Album Reviews

Heatwave: Too Hot To Handle/Central Heating (Big Break Records/Cherry Red)

heatwave

Heatwave
Too Hot To Handle
Central Heating
Big Break Records/Cherry Red

R&B group Heatwave was a multiracial, international band that formed in Europe by two American brothers, but would soon take over the world with their hit single “Boogie Nights.” The band formed when Johnnie Wider, an Ohio native and soldier stationed in Germany, invited his younger brother Keith to join his latest project, which featured a rhythm section of locals, as well as their English songwriter and keyboardist, Rod Temperton.

Too Hot To Handle, their debut album, was released in 1976. Its first single, “Ain’t No Half Steppin’,” was well-received upon its release in the UK, but failed to chart, as did their second single, “Super Soul Sister”. The third time was the charm, as their third single, “Boogie Nights,” would prove to be a smash hit upon its release at the end of the year. The following year, when Heatwave set about to release their American debut, “Boogie Nights” was wisely chosen, going all the way to #2 on the Billboard pop charts. But there’s more to Too Hot To Handle than disco funk; “Lay It On Me” is a mellow dance number, featuring Johnnie Wilder’s impressive falsetto, while “Sho’ Nuff Must Be Luv” and “Always and Forever” are fine R&B ballads. “Always And Forever” would be Heatwave’s second hit single in America; though released in at the end of 1977, it would be released nearly a year later in the UK, and would provide Heatwave yet another hit. (It would be covered by Luther Vandross in 1994, providing him with one of his best selling singles and a Grammy nomination.)

Heatwave’s follow-up, Central Heating, would be released in 1978. It would be a more funk-minded affair; its first single, “The Groove Line,” released in the early months of 1978, would continue the band’s run of Top Ten singles in both the United States and the United Kingdom. There’s less of a disco groove to be found here—an intentional move on the part of the band, as they recognized the dangers of becoming typecast by and dismissed as merely part of that trend. Thus, the band turned in lyrics that were more universal than the vapid nature of disco songs, and tightened up the arrangements. “Send Out For Sunshine” is a lovely funk number that focuses on seeking out positivity when everything else is going wrong, while “Central Heating” is a lovely double entendre.Even more interesting are the numbers with daring arrangements, such as the heavily orchestrated ballads, “The Star Of A Story” and “Leavin’ For A Dream.” Central Heating was an impressive, enjoyable album from a young band with a promising future. 

The good fortune would soon be marred by tragedy. In 1978, bassist Mario Mantese would barely survive a stabbing by his girlfriend, which briefly left him clinically dead, comatose for nearly a year, and temporarily blind, paralyzed, and mute. A year later,  Johnnie Wilder would be paralyzed from the neck down in 1979 after a near-fatal car accident, and who would subsequently pass away in 2006. Around this time, Rod Temperton would also leave the band, establishing himself as a songwriter, most notably for his work with Michael Jackson.Yet Heatwave soldiered on, and continues to this day as a Keith Wilder-led collective. While Heatwave’s later releases might not have reached the heights they reached during this part of the career, but these two albums definitely established them as a fine, superior band that deserved its international success and acclaim.

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