by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
While the Bee Gees’ profile as performers would dim in the Eighties, Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb would become in-demand as writers and producers for other artists during those lean years, penning all the original material featured on the multi-platinum Barbra Streisand album Guilty (featuring three Top Ten hits, the title cut, “What Kind of Fool,” and the Number One hit “Woman in Love”), Dionne Warwick’s Heartbreaker (which spawned a massive Top Ten hit in the title track), and Kenny Rogers’ Eyes That See in the Dark (which yielded the Number One hit and Dolly Parton duet “Islands in the Stream”), all three discs co-produced by Barry. Robin – with assistance from longtime Bee Gees keyboardist Blue Weaver – would be tapped to produce Sunrise, the 1980 comeback effort from Jimmy Ruffin.
Jimmy, the elder brother of legendary Temptations vocalist David Ruffin, had become a Motown star in his own right after being signed to their Soul subsidiary and scoring a Top Ten smash in 1966 with “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which had actually been written with the Spinners in mind before Jimmy heard it and asked if he could cut it himself. Ruffin would score two more Top 40 hits the following year with “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got,” but as his American hits dried up, he became increasingly popular in the U.K., where he would score several Top ten hits. A disenchanted Ruffin would leave the Motown family in 1973. By the dawn of 1980, Ruffin hadn’t had an American Top 40 hit in thirteen years and hadn’t even reached the Hot 100 in ten years. That would soon change, though; signing a new deal with RSO (home to the Bee Gees), Robin Gibb and Blue Weaver would write six new songs for Ruffin with all three Gibb brothers teaming up to write an additional two songs for Jimmy’s comeback bid, resulting in an album that’s arguably the finest disc Ruffin had made since his debut full-length Jimmy Ruffin Sings Top Ten.
The lushly-orchestrated, gently chugging strut of “Hold on to My Love,” penned by Robin and Weaver, would put Ruffin back in the U.S. Top Ten again for the first time since “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted”; the tune boasts an ever-so-slight disco flavor that makes the record seem like a natural hit for its time period, yet the element of disco isn’t overbearing, and the melodic easygoing R&B of the cut fits Ruffin so well and sounds so unlike your average Bee Gees composition that it suggests that Robin was either a big Ruffin fan or had really studied his client’s catalog well and knew exactly what kind of material to write. It’s a fantastic single, and while it’s certainly a bit different from his ‘60s sides for Soul, it’s every bit as high-quality as his best work under the Motown umbrella.
Elsewhere on the album, Ruffin covers the Bee Gees’ Main Course ballad “Songbird” and duets with Eric Clapton co-writer/backing vocalist Marcy Levy on the excellent country-tinged ballad “Where Do I Go,” penned by Robin with brothers Barry, Maurice, and Andy, a rare composition from all four Gibb brothers.
Barry and Maurice also co-write “Forever Forever,” which boasts a winning, hooky chorus vaguely reminiscent of a more disco-oriented version of the Bee Gees-written Warwick hit “Heartbeaker,” while Ruffin sounds like he’s especially having fun on the rock-tinged “Jealousy,” the pure disco of “Changin’ Me” (which boasts the best chorus on the album next to that of “Hold on to My Love” and really should have been released as a single) and the disco/soul hybrid “Night of Love,” the latter of which effectively explores every part of his wide vocal range.
Strangely, Ruffin would never cut another full-length after the delightful Sunrise, though a long string of non-LP singles would be issued throughout the ‘80s in the U.K. Ruffin sadly passed away in 2014 at the age of 78, but his music lives on, and hardly a day goes by where “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” isn’t played on an oldies station somewhere around the country