There’s Nothing Better Than Love – Luther Vandross
…what in the world could you ever be thinking of ??…
This song makes me melt, because of the music, the words, the rhythm, the notes, and where it takes me – to 1989 and falling in love with Jenny. We had started dating in the summer of ’88 and following a mad American road trip at the end of that year I had finally almost accepted that she WAS the ONE. 1989 we were together. We were in Portsmouth where I proposed, in New York City and Washington D.C., but mainly we were in London, in Highgate N6, on the middle section of the Archway Road.
Jenny had introduced me to Luther Vandross in the shape of two LPs : Give Me The Reason and Any Love. Probably three actually because I remember Never Too Much from this era too. Luther was new to me, although I’d unknowingly heard him before singing background vocals on David Bowie’s Young Americans in 1974 and co-writing the song Fascination. He also sang on the LP Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, one of the greatest soul albums of all time, released in 1972, which includes the first incarnation of Where Is The Love. He also sang backing for Diana Ross, Chic, Chaka Khan, Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Carly Simon among others. I found all this out later.
One Thursday evening in late January we lay in bed together and I summoned the courage to tell Jenny that it was all over, that I didn’t think it would be a good idea if we carried on seeing each other. “Why not?” said Jen, who was lying on my shoulder, my right arm around her. “Well,” I said, “Because I don’t want you to fall in love with me.” Luther Vandross was on the stereo singing this song ! “I’m already in love with you…” she answered. The answer that stopped my breathing, and halted the celestial cycle and melted my heart, and softened my very bones. I pulled her toward me in an embrace. We have been together since that moment.
My courting of Jenny had reached the point of going to meet the parents, so one Sunday I was formally introduced to Esther & Thomas Jules a handsome and loving St Lucian couple who had produced a houseful of gorgeous girls and one son. They were very kind and served me a classic West Indian Sunday roast : chicken, plantain, yam, corn, greens, roast potatoes, dashin and gravy. Delicious. Mr Jules insisted that I drink a whisky or a rum with him. I complied happily. Jenny had two older sisters : Dee and Mollie, and two younger : Natasha and Lucy. Jon the brother was slightly older than Jenny. They were all very warm and friendly toward me because they all loved Jenny very much and didn’t want to upset their sister. But also because they have all been brought up with love, and have it in abundance to spare. It was just the family I needed and wanted to become a part of. Solid, secure, easy, supportive and loving. I’d already proposed to Jenny in February ’89 but hadn’t asked her father yet – but that is for another song and another story.
Luther Vandross is the soundtrack to those young lovers though. At the time he was an unfeasibly smooth, handsome and sultry soul singer with a very modern sound – his music is forever attached to the 1980s. Those LPs were played a lot in Archway Road. Beautifully produced – but what a voice. One of the great singers of my lifetime, so expressive, so pure, gentle, and sensitive. In a line of greatness back to Teddy Pendergrass, Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, the record you play after you’ve gone to bed. Love music. Of course women also sing this music – Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Sade, Gladys Knight, Toni Braxton, Roberta Flack and on and on. Is anyone still doing it you ask ? Oh yes – Usher, Ciara, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Frank Ocean, Lianne La Havas, and on and on. It will always be made of course.
My soul development went something like this : 60s – Motown on the radio, 70s – Al Green on TOTP, discovery of James Brown, Otis Redding, Stax & Atlantic then through Philly, back to Sam Cooke and Jacky Wilson, Barry White & Teddy Pendergrass, Earth Wind & Fire into DISCO, Donna Summer and all that somehow emerging into the 80s with Grandmaster Flash and Run DMC, Electro LPs and Prince. So I had completely missed the soul continuum that Luther Vandross represents. Jenny introduced him to me, and soon I loved him too.
March ’89, Wembley
He was playing at Wembley Arena in March 1989 and Jenny’s sister Dee asked if we wanted to go, so together with Mick her boyfriend, we did. It was a sold-out ten-night run in the Arena, which is massive – and Luther was the first artist to sell that many tickets, he was huge in England in the late 80s. Rightly so. We sat to his left, he wore silver and black, we swooned and went home happy and high. The concert was released on video/DVD sometime later in 1991 but we’ve never seen it. This song was on the brilliant LP Give Me The Reason in 1986, and is a duet with Gregory Hines. I think it’s time to have a look at that night in March 1989. Because – you know – and I know – there is nothing better than love.