Song of the Day, April 17: Congratulations by Jeffrey Osborne

osbornecongratulationsToday’s song is a powerful song of resignation. Jeffrey Osborne’s eponymous solo debut is a smart mix of tracks. Producer George Duke understood the array of talents the singer had to offer and assembled a mix of ballads, uptempo story songs, and funky tunes. Osborne co-wrote a number of the tracks, including the album closer, Congratulations. Written with Jeffrey Kerr, it’s one of his best songs.

Duke makes the most of stellar talent he collected, crafting a lush backdrop for the song. Osborne sings to a former lover, a woman whom he has just learned is about to be married. It’s a simple conceit, and the song could be trite or overblown in less capable hands. Instead, the production is just restrained enough, and Osborne’s delivery is aching and heartfelt. When he intones “life goes on I guess,” the emotion is real and palpable.

Enjoy this sad song today.

Album of the Week, April 2: Jeffrey Osborne

JOsborneJeffrey Osborne was the born the youngest of twelve children in a musical family. His father was noted jazz trumpeter Clarence “Legs” Osborne, and many of his siblings went on to careers in music. Osborne began playing drums professionally while still in high school, working around his hometown of Providence, RI. A new R&B outfit called Love Men Ltd. recruited him while touring, and he joined the group, renamed L.T.D., in Los Angeles after graduation. His rich voice soon moved him out from behind the drum kit, and his brother Billy joined L.T.D. also on vocals and drums as well as keyboards. After nearly a decade of solid chart success with the band, Osborne wanted to write for other artists and explore occasional solo work. L.T.D. wasn’t interested in sharing his talents, so he left the band entirely, waiting a year for legal releases to come through while he planned his solo debut. During that time, he hooked up with jazz multi-instrumentalist and producer George Duke, who agreed to helm the project. Duke’s diverse talents — and his many friends and connections — allowed the singer to make the most of his own strengths, resulting in a powerful first release.

Title Jeffrey Osborne
Act Jeffrey Osborne
Label A & M Release Date 1982
Producer George Duke
U.S. Chart  #49 U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. New Love
  2. Eenie Meenie [#76]
  3. I Really Don’t Need No Light [#39]
  4. On the Wings of Love [#29]
  5. Ready For Your Love
  6. Who You Talkin’ To?
  7. You Were Made to Love
  8. Ain’t Nothin’ Missin’
  9. Baby
  10. Congratulations

Duke and Osborne set the stage perfectly with New Love. It’s a joyous blast of romantic optimism, featuring nice horn work and a tight rhythm section. A well-produced choir provide harmonies, providing a rich backdrop for Osborne’s exuberant vocal. The track is a nice kickoff and a great declaration of musical independence. Eenie Meenie is a darker track with a soulful groove. Telling the tale of a romance broken once too often, it features bright strings and elegant percussion. Osborne sings of knowing when something is finally over, conveying sorrow without being broken.

The masterpiece of the disc is the searing I Really Don’t Need No Light. The first single, it showed off everything Osborne learned in his time touring with the band and his new confidence in his own right. It’s a great kiss-off song with smart lyrics; Duke’s production makes the most of Osborne’s distinctive phrasing, and the whole package is a perfect example of timeless dance pop. The next hit took a very different approach. On the Wings of Love is a delightful celebration song. Driven by a blend of keyboards and subtle strings, it’s a joyous ballad of hope and love. The subtle touches — like the snare riff in the chorus — provide texture that helps it rise above the typical happy pop love song.

Ready For Your Love is a smoldering dance track, with Osborne singing his regrets about almost letting romance slip away. He offers a grittier vocal than usual, adding variety to the disc and energy to the song. Duke’s sequencing of the album is part of its magic, and offering the jazzy showcase of Who You Talkin’ To? next is a fine example. With sassy horns, a searing guitar solo, engaging treated vocal backing, and a tight, band, it’s a big, bossy number. Osborne clearly has fun with it. You Were Made to Love is fine, but something of a letdown. A fluffy slow dance love song, it features a nice vocal but some frankly silly lyrics. Fortunately, Ain’t Nothin’ Missin’ blasts in with joyful energy. A track of unadulterated happiness, it features fun do-do-do backing vocals and one of Osborne’s best leads.

Baby is a swirling torch song, reminiscent of Al Green. It’s lyrically slight, but Duke and Osborne treat it with respect, turning in something surprising. Things wrap up with the remarkable Congratulations. Sung to a former lover as she prepares for her wedding, it could be a syrupy weeper. Instead, it’s treated with restraint, a slow, bare start that builds gradually, almost sneaking up on the listener. Osborne’s great phrasing makes the most of the telling line “Life goes on, I guess”, capturing the heart of the song. It’s a perfect wrap-up to a solid outing.

FURTHER LISTENING: Jeffrey Osborne continued to release solid, fun albums for a decade. His sophomore effort, Stay With Me Tonight, is nearly as good as the debut and a personal favorite. Don’t Stop follows the Duke/Osborne formula with diminishing returns but is still very worthwhile. From there, things are a mixed bag. Osborne’s voice is always amazing however, and his sense of musicality is so strong that he makes the most of even the weaker material. For the casual fan, the Ultimate Collection actually lives up to its name, offering 17 great songs including his best work with L.T.D.

Song of the Day, March 17: (Everytime I Turn Around) Back In Love Again by L.T.D.

ltdturnaroundToday’s song is the biggest hit of a successful 70s R&B group. In 1968, members of Sam & Dave’s backing band formed Love Men Ltd. in Greensboro, NC. They added a couple of members and relocated to Harlem. Jeffrey Osborne joined the band on drums and occasional vocals when they met him during a gig in Providence, RI. By 1974, they changed their name to L.T.D. (for Love, Togetherness & Devotion) and moved Osborne to lead vocals, signing with A&M. Their third album — 1976’s Love to the World — included the Top 20 hit Love Ballad, which also became their first R&B #1. The following year saw the group’s fortunes expand even further.

The lead single from Something to Love shot to #1 on the R&B chart and went to #4 on the Hot 100. (Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again was written by Len Ron Hanks and Zane Grey, but L.T.D. made it their own. By this point, Osborne’s confidence as a vocalist was matched by his distinctive phrasing and smooth style. With the band providing a funky, soulful groove, he delivers an urgent but elegant story of a man overwhelmed by romance. It’s fun and energetic, a wonderful tune that fit into the disco mood of the country at the time while maintaining its own distinct flavor.

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, February 20: I’ll Make Believe by Jeffrey Osborne

osbornestaybelieveToday’s song is a ballad of loss and self-deception. After a successful solo debut, Jeffrey Osborne returned to producer George Duke for his second outing. Stay With Me Tonight is an even stronger disc, blending funky love songs, gorgeous ballads, and quirky stories. The album is held together by Duke’s smart production and Osborne’s amazing voice.

One of the highlights is I’ll Make Believe, written by Osborne with Geoffrey Leib. The theme is simple: a man bereft by broken romance, doing his best to pretend that things are still fine. In lesser hands, it could be trite or treacly. Instead, Osborne’s distinctive phrasing and smart restraint show off the ache and sorrow without over-emoting. The result is poignant and heartbreaking.

Enjoy this sad song today.

Song of the Day, January 30: Stay With Me Tonight by Jeffrey Osborne

osbornestayToday’s song is a funky bit of seduction with a rock twist. When he left his duties as L.T.D. drummer and vocalist to go solo, Jeffrey Osborne found a sympathetic partner in producer George Duke. The jazz keyboardist understood Osborne’s distinctive phrasing and gorgeous voice, finding just the right songs and players to make the most of his talent. The first result, Jeffrey Osborne, was a partnership reminiscent of Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson in its chemistry.

For the follow-up, Duke and Osborne followed a successful formula, mixing R&B balladry, funky pop, and urban dance numbers. The title track, written by Raymond Jones, is a classic seduction song, with a slinky lead vocal, electrifying percussion, inviting synths, and a magical Osborne vocal. He simmers and winks, breaking into the direct title line with just the right urgency. Mixing things up just right, Duke brought in Queen guitarist Brian May, whose solo adds a gritty urgency to the proceedings. The result was Osborne’s fourth pop Top 40 hit and went to #4 on the R&B charts.

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, August 14: I Really Don’t Need No Light by Jeffrey Osborne

Today’s song is I Really Don’t Need No Light by Jeffrey Osborne. His first single from his solo debut after leaving LTD, it peaked at #39 on the Hot 100 on this date in 1982. Osborne co-wrote the song with David “Hawk” Wolinski, a talented keyboard player and songwriter. Wolinski is best known as a member of Rufus; he wrote a number of songs for the band including their smash Ain’t Nobody.

Merging the sensibilities of writers from the two great R&B dance bands created a memorable song with a spectacular groove. It’s very much a “you done me wrong” song, delivered with power and grace. Osborne is in fine voice, launching the new stage of his career with promise and strength.

Now you’re so full of schemes
I see right through you like a thin screen
All of your alibis are long gone

I really don’t need no light to see through you
I really don’t need your love to see me through
I really don’t need your heart to set me free
I really don’t need the way it used to be

I Really Don’t Need No Light was even more successful on the R&B charts where it made it to #3. Enjoy this great song today.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending August 14, 1982

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart

Song

Act

Weeks

Hot 100 Eye of the Tiger Survivor 4
R & B And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going Jennifer Holliday

4

Country I’m Gonna Hire A Wino to Decorate Our Home David Frizzell

1

Adult Contemporary Even the Nights Are Better Air Supply

4

Rock Think I’m In Love Eddie Money

2

Album Mirage Fleetwood Mac

2

This week sees the lead singer of a successful 70s R&B group notch his first solo hit on the Top 40. Jeffrey Osborne was the drummer and lead singer of LTD (which stood for Love, Tenderness, and Devotion) from 1970 until his departure in 1980; his vocals were featured on the band’s biggest hit (Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again, which made #4 on the Hot 100 and topped the R&B charts for two weeks.

His first solo album, Jeffrey Osborne, was released in June 1982 and made it to #49. Its first single, I Really Don’t Need No Light peaked at #39 this week on the Hot 100. It made it to #3 on the R&B chart, the first of 24 hits on that chart (11 Top 10 and one #1, She’s On the Left). Although he was a staple of Top 40 radio in the 80s, Osborne never broke into the Top 10. His biggest hits were the Dionne Warwick duet Love Power [#12 in 1987] and You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song) [#13 in 1986]. He logged eight Top 40 hits and six Hot 100 albums during the decade. He still records and performs today.

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