Wednesday, February 24, 2021

"Piano in the Dark" by Brenda Russell

Top 10 Alert!
Song#:  3415
Date:  02/20/1988
Debut:  92
Peak:  6
Weeks:  25
Genre:  Pop, Adult Contemporary, R&B

Pop Bits:  This singer/songwriter (born Brenda Gordon) from New York City began performing in local bands as a teenager. In the mid-60s, she became part of the Canadian girl group The Tiaras. They supported a few other acts and tried to break out on their own with a couple of singles, but nothing panned out. She got married to another musician, Brian Russell, and the pair began to work together as producers, songwriters, and backing vocalists. Eventually, they secured their own recording deal with Elton John's Rocket Records and released albums under the moniker Brian & Brenda in '76 and '77. Following a divorce, Russell struck out on a solo career and got signed to A&M Records. Her 1979 self-titled debut album generated the minor hit "So Good, So Right," which got to #8 AC, #15 R&B, and #30 Pop. A second LP for A&M didn't do as well while a third album for Warner Bros. disappeared quickly. After seven years, Russell rekindled her relationship with A&M, recorded the 1988 album Get Here, and released this first single. It was a slow-burner that took a while to catch on. Once it did, the tune made its way to #3 AC and #8 R&B while cracking the Pop Top 10. The LP would then get to #20 R&B/#49 Pop. Three more tracks from the album would be minor entries on the R&B chart. Her next album didn't perform as well and it left this song as Russell's first and only Pop Top 10 and her last one to make the Pop chart. Russell would record a few more albums over the years while writing and producing for other artists.

ReduxReview:  I remember that I bought this single without hearing it. I found the title intriguing and I liked the photo/sketch of Russell on the 45's sleeve jacket. Luckily, it ended up being a great selection. The sleek, mysterious groove of the verse was sexy and alluring while the chorus boosted the song to another level. It wasn't a typical, hooky pop chorus, but it was memorable and it played well on the radio. I also like the piano part in the arrangement. The way it was done made it sound like someone was actually playing a meandering tune in the background in order to capture another person's attention. Russell co-wrote and co-produced the track and it was her shining moment.

ReduxRating:  8/10

Trivia:  Triple Shot!  1) This song earned Russell two Grammy nominations including one for Song of the Year. The album would get her a Grammy nod for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female. 2) The male voice on the track was supplied by Joe Esposito. He was formerly with the band Brooklyn Dreams and is perhaps best known for the single "Lady, Lady, Lady" (#36 AC/#86 Pop), which was from the multi-platinum Flashdance soundtrack.  3) In 2004, Russell would co-write the song for the musical version of The Color Purple. The show would make it to Broadway in 2005 and would earn 11 Tony nominations winning one. Russell would earn a nomination for Best Original Musical Score. The cast album would earn Russell another Grammy nod. The show would be revived in 2015 and win two Tony awards including Best Revival of a Musical. Russell would once again get a Grammy nod for the revival's cast album.


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