Stacy Lattisaw – The Cotillon years: 1979-1985
During her childhood, Washington, D.C. native Stacy Lattisaw recorded seven albums that brilliantly displayed a soulful performer of the song whose emotion and delivery belied her age. From covering classic R&B ballads to playing funky uptempo fare, the shy youngster came to life and gave it her all in the more than 50 tracks she released from the late 1970s to the mid-1970s. 80s. These gems include Robinsongs’ new seven-disc box set, The Cotillon years: 1979-1985.
When Lattisaw took over the airwaves and dance floors in 1980 with the oozing anthem “Dynamite!” by 1980, she had already experienced performing on large stages and working in the studio with several producers. Singer/drummer/composer Narada Michael Walden, who fronted the ensemble let me be your angel LP (along with her next four albums), established herself as a distinguished talent behind the boards while Lattisaw simultaneously built her credibility as a sophisticated vocal storyteller.
On “Dynamite!” and the following ballad, “Let Me Be Your Angel,” the tonal colors and phrasing textures Lattisaw emitted were both remarkably unchanged and surprisingly moving. Both tracks hit the R&B top 10 and also made her the youngest artist to reach No. 1 on the US dance club charts.
If the nature of the majors had been as capricious in 1979 as it is today, the general public might never have had the chance to find out. It was in June of that year that she released her first album, Young and in love– and he quickly bombed. The one and only single from Lattisaw’s debut album was a smooth, soulful cover of Ruby & The Romantics’ 1964 nugget, “When You’re Young and in Love.” LP producer Van McCoy provided his rendition with string and horn arrangements to complement his youthful vibrato, and he even built a shimmering disco version. The Cotillon years box set marks the start of Young and in love on CD. Along with the inclusion of the title cut’s full club mix, it’s a pure delight to revel in the remaining tracks, which are a world away from the melodic and lyrical approach of subsequent Lattisaw albums.
Although the material on Young and in love might not hold up as resoundingly as Let me be your angel there’s an innocent charm to entries like the disco song “Spinning Top,” the mellow “Three Wishes” and the light-hearted remake of Petula Clark’s “Downtown” that’s hard to resist. Lattisaw’s voice had not yet fully blossomed into the heartbreaking force that would make her famous; it’s a treat to revisit this more rudimentary stage of his recording career with the album’s first CD in this set.
As Lattisaw’s voice matured rapidly, Walden was able to surround him with a treasure trove of elegant songs and top musicians, allowing him to stand out among his musical peers. Following the resounding success of let me be your angel (which also included the exuberant UK hit “Jump to the Beat”), she stayed on a role with 1981’s With you, with his definitive cover of “Love on a Two Way Street” from The Moments. Landing at No. 2 on the R&B chart, it’s a standout example of developing an indisputable classic in a way that preserves the original integrity and elevates it musically. Subsequent singles “Feel My Love Tonight” and “It Was So Easy” did not come close to creating a similar commercial impact. It was a loss to the audience, however, as this final number showcased another dimension of Lattisaw’s vocal flexibility in an understated yet funky (and slightly jazzy) and pop setting.
His single releases aside, Lattisaw’s Cotillion albums were well-rounded entities, with cuts like the catchy, fluid movement “Screamin’ off the Top” and atmospheric “Spotlight” standing out on With you and the warm slow-jam “Dreaming” and the tight groover “You Know I Like It” making solid impressions on Let me be your angel.
1982 sneak and 1983 Sixteen each greatly expanded the scope of Lattisaw’s repertoire, though the singles chosen generally stuck to the most tried-and-tested formula. Remakes of Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl” and Gary Benson’s “Don’t Throw It All Away” have been released sneak, the latter once again highlighting her prowess as a ballad who can convey vulnerability, thoughtfulness and strength beyond her years. Listening to four decades later, it’s hard not to wonder how his career path might have broadened if selections such as the subtly sassy “Guys Like You (Give Love a Bad Name)” and hard-hitting title track had received a one-time promotion.
Lattisaw opened for The Jacksons on their 1981 Triumph tour, and there are probably some parallels that she experienced as a child artist experiencing large-scale success driven and supported by a major label. Cotillion gave him the opportunity to record a wide range of impressive material, but largely played it safe with singles that played more for his youth than his versatility. Sixteen boasted a handful of cuts centered around the girl-to-woman transition, but only the lower numbers were promoted. There’s no denying the beauty of “Miracles”; but the charged beats and fiery vocal arrangements of “Black Pumps and Pink Lipstick” merged an R&B base with a crossover appeal in a much fresher way. Likewise, “Million Dollar Babe” was radio-friendly, but not as captivating as the funk-infused “16.” (A single edition of the latter, released only in Germany at the time, is included as one of three bonus mixes on disc five of this box set.)
An anomaly in Lattisaw’s catalog of singles from this period is “Attack of the Name Game”, an electro-tinged groove built around a rap exchange between her and Jeff Cohen (affected as a “Martian voice” with the help from synth wizard Patrick Cowley). It’s still a delightful listen, but its innovative look hasn’t expanded its commercial reach as much as the aforementioned album cuts likely would have. While “Miracles” briefly sent her back into the pop top 40, her reach on the R&B side slipped, and Cotillion saw a window of opportunity in pairing her with fellow Washington compatriot Johnny Gill – whom Lattisaw helped set up. get the label’s attention – for a duets album.
1984 Perfect combination brought Lattisaw back into the R&B top 10. His scintillating delivery paired with Gill’s gruff tone made for an unlikely match, but one that worked well throughout the album. Ironically, the title cut was more youth-focused than the ballads she had recorded at an earlier age. Once again, Cotillion took what seemed the most obvious route by following up with a rendition of “Baby It’s You” by The Shirelles. Both nights yielded impressive performances, but the jammin’ “Block Party” (which became the third single when “Baby It’s You” failed) was much fresher musically and vocally engrossing. The remaining selections on Perfect combination are representative of contemporary pop R&B of the time. They may not stand out as much as previous hits, but “Heartbreak Look” and “50/50 Love” are both appealing upbeat tracks that could have worked just as well as singles.
Lattisaw’s Swan Song for Cotillion, 1985s I’m not the same girl, garners perhaps the most mixed range of fan reactions over the 10 albums she’s recorded during her decade in the business. At the time of its exit, it came and went without any trace. After five Walden-guided albums, the production reins were handed over entirely to Michael Masser, resulting in a somewhat jerky stylistic change. Masser, who had written hits for Diana Ross in the ’70s and would go on to produce major hits for Whitney Houston and Natalie Cole in the second half of the ’80s, didn’t even put his name on I’m not the same girl— instead of using the “Prince Street Productions” moniker. He brought to the table three compositions recorded earlier by Ross and Dionne Warwick and five new tunes of a more contemporary nature.
I’m not the same girl was surprisingly short, at just over 27 minutes in total, and the combination of amorous piano/orchestra ballads with synth-driven dance-pop fare was a little quirky. Still, there’s an unmistakable fullness of heart that Lattisaw was able to convey from start to finish, whether it’s the upbeat “Can’t Stop Thinking about You,” the assertive title track, or the tender (and superlative) reading of Ross’ “I thought it was taking a while.” The album was his first to totally miss the charts since young and in love, however, and within a year, she released her first of three albums for Motown.
Lattisaw went on to score several major R&B hits in the late ’80s, but it’s her richness in timeless R&B and the pop appeals she achieved in Cotillion that form the core of her musical legacy. The Cotillon years: 1979-1985 at last brings each of these recordings together in a package that deserves a deep initial listen and frequent revisits. Highly recommended.
by Justin Kantor
#Stacy #Lattisaw #Stacy #Lattisaw
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