Part of agenda for this 4th of July weekend has been co-authoring a comprehensive guide to the music of Babyface for my folks at Popdose. With that written and shipped off to Grand Poobah Jeff Giles (and ‘Face sporting a songwriting credit on “Best Thing I Never Had”, one of the best things on Beyonce’s new album, I still have ‘Face on the brain (OK, that sounded weird reading it back. But I’m gonna leave it in). This week’s Award Show Sunday, then, is dedicated to Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.
Let’s take it back to January 1995. The biggest song in the country was Madonna’s “Take a Bow”. It restored Madge to chart dominance when not only was she being surpassed by Mariah, Janet and Babyface’s protege Toni Braxton, but the lingering pungent aroma of that “Sex” book was still all over pop culture. “Take a Bow” was co-written, produced and also co-sung by Babyface. The two joined forces to perform it at that year’s American Music Awards. Pre-“Evita”, Madonna singing live was a tricky proposition, but she did fairly well with this dramatic performance.
A couple of years later (in 1997, to be exact), Babyface found himself nominated for about a million awards thanks not only to his work on Braxton’s Secrets album, but for his production on Eric Clapton’s Top Five hit “Change the World”. Clapton was a recent Grammy darling thanks to the Unplugged album and “Tears in Heaven”, and ‘Face was a Grammy darling on the come-up (he won three straight Producer of the Year awards from 1995-1997). It only made sense that they connect. The resulting performance of “Change the World”, which opened the show, was…pleasant.
A year later, Babyface was back on the Grammy stage, this time with Stevie Wonder. ‘Face was being acknowledged for his own work this time around, specifically his album The Day and it’s hit single “How Come, How Long”. This powerful anti-domestic violence song became an MTV mainstay thanks for a dramatic and disturbing video. When performed on the Grammys, Stevie gradually picked up steam until the song’s end, when he unleashed a series of vocal pyrotechnics that would put any diva to shame. Much as I love Stevie and a little part of me dies every time I criticize him (which isn’t very often), he probably should have toned it down this time. While the song certainly required a strong vocal, it didn’t require extraneous riffing, and certainly not this much of it!
The Grammy.com website lists Babyface as a nine-time Grammy Award winner, which actually seems a bit low to me. Nevertheless, that’s a lot of hardware!
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