ANITA BAKER / “You Belong To Me”


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4 Responses to “ANITA BAKER / “You Belong To Me””

Big E Says:
December 4th, 2007 at 12:51 am

Wooh Kalamu,
I think you may need to clean your ears and give Anita’s “songstress” album another chance. “Angel “and “Will You be Mine” were the slammin cuts. No More tears was the worst. I would give it another shot.


The Magnificent Goldberg Says:
December 9th, 2007 at 6:29 am

Hi folks, been a while. I think you’ve both got the wrong idea about this stuff. Yes you’re right that "Smooth Soul" (and its jazz equivalent, "Smooth Jazz") was the stuff for the yuppies (of any colour). But that’s no reason to dis it the way you do, in my view. What you’re saying (to me, anyway) is that in some way these singers/musicians weren’t being true, or real. OK, let’s admit that their stuff isn’t challenging in the way Trane or Alvin Robinson were. So what? I remember back in the mid-sixties, I’d be at home, listening to Spoon singing about inflation, Bland saying, "don’t let your friends turn you against me", Alvin Robinson singing about a down home girl. My mother would say, "I don’t want to listen to this. Life is difficult and challenging enough, trying to keep a decent home together (for me mainly). When I get home, I want to relax." Seems to me, you’re saying that all these people, who worked hard – and in the Thatcher/Reagan years the pressure was on, you’ll recall – and did manage to make it out of the ghetto, are all shit. Well, they’re not. And this music that was generated out of the developing situation in which they were finding themselves isn’t shit, either. It has a place in the world. It is not the case that the only "real" "black" music is coming out of bad circumstances. Of course, because of the circumstances that did give rise to the music, it resonated equally with white folks who were in the same position. So it sold in huge quantities. And there isn’t any doubt that, because of that sales potential, the industry tried with no little success to format it into something that could be sold in even greater quantities, but that’s life and that happened to Howlin’ Wolf, too. End of rant. MG

            kalamu sez           

well, somebody is saying that "OK, let’s admit their stuff isn’t challenging" but their music should be respected, should be considered black music even if it’s not challenging. seems to me you accuse us of making a leap we didn’t and don’t make. if we didn’t consider the stuff black music, we wouldn’t put it on breath of life. just because something is black doesn’t ipso facto put it in some category that can’t be criticized and evaluated. black music can be fluff also. bullshit is bullshit, regardless of the ass it issues from.

the hallmark of the best of our music is that it is oppositional to the status quo/status crow; it does issue from a reality of challenge rather than a reality of woe is me; it does seek to uplift and make a change both in style and in content.

i don’t know your musical tastes but i’m willing to bet you don’t like a lot of contemporary rap (and by now, it should be apparent that neither mtume nor i like most of the rap you hear on the radio). the reason we don’t is not because it’s rap but because it’s commercialized pap designed specifically to sell to a buying public who does not share the views and values advocated by that music, a buying public for whom that music is not organic to their life situations, is not relevant to their future.

the beatles at their best were oppositional to commercial pop and were also heavily influenced by black music. do you see the connection? we do understand of opposing the dominant and dominating status quo and that’s the music we celebrate. end of rant response. —kalamu

P.S. on a personal note, i said the stuff was boring. i didn’t say it wasn’t black. if you choose to equate boring with being devoid of blackness, or vice versa (blackness = challenging), go right ahead. but that’s not our point of view.

           Mtume says           

Let me jump in here too because contrary to what Goldberg says above, I happen to like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross. And Simply Red. And a few songs by the Eagles and Carly Simon and Fleetwood Mac. And I can listen to the Isley Brothers’ ballads all day long. My criticism of the music has to do with the intentional slickness of it. It can get cloying and annoying. But I never said it wasn’t black. Not that I recall anyway.

In fact, the ‘smooth R&B’ thing is not only a black phenomenon, in some ways, it’s a blacker phenomenon than grittier forms of soul and R&B. Why? Because white folks never seemed to really like smooth R&B. Goldberg’s assertion that smooth R&B sold in huge quantities in part because of its appeal to whites is wrong in two ways. First, it actually didn’t sell well to whites. At the time smooth R&B was most in vogue, I was a sales rep for Warner Bros. I sold tons of smooth R&B to my stores that catered to a black clientele. Meanwhile, my stores that catered to a white clientele couldn’t give the stuff away.

One example. Anita Baker’s Songstress LP was probably the first huge, huge smooth R&B record. That album was on an indie label (Anita didn’t move to Elektra until her second album) and was somewhat hard to find. Whenever an order came in at stores that blacks frequented, it sold out instantly. But the buyers at white stores had never even heard of the album. At that time, the black music white fans were buying was pop like Michael Jackson and Sade or funk like Prince and Cameo. They weren’t buying smooth R&B.

The other thing that’s wrong about Goldberg’s comment is that smooth R&B never sold in huge quantities, period. While Prince was selling tens of millions of albums and Michael Jackson was selling even more, Luther Vandross seemed capped at one million. No matter what he did, he never seemed able to cross over to that crucial (economically) white market. Later on, Anita Baker was able to. If I remember correctly, her Rapture album did sell well into the millions. But smooth R&B mainstays like Regina Belle, Howard Hewett, Freddie Jackson and the like never really could break out of the black market.

There was this curious thing that happened later where some of those former smooth R&B singers starting doing Disney and psuedo-Broadway stuff. That did cross over. I’m thinking of people like Peobo Bryson and Vanessa Williams. Just an aside. Another story.

And one last thing. I agree with Goldberg that music doesn’t have to be political to be "good." I also like to put on pleasant or fun or just apolitical music sometimes, maybe even most of the times. But I also think music very often is a reflection of the times. My criticism of smooth R&B is probably the same criticism I have for buppies in general. That we (and I do include myself because I’m a child of the ghetto who now lives a nice, middle class life) made it out but we don’t really do enough (if anything) to change the situation for those who didn’t or couldn’t make it out.

Smooth R&B and smooth jazz or sort of like aural Tylenol. It’s like an after-work cocktail that you listen to instead of drink. It mellows you out and helps you forget the problems of the day. The problems don’t go anywhere though. The Tylenol wears off. The music stops. Then what?

Hey, Goldberg – thanks for writing in. You must’ve made some provocative comments, because you inspired long responses from both me and Kalamu. I don’t think that’s happened since the whole Damien Marley debacle way back when.

Later!

Mtume. 


The Magnificent Goldberg Says:
December 9th, 2007 at 5:07 pm

COMIN’ BAKATCHA!

Thanks for your very thoughtful responses, both of you. Yes, I was being provocative. But let me cover a few points.

“I don’t know your musical tastes but i’m willing to bet you don’t like a lot of contemporary rap” OK, I can’t say I am a SERIOUS collector of Rap albums, as I am of Soul Jazz, Mbalax and Djeliya, but I have quite a few – from Gil Scott-Heron & the Last Poets to Ursula Rucker, via Ice-T, KRS1, Public Enemy, Fugees, Cypress Hill, Redman, King Britt, etc etc, as well as some stuff by more comercial people. I like stuff that challenges me. But I also like stuff that doesn’t. Same as you, I see.

“seems to me you accuse us of making a leap we didn’t and don’t make. if we didn’t consider the stuff black music, we wouldn’t put it on breath of life. just because something is black doesn’t ipso facto put it in some category that can’t be criticized and evaluated. black music can be fluff also. bullshit is bullshit, regardless of the ass it issues from.”

OK, you’re right, I may have made a leap you didn’t. The tone of what you were saying came over to me as if you weren’t just criticising the music but also the people who like it, because they like it. Perhaps that isn’t what you intended.

Later on, Mtume said, “That we … made it out but we don’t really do enough (if anything) to change the situation for those who didn’t or couldn’t make it out.” Right, now that’s a legit criticism of a class of people. What I was trying to say was that you can’t go criticising a class of people because they like boring music, which what I perceived you to be doing. So, let there be peace between us!

Mtume, I think your dates for Smooth Soul are a bit off. Luther Vandross was having hit albums well before Anita Baker – hits in the pop chart sense, not just the R&B chart. And well before him, there was George Benson who, as far as I can see, really started this off in the late seventies- Smooth Soul and Smooth Jazz too. Though it’s true that “Songstress” wasn’t a big pop hit – the very effective control of the pop chart by the majors was surely the reason; one would really not have expected an outfit like Beverly Glen to have made much of a dent in the pop charts – it did spend a few months on the pop chart. But you’re right in saying that there seemed to be a ceiling for sales beyond which black artists couldn’t (generally) reach. In one of my more nerdish moments, I tabulated all the albums on the pop charts from 1955-2001 which had sold more than 3 million. 132 Soul and Hip Hop albums made that list; about the same as the number of pop albums, but nowhere near the number of rock albums 353. But the numbers reaching 10 million were 13 for Soul & Hip Hop(Whitney didn’t do too badly there), 20 for pop and 37 for rock . Basically, however, what I said was that the Smooth Soul albums reconated with “white folks who were in the same position” – in other words, the middle classes. And of course, you’d not expect that minority group to have the moneymaking potential of the whole of American society. (Sorry, as an Englishman, I’m much more concerned with class than most Americans seem to be.)

“Smooth R&B and smooth jazz or sort of like aural Tylenol. It’s like an after-work cocktail that you listen to instead of drink. It mellows you out and helps you forget the problems of the day. The problems don’t go anywhere though. The Tylenol wears off. The music stops. Then what?”

The way I see it, the middle classes have what I call a “task problem”. The working and hustling classes have a “situation problem”. A situation can be changed by a number of means – luck, nowse, education, talent. A task problem is endless. The relaxing drink, or music, wears off and you get up the next morning and face exactly the same thing again, every day, until you retire or die. I think that, within that context, the relaxing drink that helps you do this has value. Within the other context, it probably doesn’t – what is required is something that doesn’t help you sleep. Does that make sense?

MG


Vee Says:
January 8th, 2008 at 3:43 pm

“. . . talent for making every song she sang sound the same”

I still listen to the Rhythm of Love CD . . maybe some of the production may have faltered but not Anita. The last two songs on that CD alone are golden, her cover of My Funny Valentine produced by George Duke and Sometimes I Wonder Why.


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