chart contender. Co-written and co-produced by Luther and legendary bassist/composer Marcus Miller, it seemed the combination of optimistic lyrics and the danceable tune made for a musical recipe no one could resist, as the song also found its way to the top of the R&B charts as well, where it spent two weeks at the #1 spot. The song also served to revive a small 1968 hit, “Love Power,” that was originally recorded by a little-known group called The Sandpebbles. While the group had been popular in their heyday, it was Luther who introduced their material to a new audience, melding the song into his own, while infusing it with a healthy dose of gospel call and response.

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He followed up the song’s massive success with “Don’t Wanna Be a Fool.” While the ballad was more on par with what his core audience had come to expect from him, it did little detract from his expanding fan base. The bittersweet song about the tricky game we call love garnered Luther more crossover success, landing at #9 on the Hot 100 chart. It seemed that the rest of the world had finally caught on to what R&B fans the world over had known for years–that Luther Vandross was nothing to play with. Even all these years later, this song remains one of my favorites, finding its way to countless woe-is-me post-relationship playlists. Luther had a knack for songwriting, putting even the most complex of emotions into the most eloquent, yet simple terms imaginable. At the time of its release, I had not even come close to love yet, but I knew that I didn’t ever want to experience what he was talking about. But of course, as luck would have it, as I’m sure for many of you SoulBouncers reading this, sometimes you’re just unlucky in love. And it’s then that all of the woulda, coulda, shouldas prevail and you swear to the high heavens to never allow yourself to get duped by love again. It was Luther’s ability to write such heartfelt lyrics that has made his music stand the test of time.

Even when he sang songs that weren’t penned by his own hand, Luther and his buttery vocals had a way of making a song all his own. Such was the case with Power of Love‘s closer, the sublime “I (Who Have Nothing).” Originally recorded by Ben E. King, it’s Luther’s version that my generation is most familiar with. Recorded as a duet with Martha Wash, Luther’s version was goosebump-inducing, as both he and Martha tag-teamed back and forth about their love. If “Don’t Wanna Be a Fool” was the song where you swore you’d never go down that road again, “I (Who Have Nothing)” was the song that made you forget you ever thought such a thing in the first place. Classic Luther through and through, this song is definitely one of his most well-known and well-loved songs, despite the fact that it was never formally released as a single or climbed to the top of any charts.

Power of Love became one of Vandross’s top selling studio albums. It became his seventh album to reach #1 on the Top R&B Album chart, while also earning him several honors in the process, including two American Music Awards in the Favorite Soul/R&B Male Artist and Favorite Soul/R&B Album categories. The album also earned him his second and third GRAMMY Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male and Best R&B Song. Regardless if it had never one any awards at all, Power of Love would still be considered one of Luther’s best releases amongst fans. A blend of sounds new and old, Luther proved that he had what it took to stand the test of time.

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Luther Vandross Power of Love [Amazon][iTunes][Spotify]

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