Song of the Day, July 24: The Closer I Get to You by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

FlackHathawayCloserToday’s song is a potent collaboration that narrowly missed topping the charts. By 1978 Roberta Flack was a certified star with soulful vocals, flawless phrasing, and a great sense of songs to record. She had three #1 hits on the Hot 100, including the #1 song of 1972. She had also topped the R&B and Adult Contemporary charts. She had made a few recordings with longtime friend and college classmate Donny Hathaway, a talented singer with deep gospel roots. When she began recording her sixth album, Blue Lights In the Basement, her manager suggested another collaboration.

The song they sang together was The Closer I Get to You. It was written by Reggie Lucas and James Mtume; both men had been members of Miles Davis’ electric band in the early 70s and were part of Flack’s regular band. They wrote a tune ideally suited to Flack’s talents. The addition of Hathaway’s sensitive delivery made musical magic.

The song made it to #2 for two weeks, frozen out of the top spot by the last of Saturday Night Fever‘s long run of singles, Yvonne Elliman’s If I Can’t Have You, and Wings’ With A Little Luck. It fared better ont he R&B chart, racking up two weeks at #1; it also spent a week at #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart.

Sadly, Hathaway committed suicide only six months later, just as he and Flack were preparing to record an album together. The other principals of the song have had ongoing musical success. Flack continues a solo career and has racked up a dozen more hit singles. Mtume formed a new band and had substantial R&B success in the 80s. Lucas launched a successful dance / R&B production career, including work on Madonna’s debut album.

Together, they made beautiful music. Enjoy this lovely song today.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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