From his first appearances as a background singer for such artists as David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross and Roberta Flack, to his Grammy-winning final album, 2003’s Dance with My Father, Luther Vandross was a vocalist’s vocalist - a stylistic chameleon with power, subtlety and soul to spare. He is acknowledged, even so many years after his death, as one of the great pop and R&B singers ever to step up to the microphone, and he left in his wake an enviable collection of great singles and albums.
If, however, you ever encounter someone who’s lived on a desert island or under a rock for the last four or so decades, and has never heard Vandross’ music, you should definitely provide them with a much-needed education. Here are six songs to start with:
"Never Too Much": The first cut off his first solo album is a peppy, romantic dance number that introduced many listeners to Vandross’ smoother-than-smooth delivery. Seriously, if you’re not won over by the first "Oh my love," check your pulse and make sure you’re still among the living.
"The Night I Fell in Love": Vandross cooked up his first front-to-back classic album with 1985’s The Night I Fell in Love. It was, as they say, "all killer, no filler" - eight essential tracks that included the hits "‘Til My Baby Comes Home" and "If Only for One Night." We’re partial to the title track, though, how it perfectly encapsulates the instant lightning strikes you and you realize this is it - this person is the one you’ve been waiting for. Who better to soundtrack that moment?
"Stop to Love": It’s just a song, one of many hits Vandross had in his career. Just a single from another great Luther Vandross album (in this case, 1986’s excellent Give Me the Reason). But there’s an energy there that rubs off on you when you hear it, an energy that brightens whatever room or vehicle or performance area where it’s playing. Go ahead – play it and see whether you don't feel demonstrably better when it’s over than you did when it started.
"Here and Now": The jewel in Vandross’ long discography may well be this single – one of the great slow dances ever committed to vinyl, and a wedding song for the ages. It’s a towering paean to romance and romantic love, sung by one of the best to ever wrap his voice around such things.
"The Power of Love / Love Power": This song was everywhere in the summer of ‘91; if you left a radio on for any length of time, you were bound to hear it. Blending an original song ("Power of Love") with a minor late-’60s R&B hit (The Sandpebbles’ "Love Power"), Vandross created something inspiring and new, and listeners responded – it was his biggest hit up to that point.
"Dance with My Father": Vandross was hospitalized with a stroke and unable to promote this, his final hit. No matter - if you’ve heard it, you’ve been touched by it, by the poignant lyrics and by his singing. The video features a number of famous friends, but if you close your eyes and really listen, you’ll likely see a different set of visuals from your own life - home movies only you can see. That’s the beauty and the magic of this song at work.