“I can only watch you with / my nose pressed up against the window pane.” Does love really conquer all? ben e king 03.JPG If you ask Ben E. King, it’s questionable. This is the begging song to end all begging songs. In this corner, a somebody with everything; in that corner, a nobody with nothing. Who wins? The song doesn’t tell us but the statement of the loser’s case is undeniably one of the more moving pleas in the annals of throwing oneself on the mercy of the court of love, which, by the way, is one of the hardest courts in the land. With this song, it’s not just the lyrics. The melody, with its wonderful, soaring lines, tip-toes to the edge of melodrama, not to mention the way Ben E. King uses those strings as an ominous portent of the hard-luck tale to come. luther vandross 25.jpg But then Luther Vandross chooses to cross over to big production country. He offers a mesmerizing performance supported by orchestration at the highest level. martha wash 02.jpg Martha Wash seconds Luther in their duet and she does some inspired crooning. Rather than simply worry a note, Martha swoops with crystal-clear phrases that make us marvel at the elegance of her voice. I’m conflicted by Luther’s version. It sounds too good for the tale it’s telling, too rich—much, much too rich—even though it is undeniably an admirable rendition. roberta & donny.jpg But now you take Roberta and Donny. Well, this is the definitive reading precisely because it’s blues based. Even though it has strings, it’s taken at a funeral pace. This version is clearly about loss; there is no redemption implied. Rather than beautiful voices, these are tortured crooners moaning about a fate worse than death. I have always liked this song. I like all three versions. But I could listen to Roberta and Donny all night long, especially on one of those too frequent New Orleans evenings when the water or the lights or the gas or whatever goes out and nothing seems to be working right. “I (Who Have Nothing).” I heard that! —Kalamu ya Salaam  

This entry was posted on Sunday, December 31st, 2006 at 12:53 am and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “ROBERTA FLACK & DONNY HATHAWAY / “I (Who Have Nothing)””

Nadir Bomani Says:
December 31st, 2006 at 2:03 pm

I remember standing in an asthma infested aisle at the now deceased “Tower Records.”
Hathaway’s “Song For You” had been bleeding out of my ears for a few weeks after I liberated a copy of his greatest hits after closing one night.

One of the few perks of working for minimum wage at a record store is adding to your collection at an exponential rate and getting a doctoral education on damn good music
from co workers and customers alike.

Kalamu, you were a frequent shopper during my era of employment. I always respected your encyclopedic knowledge of black music (especially anything recorded during 1964-1974). We had a dialogue that went something like this:

“What’s the best Donny Hathaway album to cop?”
“Me and Tiari wore this one out.”
“The one with Roberta Flack?”
“Oh Yeah, I who have nothing…Be real Black for me…”

I should have paid for that self-titled classic.

A month doesn’t go by without me listening that man and woman’s recorded union.

I’m just a no oneee
with nothinggg
to give youuu

If there is a better collection of black love music on one disc;
I haven’t heard it

Asante Sana

Michael Hegner-Goetsch Says:
March 22nd, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Just fell in love with this song on the other side of the atlantic.
trying to improvise on the bass lines and maybe sing it.
I first stepped into Donny’s songs when listening to his Jealous Guy version before I got this Nothing.

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