This seems like a good Friday to cool out a little.
One good thing about the breakthrough of Anita Baker with Rapture is that it threw open the door for female singers who had a mellower, almost jazzy vibe to break through. Regina Belle and Toni Braxton were at least partially positioned as Anitas in training, while veterans Diane Reeves and Phyllis Hyman got further than they ever did, chart-wise, in the wake of Anita (without crossing all the way over.)
Brenda Russell isn’t exactly similar to those other divas-her milieu is much more straight-up adult contemporary than it is jazz-influenced. Nevertheless, “Piano In The Dark” marked her highest-charting single and gave a shot of grown-up class to the summer of ’88, which was otherwise ruled by the likes of Def Leppard, Guns ‘n Roses, George Michael and the breakthrough of new jack swing. The song is expertly written and performed, with a catchy title and multiple hooks. No wonder it was nominated for Song of the Year at the Grammys in 1989.
While Brenda was unable to follow up “Piano In The Dark” with another hit, she’d already made a name for herself as a composer. Her songs had been covered by everyone from Chaka Khan (Rufus’s “Please Pardon Me (You Remind Me Of A Friend)”) to Luther (his exquisite reading of her “If Only For One Night” is a career highlight.) Later on, the title track from the album “Piano In The Dark” appeared on (Get Here) would become a career-defining track for Oleta Adams in the midst of the Gulf War. Brenda herself has continued releasing albums at a leisurely clip, with a highlight coming at the start of the millennium with Paris Rain, which was released on Michael Jordan’s Hidden Beach label.
“Piano” came up in a recent Twitter conversation I had, and I knew from that point that I had to give it some long-overdue props as one of the more underrated ’80s tracks.
Oh. I suppose I should mention that a recent hit by Flo-Rida (“I Cry”) contains a bit of “Piano In The Dark.” BARF.