Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Song A Day: Roy Ayers, "Love Will Bring Us Back Together"

JUNE 23, 2017




As disco began to eclipse both soul music and jazz in the mid-1970s, artists from those fields tried to keep up. One who easily could and did was Roy Ayers.

Ayers, a bebop-trained vibraphone player, also does a mean job on keyboards. He began his recording career in 1962. While he always had technique, a big palate, and a good ear, some called Ayers a “sell-out” because he played upbeat music that people liked rather than participate in the often joyless avant-garde/free-jazz experimentalism of the late 1960s and 1970s.

He recorded popular songs, wrote for soundtracks, and otherwise pulled himself out of any orthodoxy, embracing all sorts of new sounds and ideas—which included funk, disco, and what would later be called “world music.”

Ayers recorded proficiently and did well on the jazz charts. While he wasn’t necessarily always a featured soloist, he ran a band efficiently. The opening track of his 1979 album Fever was a jazz-funk composition, “Love Will Bring Us Back Together,” that Polydor issued as a single late that spring.

“Love Will Bring Us Back Together” had a hell of a chassis, riding legendary drummer Bernard Purdie’s strong midtempo beat and the funky bass of William Allen, formerly of Mongo Santamaria’s group. Ayers provided sweet Fender Rhodes piano and supremely chewy clavinet as well as an appealing double-tracked lead vocal. The song itself featured innovative but supple key changes that flowed rather than jarred, and in hooks, beat, and production was quite radio-friendly.

This record was a ton of fun, and a huge hit in Chicago during summer 1979. It was big enough that even I remember hearing it out in the world although it got little to no play on any of the white Top 40 stations.

“Love Will Bring us Back Together” also got heavy rotation in Houston, Louisville, Indianapolis, Dayton, Milwaukee, Detroit, San Francisco/Oakland, Atlanta, and Denver, but never broke out of the soul/R&B box. Stations began adding the record in late spring; on June 30, it debuted on Billboard’s top 100 soul singles chart. In the next month, it flowed upward to 41, where it stopped.

Ayers and co. certainly had the goods to compete in the disco/dance market, but at a time when Patrick Hernandez’ limp “Born to Be Alive” was the #1 song in the nation, Roy Ayers’ music may have just been too sophisticated.

His next album, No Stranger to Love, included his biggest chart hit, “Don’t Stop the Feeling,” another strong hook-filled disc. Ayers has spent the last 30 years further expanding his palate with collaborations, explorations of house music, touring, and producing.

While “Love Will Bring Us Back Together” was issued in a truncated 45 RPM mix, I’m presenting the original LP mix despite a fairly obvious edit in the last half-minute of the track. This is the version that would have been played in the dance clubs, and possibly on a lot of the radio stations that spun the record in the first place.

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