With soulful salutations to the iconic Anita Baker for her January 26th birthday, David Nathan recalls his second interview with the distinctive singer/songwriter some months after meeting her in the spring of 1986 when the future classic, “Rapture” was about to hit the airwaves as she reflects on the incredible nine months of activity that followed…

ANITA BAKER: “Good songs, that’s what count!”

By David Nathan, February 1987

The limelight has never been brighter for ‘The Songstress’ Anita Baker and in the midst of non-stop activity, she had a chat with David Nathan, who conducted her first interview with a British music magazine shortly before the release of her Elektra debut LP, “Rapture” in the spring of 1986…

NINE MONTHS ago, not even Anita Baker herself could have predicted that she’d find herself with a platinum album (making its way towards double platinum), sell out concerts everywhere and the prospect of Grammy nominations. After all, the Detroit-born vocalist had enjoyed moderate success among black music buyers with her Songstress album a couple of years ago but was hardly a contender for superstar status. Amazing what one album can do!

When Rapture was released as Anita’s first album for Elektra Records, music critics raved — but no one, including Anita, expected the kind of overwhelming response that the record has generated.  “Yes, I was shocked,” says the petite singer. “Something in the back of my mind just loved this album but I didn’t think others would love it as much. But then, I figure it’s the kind of record that people play because you can just curl up with your honey and listen to it!”

Anita recalls how, after her first visit to Europe in June, she started getting calls from the folks at Elektra to let her know what was going on: “All of a sudden, it was ‘did you know we moved up 10 places on the chart?’ and the concert dates started getting bigger, the ticket prices got more expensive… and so did my costumes! My accountant started getting real happy and my taxes increased — and that’s when I knew something was really happening!”

She confides that she expected the album to do “moderately well. I thought we’d have a gold album because there were enough folks around who had bought the Songstress album. But all of a sudden, I found that all kinds of people were buying this record — ‘buppies’, ‘yuppies’, children, couples, singles, retireds. When I had a concert recently at the Beverly Theater in Los Angeles, we had every kind of person in there.  When I think about the music on the record, I figure it must be that everyone likes the fact that it’s basically an album full of love songs.”

Not that success hasn’t brought its share of new problems for Anita, who at one point in her career (whilst waiting for a solo deal with Beverly Glen Records after leaving the group Chapter 8 in the early Eighties) had taken on a good ol’ 9-to-5. “Well, people stop me in the shopping malls now and ask for autographs and I don’t mind that. But I have to be constantly aware of how I dress now and folks have been turning up at my doorstep to say hello and give me tapes that they want me to hear. But I’m going to be moving soon so hopefully I won’t be getting any more unexpected visitors!”

Anita says thar her family in Detroit are naturally very proud of what she’s accomplished during the last year. “They’re very proud and happy and I think that’s especially true because I stuck with this career even when they wanted me to stop. I guess they appreciate that I stuck with my guns. It’s a real trip now because when I go home, everyone wants to show me off!”

As Anita looks at ’87, she’s aware that she may find herself with a coveted Grammy award but, she confides, she won’t be disappointed if that doesn’t happen.  “You see, I can’t figure out what category they’d put me in. I mean, I could be nominated in the Best Album section or the Best R&B Female, but then I’m sure Janet Jackson’s going to get that one. So I’ll be surprised even to get nominated and I’ve already decided I’m not going to go because I couldn’t stand all the tension!  I’ve already been nominated for an American Music Award and they asked me to be a presenter as well — I figure they’d better announce the winners in my category before I do any presenting or I’ll be presenting like a real ‘basket case’! But I tell you, any kind of award is fine with me because I figure I’ve been waiting five years for just one!”

Naturally during 1987, Anita will be heading back into the recording studios to do her follow-up to Rapture. “Of course, I hope we can do it again. But I’m not going to drive myself crazy with it. I expect we’ll start on the album after I get through on the road in June and, yes, we will have the same basic team — I’ll be working with Michael Powell and Dean Grant and we’re planning to use The Yellowjackets and I will be the executive producer again.”

Anita says that the song selection will be the key to the next album’s success, as it was with her current winner: “Good songs, that’s what counts and I don’t care where they come from. I evaluate songs by seeing if they move me or not — and that includes songs I write myself. If a song doesn’t touch me, I can’t sing it. I don’t think that the audience can accept a song from me that doesn’t have that honesty, that sincerity. I think that, more than anything else, is the key to the way people responded to this album. They knew somehow that the music was sincere, honest music, there was nothing contrived about it. I intend to keep it that way for the next album too.”

One of the songs that has gotten consistent airplay in the States (even though it isn’t a single) has been Anita’s own ‘Been So Long’ and the response has been interesting because it’s the most obviously jazz-oriented song on Rapture. “I’m thrilled that people like that song because I plan to get more and more into singing that kind of music so that people won’t be surprised when I do whole albums like that in the future. And, honestly, singing songs like ‘Been So Long’ is what I’m most comfortable doing.”

Another song that has been getting great response when Anita performs live is her soulful rendition of an old Emotions track, ‘Blessed’, which the singer does with some serious help from the vocal group Perri (themselves MCA recording artists) who are now accompanying Anita on the road. “Yes, those girls sing their you-know-what’s off on the song and now that I know that they’re going to be able to record it with me, we’ll definitely do that. Of course, I can’t say whether it will end up on the album — we’ll have to wait and see what happens after we finish everything.”

As she reflects on 1986, she says that she has one very cherished moment: “I got to play for seven nights at The Beverly in L.A. and during that time, some great people came to see me — Bette Midler, Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr. and Johnny Mathis. Well, Johnny didn’t get backstage but he did send me a little letter. He told me that he takes Rapture on the road with him wherever he goes and when I read that in the letter I just stopped and went “hmmm!”  Imagine… this little kid from Detroit with a letter from the Johnny Mathis telling me that he takes my music everywhere!”

Well, for those of us who do likewise, that’s no surprise. No doubt Anita Baker has truly arrived and even though she’s philosophical about it (“Hey, next week, they’ll be raving about someone else so I just am thankful for the weeks when they rave about me, baby!”), Anita knows that she’s building a solid legion of fans who savour her music.

© David Nathan, 1987