Modern R&B balladry has its roots in the disco era. Bands and artists would temper their upbeat disco and funk grooves with a slow jam, a number for the ladies, or something to show that they were versatile artists and not one-trick ponies. No finer example can be had than Heatwave, a multicultural, multinational disco and funk group that in its prime, released five successful albums and a slew of high-reaching chart hits. Their two biggest hits show their dichotomy; “Boogie Nights” is a genre-defining disco hit, while their second biggest hit, “Always & Forever,” is an equally definitive R&B ballad. The latter provides the title to a new compilation, one dedicated to “Love Songs and Smooth Grooves.”
Heatwave had an ace songwriter in British keyboardist Rod Temperton, a smoother than smooth lead singer in Johnny Wilder, Jr, and crack musicians and arrangers in the band. Only a few of the songs here were originally issued as singles, but don’t think these songs are lesser numbers because they were regulated to album cuts or b-sides. Always & Forever plays like both Heatwave’s best album and a greatest hits record. The tasteful horns and harmonies on “Where Did I Go Wrong,” “Find It In Your Heart,” “All Talked Out,” and “Razzle Dazzle” still sound fresh, and would sound great on any FM station. The ballads “Birthday,” “That’s The Way We’ll Always Say Goodnight,” “Sho’Nuff Must Be Love,” and “Turn Out The Lamplight” show that when you have a powerful vocalist like Johnny Wilder, you can create love songs that transcend the era they were made, becoming instant classics, even if you missed them the first time around.
Though the band was relatively short-lived—a current touring revue goes by Heatwave but features only one original member—it left behind a great catalogue of songs. Always & Forever: Love Songs and Smooth Grooves highlights the songs that got away, but were magnificent songs nonetheless.
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Categories: Album Reviews