For Al Jarreau, the seventh time was the charm. Well-respected as a jazz/soul vocalist in the late '70s, it was seventh album Breakin' Away, released at the end of June 1981, that established his presence in pop music.
As with previous album This Time, Breakin' Away found Jarreau fusing his unique vocal sensibilities to the laid-back West Coast pop-rock sound that had dominated airwaves for several years. Producer Jay Graydon recruited a dazzling array of backing musicians to craft the tracks, including Toto's guitarist Steve Lukather and drummer Jeff Porcaro; keyboard players like Michael Omartian, Michael Boddicker, George Duke and David Foster; and a legendary brass ensemble that included Jerry Hey, Chuck Findley and Tom Scott. Known just as often as a song interpreter, Jarreau, Graydon and arranger Tom Canning penned most of the tracks here, including the title cut and opener "Closer to Your Love."
But the album's biggest hit was a happy accident. The feel-good "We're in This Love Together," penned by Nashville songwriters Keith Stegall and Roger Murrah, was one of the last recorded for Breakin' Away. "The story that I was told by Jay Graydon...was that they were going through songs the night before the (recording) session," Stegall later said. "They didn't feel like they had a lead single. They had gone through everything, and there was one cassette left in the bottom of the box. Jay Graydon picked it up and said, 'This better be our hit.' And it was 'We're in this Love Together.'"
Stranger still, Stegall added, it was never meant to be sent to Jarreau. After a pitch to Johnny Mathis was ignored, "The song was pitched to a band called The Larsen-Feiten Band. They were managed by the same firm that managed Jarreau, and somehow that cassette - that was supposed to be in the Larsen-Feiten box - ended up in the Al Jarreau box."
The stroke of luck paid off: "We're in This Love Together" became Jarreau's biggest hit, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 6 on the R&B charts, while Breakin' Away received two Grammy Awards for Best Pop Male Vocal Performance and Best Jazz Male Vocal Performance, as well as a nomination for Album of the Year.