Heatwave - Always and Forever: Love Songs and Smooth Grooves (2016)

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Heatwave – Always and Forever: Love Songs and Smooth Grooves

A compilation album that features ballads by the R&B and funk band Heatwave is going to include the slow jam that is probably the best known – if not the best – love song made in at least the 40 years, “Always and Forever.” And listeners get to that tune featuring the heavenly baritone and falsetto of the late, great Johnnie Wilder, right away. In fact, the song title is a part of the title of this 17 track compilation.

The irony is for all the focus on “Always and Forever,” and to a lesser extent “Mind Blowing Decisions,” another Wilder-penned ballad that earned radio play from Central Heating, the band’s 1978 follow-up to the classic Too Hot to Handle, a strong argument can be made that both projects featured other equally strong slow joints.

Heatwave – Always and Forever: Love Songs and Smooth Grooves

A compilation album that features ballads by the R&B and funk band Heatwave is going to include the slow jam that is probably the best known – if not the best – love song made in at least the 40 years, “Always and Forever.” And listeners get to that tune featuring the heavenly baritone and falsetto of the late, great Johnnie Wilder, right away. In fact, the song title is a part of the title of this 17 track compilation.

The irony is for all the focus on “Always and Forever,” and to a lesser extent “Mind Blowing Decisions,” another Wilder-penned ballad that earned radio play from Central Heating, the band’s 1978 follow-up to the classic Too Hot to Handle, a strong argument can be made that both projects featured other equally strong slow joints.

Is “Sho’ nuff Must Be Luv,” the eighth track on Too Hot To Handle, perhaps a better tune than “Always and Forever?” Most people would say no, but I’ve been back and forth on that since I got the album as a Christmas gift in 1977. For some, “Sho’nuff” is schmaltzy with its descriptions of driving around and switching radio stations in hopes to hear the song you dedicated. It’s definitely a dated concept in the era of Spotify. However, Wilder’s vocals that move from baritone to tenor in the aforementioned verse are what elevate the tune.

I will do battle with anyone contending that anything other than “Star of the Story” is the best slow jam on Central Heating. That arrangement, featuring the tight guitar work at the beginning and the ephemeral and spacy keyboards and backing vocals throughout, is an underrated gem, and that’s even acknowledging that greatness of “Mind Blowing Decisions” as a tune that is the ideal of what grown folks music should be.

Nearly half of the 17 cuts on this compilation appeared on those first two albums. That’s not surprising since they are two of the best the 70s had to offer. Too Hot to Handle and Central Heating represented Heatwave’s apex. From ‘78 on, lineup changes often necessitated by tragedies such as the accident that left Wilder a quadriplegic, hurt the band. Being forced to share Rod Temperton with A-listers such as Michael Jackson and George Benson did not help. Temperton and Wilder were the creative forces behind the first two albums, and it’s not surprising that their diminishing presence had an impact.

Temperton continued to contribute great ballads on the later albums, such as the romantic lullaby “That’s the Way We Say Goodnight” from Hot Property, while the paralyzed Wilder co-wrote and sounds amazingly strong while singing the lead on the doo-wop styled ballad “Where Did I Go Wrong,” a tune that appeared on the 1981 album Candles.

By ’81 Temperton was big time, writing songs for Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall and George Benson’s Give Me the Night, both multiple Grammy winners. Give Me The Night included two tracks that Temperton gave to Heatwave – the aforementioned “Star of the Story,” and the excellent “Turn Out the Lamplight.” Temperton may have been working out arrangement ideas on the Heatwave version, and it’s certainly interesting to hear Wilder on the version heard here. However, Benson, with his peerless Wes Montgomery-influenced guitar playing, has the definitive version.

Temperton was still writing for Heatwave by the time 1982’s Current was released. That recording featured the solid “Look After Love,” but it would be Temperton’s work on another 1982 album – Jackson’s Thriller – that captured the world’s attention.

Heatwave released three more records during the decade, but musical tastes changed and the ballads didn’t seem to carry the weight that they had in the past. Still, Always and Forever: Love Songs and Smooth Grooves shows that a true connoisseur of the slow jam would know to include more than just a couple of Heatwave ballads when seeking the craft a list of great love songs from the 70s and 80s. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

Writer’s note: Not every song on this compilation is a ballad. However, even the up-tempo numbers such as “Turn Around” qualify as smooth grooves.

 
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