Make it last forever…

Luther Vandross & Doc Powell, 1978

Okay it was a phase, but it was one I remem­ber with some warmth and — more — it’s nei­ther a guilty plea­sure nor one that the wash of tacky synths that accom­pa­nies many of these records can demol­ish. I’m talk­ing about the era of the great elec­tric-soul men.

Their styl­is­tic god­fa­ther was Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, both with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and solo on the still bliss­ful­ly time­less Philade­phia Inter­na­tion­al label — and I’ll get to that — but it was Luther (do a I need a sur­name? I still remem­ber large groups of white sox and loafer-clad lads roam­ing Lon­don in the mid 1980s chant­i­ng ‘Loofa.. Loofa..’) who her­ald­ed the arrival of the clas­sic 1980s styled big soul men, men whose pro­duc­ers meld­ed togeth­er big, soar­ing male soul voic­es, post-dis­co funk and bur­geon­ing stu­dio elec­tron­i­ca. It was Luther who made it accept­able for so-called hard men to break down to the huge emo­tion­al soul bal­lads and epic synth-filled anthems that defined a big part of the edge of the 1980s.

He also had Mar­cus Miller — and oth­ers, like Doc Pow­ell (pic­tured above). That helped. It was to Luther’s bands that Miles Davis turned in the mid­dle of the decade.

In Auck­land at least, it brought togeth­er a gen­er­a­tion of white kids rolling away from the tail of the post-punk era and a whole new gen­er­a­tion of South Auck­land Poly­ne­sian kids who both grabbed it as cen­tral their to soundtrack.

By the end of 1983 the hip­per clubs were filled with men — of all skin tones — dressed in dou­ble breast­ed suits, some immac­u­late, some sim­ply gar­ish 1

It was both fun, and it offered a hap­py respite from the stan­dard male club uni­form of den­im and (T) shirt. Look­ing onto a dance­floor around 1986 one saw a sea of style — even if we laugh at those suits and shoul­ders now.

And yes, many of the lyrics — romance, sex, fast cars, expen­sive any­thing and so on — made us all gri­mace as much then as we do now. But it was, to bor­row, about the vibe.… and the voice. And nobody gri­maced to Luther. Nobody.

We swooned to the music, and — more — Luther and the rest changed the way we sang and con­struct­ed vocal tracks in the much of the music we made there­after, such being the nature of urban sound­tracks, whether we knew it or not at the time. The stylised soul vocal had real­ly made lit­tle impact in New Zealand before the 1980s — we had­n’t real­ly bought large quan­ti­ties of the deep­er styled male soul in the years since the end of the 1960s and even then the expe­ri­ence was large­ly blues or pop-soul (Motown). I well remem­ber Philly albums sit­ting unloved and unwant­ed in the 50c bins in the mid to late 1970s. Bob­by Wom­ack? Who?

Luther and the soul men played a big part in chang­ing that.

And then Luther died — quite some years after the scene was gone — but, still, I had one mes­sage from an old friend who sim­ply said, “He real­ly was why, was­n’t he?” And he kin­da was, and — more — the broad cul­tur­al rever­ber­a­tions that Luther and the soul men bought to the city I was a part of when they bought us all togeth­er still remain large­ly unrecog­nised. There’s more to this — much more — and it’s one of the cru­cial ele­ments of Pasi­fi­ka as it fused with Aotea that still remains unex­plored. It was about the music.

This isn’t the time to pur­sue that, but for no oth­er rea­son that I had a Luther an extend­ed Luther YouTube flash­back today and I thought I’d throw up a few videos for and of the eight­ies soul men.….

Tashan record­ed a cou­ple of albums for Def Jam in the mid­dle part of the decade when Rus­sell Sim­mons decid­ed that if Rick could sign met­al, he could sign soul.

The first album was the one, and this, the title track from it, Chas­ing a Dream, is a bonafide lost 80s classic.

From the same album, Got The Right Attitude.

There was a time when the name Lil­lo Thomas was almost whis­pered. He was the man — and true soul­boys sim­ply nod­ded in qui­et agree­ment when records like I’m In Love were talked of. Nev­er a big star, his records were huge­ly sought, but none more than:

Down­town. If you did­n’t get this — or even know of this — you weren’t a true mem­ber of the clan. The 12″ was semi-sacred and awful­ly hard to get hold of. This, sad­ly, ain’t it, but it’s still a mon­ster of the genre in any format.

Will Down­ing man­aged one lis­ten­able album before head­ing off into 90’s schlock but here, with a vocal rework­ing of Coltrane’s Love Supreme, he’s quite something.

This is obscure as hell and opens with a ridicu­lous­ly tacky  “Sweet and ten­der lady” line before mov­ing into a vocal that owes a hefty debt to Al Green. Will King came out of the same sta­ble as the mighty Gap Band and you can hear that too here.

I’m not sure if he real­ly belongs in this post, giv­en that I have no idea what or who he was beyond that, but it has the oblig­a­tory vocal swoops half way through and for that rea­son, it stays.

Eugene Wilde arrived with a cou­ple of dance­floor hits (as Sim­p­li­cious) before releas­ing this song, Got­ta Get You Home Tonight — a tune that was almost inescapable around ’85. Lyri­cal ref­er­ences to Dom Perignon gave it extra soul­boy credentials.

I love Alexan­der O’Neal. To quote one of the won­der­ful­ly ridicu­lous inter­ludes from his sec­ond album ‘Alex, baby, Alex’ was sec­ond only to Luther in the peck­ing order.

A for­mer mem­ber of the same band that pro­duced Prince, his Jam & Lewis pro­duced albums strad­dled Min­neapo­lis funk and deep soul. This tune, from his debut — with Cherelle — is best heard in its fab­u­lous eleven-minute 12″ mix. But this will have to do…

And anoth­er, from the first, self-titled, album. This Soul Train take of What’s Miss­ing is pret­ty rough, but you get the suit effect — and it’s still a hell of a tune. Alex used a dou­ble bed as a stage prop. You can’t get much more soul­boy than that.

Chuck Stan­ley was Rus­sell Sim­mons’ sec­ond soul sign­ing to Def Jam but large parts of his pret­ty decent debut album seem to be miss­ing from the ‘net. This video, of a track off that long­play­er, is worth it for the suit. Nice tune too.

Cur­tis Hair­ston jumped from label to label any nev­er real­ly man­aged any sub­stan­tial com­mer­cial suc­cess — but in down­town Auck­land, this song kin­da hit briefly and The Morn­ing After became yet anoth­er huge­ly sought after 12″ single.

I loved the first Kei­th Sweat album, pro­duced by the still-in-his-teens Ted­dy Riley wun­derkid. This remake of the old Dra­mat­ics tune  In The Rain is still rather special.

To Luther. There are a mil­lion Loofa vids on the net so I chose a cou­ple that reflect lessor known tracks first up. The radio (and 12″ mix­es) of The Rush were remixed by David Morales in his clas­sic organ­ic Def Mix style and fea­ture an uncred­it­ed pianist (maybe Eric Kup­per or Peter Daou).

The 12″ mix of this rocks.

And Heav­en Knows, per­fect­ly re-pro­duced by Morales’ leg­endary part­ner, Frankie Knuck­les, with Ter­ry Bur­rus on piano.

One more, just because I can:  Nev­er Too Much live

Final­ly, for a bit of fun, a mini-doco on the David Bowie and Luther Van­dross connection:

As one of the talk­ing heads points out, Young Amer­i­cans actu­al­ly sounds like a Luther Van­dross record as much as a Bowie release, and you only have to lis­ten to the Luther ver­sion of Bowie’s Fas­ci­na­tion (from the Young Amer­i­cans album), which Luther wrote and record­ed as Funky Music, to get that con­nec­tion even more precisely:

There were oth­ers of course: Fred­dy Jack­son sold a lot of records but was just too light­weight and his pro­duc­er Paul Lau­rence lacked substance.

Since I’m get­ting all watery around the eyes about ret­ro­spec­tive old soul music that sim­ply does it, I might offer a plug for the absolute­ly incred­i­ble Philadel­phia Inter­na­tion­al  Re-Edits col­lec­tion, where­in tracks that any rea­son­able age­ing soul purist would insist were sac­ri­lege and untouch­able are suc­cess­ful­ly dis­sect­ed, reworked and reassem­bled by a bunch of rel­a­tive unknowns.

Try the rework­ing of the gross­ly over­played — it’s become a des­per­a­tion tool for count­less strug­gling bar or par­ty DJs — Ain’t No Stop­ping Us Now (reworked by Noodleman):

Or the the absolute­ly love­ly stroll through Harold Melv­in’s Wake Up Every­body as recon­struct­ed by DJ Apt One:

And if that isn’t enough, at the time of writ­ing I’m eager­ly check­ing the mail­box dai­ly for the just released 4 disc set of Tom Moul­ton remix­es, expand­ing upon the per­fect­ly named 1977 album, Philadel­phia Clas­sics, itself about as close to per­fec­tion as it’s pos­si­ble to get on dou­ble vinyl.

There go the post-punk credentials…

Show 1 footnote

  1. Mon­soon Menswear in Auck­land’s Vul­can Lane offered tai­lored suits in a mas­sive vari­ety of tones, and guys from South Auck­land often tried to out do each oth­er both in fab­ric-tone vol­ume, and sheer ‘width’.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

love hotel
March 27, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Lil­lo Thomas — Set­tle Down

March 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Fan­tas­tic! I’ve been a Loofa fan for years, Alex ON as well. But you’re put me onto some­thing spe­cial with this. Maybe it’s my age and absence from any ‘scene’ in the 80’s, but I’m def­i­nite­ly going to dig around for Lilo Thomas. He sounds incredible!

March 28, 2012 at 5:45 am

god­dam thats a playlist simon.…a style file in fact, i was one of those boys catch­ing the bus into uni and hang­ing around pot­terblair instead of lec­tures, stan­dard issue wool and pal­la­di­ums in the day­time, clac­ton and frin­ton at night, siren keyring at the ready.…thanks for the memories!!!!

Mark L
March 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Great post Simon. You recalled the time and place well, and of course the sound­track is first class. Luther and Alexan­der O’Neal will always have a place in my heart. 🙂 Ta!

Mark L
March 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I neglect­ed to add, schol­ar­ship and pas­sion. This is stay­ing in my instapa­per for a while.

April 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Won­der­ful piece Simon.
I’m wait­ing by my mail­box for the same!

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