Thursday, November 17, 2011

Soul of the '80s, Part 1: In Praise of Jeffrey Osborne

Sartorially speaking, I've come a long way since the '80s.

But then, haven't we all?

While my older brother Jeff was rocking a blend of Ready for the World and Purple Rain, Jheri curl and all (he and his friends entered a high-school "air band" contest as Prince and the Revolution performing "Let's Go Crazy" but lost to a bunch of toga-wearing future frat boys mouthing the Isley Brothers' "Shout"), I was going for something a little more uptown elegant. My personal fashion icon: soul singer Jeffrey Osborne, whose International Male look I spent the middle part of the decade trying to emulate.

I probably should have stuck to just his music, which remains in regular rotation on my iPod.

Although he enjoyed some crossover success in the '80s -- eight Top 40 pop singles, including the divine "The Borderlines" and the diviner "You Should Be Mine (The Woo Woo Song)" -- I always felt like Osborne was one of the underrated black male singers of the era. He'd actually risen to prominence during the previous decade as the lead vocalist of L.T.D. The band's 1977 No. 4 hit "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again" was a high point of late-'70s R&B that still sounded fresh blaring from my iPod earphones on repeat as I jogged around Buenos Aires in early 2011.

But for all his talent and gold and platinum albums (five in total), Osborne was never a regular in the pop Top 10 like Billy Ocean. He wasn't iconic like Luther Vandross. And he didn't get to collaborate with as many A-list pop stars as James Ingram. No offense to Ingram, but what I wouldn't have given to have heard Osborne coming between Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes on "What About Me?" or serenading Linda Ronstadt on "Somewhere Out There"! At least we'll always have "Love Power," his 1987 duet with Dionne Warkwick, which went all the way to No. 12 on Billboard's Hot 100. (I think I still have the Cassingle somewhere.)

I didn't really get into Osborne until two albums into his solo career, but from 2:02 of the video for "Stay with Me Tonight," his 1983 single and fourth Top 40 solo hit, he had me for good. Eighties singing -- and posing -- at its finest!

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