Sunday, March 22, 2020

"Songbird" by Kenny G

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3080
Date:  04/04/1987
Debut:  95
Peak:  4
Weeks:  22
Genre:  Smooth Jazz, Adult Contemporary

Pop Bits:  Kenny Gorelick started to play sax at the age of ten. By the time he was seventeen, he was already a pro player working with Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra. At the beginning of the 80s, Gorelick became a member of the Jeff Lorber Fusion and recorded two albums with them for Arista Records. Lorber saw potential in Gorelick and recommended him to Arista label head Clive Davis, who decided to take a chance on the young musician. Rechristened Kenny G, the sax player recorded a self-titled debut album in 1982. Although it wasn't a huge seller, it did well enough to reach #10 on the Jazz chart. It led to a second album, G Force, that expanded Kenny G's sound to include shades of R&B, courtesy of producer/artist Kashif. A single from the LP, "Hi, How Ya Doin'?," sung by Barry Johnson, got to #23 at R&B. Kenny G's next album, Gravity, following along the same lines and produced the #24 R&B track "Love on the Rise," with Kashif on vocals. Both albums ended up on the Pop and R&B charts. Kenny G was doing well, but no one expected the massive success of his fourth album Duotones.  This single from the album, an instrumental written by Kenny G, became a surprise mainstream hit that got to #23 R&B, #3 AC, and #4 Pop. Folks then began to buy the album and it would end up reaching #6 Pop, #8 R&B, and #5 Jazz. By the end of the year, it would be a double platinum seller. Eventually it would sell over five million copies.

ReduxReview:  With smooth jazz on the rise, Clive Davis took advantage of it and tried to push a few artists towards the mainstream by combining their lite-jazz sounds with slick R&B and incorporating vocals. He did that with Jeff Lorber and it kind of worked with his "Facts of Love" getting to #17 R&B/#27 Pop. Kenny G came next. However, the difference between Lorber and Kenny G was that Lorber didn't like doing it and basically took off. Kenny G bought into it and wanted to be a star. He succeeded on a level that probably even Davis hadn't imagined. These days, Kenny G is often the butt of jokes, but truth be told he is an excellent musician and a smart businessman. I even bought into this single back then. It was just unusual for pop radio and the tune was lovely and memorable. While dated now, the 80s production on it certainly gave it a current, mainstream sheen. His formula wore on me quickly and I didn't become a fan, but I will say that this was the right single at the right time and it was a well-deserved hit. For everyone who dislikes Kenny G, you can blame this song and everyone who bought it - including me. We all unleashed the Krusty the Clown-haired soprano sax monster on y'all.

ReduxRating:  7/10

Trivia:  Although this was the song that broke Kenny G to the masses, it was not the first single from the album. It was actually the third single released. The first one to be issued out was "Don't Make Me Wait for Love," which featured Lenny Williams on vocals. On initial release, it would only get to #77 at R&B (it would later be reissued to bigger success following "Songbird"). The second single released was "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)," a remake of the 1969 #1 R&B/#4 Pop hit by Jr. Walker & the All Stars. Ellis Hall handled the vocal part for the Kenny G version. That single would do much better hitting #15 at R&B. At the time it was Kenny G's most successful single. It is most likely thanks to that hit that Arista decided to take a chance on "Songbird" as a follow-up. It was a very wise choice.


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