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.
Though you might not realize it, given his status as one of the ‘80s most recognizable smooth-R&B crooners, Jeffrey Osborne actually got his start as the drummer and lead vocalist for the sadly largely-forgotten R&B/funk outfit L.T.D., who had several monster hits of their own in the late ‘70s including the R&B chart-topper “Holding On (When Love Is Gone)” and pop hits like “Every Time I Turn Around (Back in Love Again)” (#4) and “Love Ballad)” (#20). As a solo artist, Osborne scored eight Top 40 pop hits, several of which still pop up regularly on smooth-jazz stations (i.e. “Stay with Me Tonight”) but are strangely seldom heard elsewhere on radio.
Produced by jazz legend (and former Frank Zappa sideman) George Duke, Osborne’s 1982 self-titled solo debut (released via A&M, who L.T.D. had also recorded for) is about as tasteful and hook-laden an adult-contemporary R&B album as you could find in the early ‘80s, boasting the timeless piano ballad “On the Wings of Love” and a second Top 40 hit in “I Really Don’t Need No Light.”
Yet the hits here are nearly upstaged by the quality of the surrounding cuts, be it the bouncy album opener “New Love,” the silky-smooth, playful ballad “Eeenie Meenie” (written by Michael Sembello of “Maniac” fame), the fun, vocoder-laden funk workout of “Who You Talkin’ To” or the closing cut, the dramatic “Congratulations,” in which Osborne sings from the perspective of a man dealing with the bittersweet news that his ex is engaged.
Osborne not only amazes throughout with his abilities as a vocalist, but he also co-writes eight of the ten tracks here, Osborne’s talents as a songwriter too often being very much overlooked by critics. (While he sadly never recorded the song himself, Osborne is also responsible for co-writing one of Whitney Houston’s greatest ballads, the adult-contemporary classic “All at Once.”)
1984’s Don’t Stop, also produced by Duke, may be even better. Osborne’s third solo album (following 1983’s Stay with Me Tonight, which yielded two Top 40 hits in “Don’t Cha Get So Mad” and its title track), Don’t Stop only yielded one very minor Top 40 pop hit (“The Borderlines”), but that hit is surprisingly one of the least memorable songs here, and there are several songs here that seem like much more obvious hits, particularly the fast-moving dance-pop of the excellent title track (penned by the talented but little-known ‘70s singer-songwriter David Batteau, who’s also responsible for penning hits by Michael Sembello, Seals & Crofts, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Palmer, Manhattan Transfer, and El Chicano.)
Even better are the first-rate ballads “Crazy ‘Bout Cha” and “Let Me Know” (the latter of which easily ranks as one of the most beautiful ballads Osborne has ever wrapped his vocals around, with or without L.T.D.), and the gorgeous album closer “Live for Today,” also co-written by Batteau.
There’s even – unusually for an R&B disc – a song about a U.F.O. encounter called “You Can’t Be Serious” that’s not only one of Osborne’s most fun and playful recordings as a solo artist, but one of the more surprisingly catchy songs on the album.
Osborne would continue to have hit singles over the next several years – among them “You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)” and the near-Top-Ten-hit and Dionne Warwick duet “Love Power,” penned by Burt Bacharach – but his subsequent albums would unfortunately be released to increasingly quiet response. All of his output for A&M is very well-crafted, though, and is not to be missed by any fan of ‘80s R&B/soul or adult-contemporary pop.