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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Who Did It Better? Heart Of Mine

Who Did It Better?
Heart Of Mine

This is a simple story.

In 1978, Bobby Caldwell signed on at TK Records in Miami (KC & The Sunshine Band, Anita Ward, Peter Brown.) After completing work on his debut album, he handed it to the executives of the company who promptly handed it back, telling him that they didn't hear a hit single. Caldwell returned to the studio where, in two days time, he wrote and recorded his signature tune, What You Won't Do For Love. The song would prove to be incredibly influential and a timeless classic, reaching the Top Ten and providing Caldwell with a double platinum album. 

TK Records target audience was the R&B crowd, who were primarily black. So they always hid the faces (Caldwell appeared as a black silhouette) of their white artists (KC & The Sunshine Band were represented by a logo, only) on the front of their album covers. So, when Caldwell, on the heels of his first success, went on tour with Natalie Cole, the audience was always a bit shocked to learn he was a white dude. 

While Caldwell's follow-up album went gold, his fortunes began to dial down, as did those of his record label, TK. That's when Boz Scaggs suggested that he write songs for other artists. And Caldwell did just that - writing songs for Natalie Cole, Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, Chicago, Neil Diamond, Roberta Flack and Al Jarreau.

Heart Of Mine is a song written in 1988 by Bobby Caldwell, Jason Scheff and Dennis Matkosky

It was offered to Boz Scaggs, who was returning to the studio after an eight year hiatus. He recorded it as part of his 1988 Other Roads album.  Heart Of Mine was the lead single from the album and the only one to chart, peaking on Billboard's Hot 100 at #35, while faring much better on the Adult Contemporary chart, where it nabbed the #3 spot.

Caldwell would also record a version of Heart Of Mine as part of his 1989 album bearing the same name.   

And that's the whole story.

Now? On to the competition.

The Song:
Heart Of Mine

The Competition: Boz Scaggs vs. Bobbly Caldwell

Heart Of Mine - Boz Scaggs

Heart Of Mine - Boz Scaggs

Boz Scaggs

Aww. That intro. It is so of it's time. Those synth keyboards. Still, this has a richness to it that immediately has me settling in. Nice treated vocals. Scaggs. His voice. For me, it works on his upbeat cuts, like JoJo or Lowdown. On ballads? Not so much. His vocals are always very hooded, like something's restricting the sound. It's a very narrow sound, like he inhaled helium, but his voice doesn't go skyrocketing up the scale, but it does sound pinched. It's an acquired taste, and I have made my piece with it. One of my favorite songs of his is a ballad (You Can Have Me Anytime.) Still, I have to mention his voice, because it really did impact his appeal as a balladeer. 

The overall sound of the recording? The arrangement? This is the David Foster factor. His thumbprint was all over late 1980's lite pop. This sound resurrected Chicago's career, giving them a third act full of hits.

This is a lovely song. I like the lyrics. A bit mournful, of course, but that's part of it's appeal. Wistfulness is highly underrated. Everything is working here; all those lovely accent bits. It's all very artificial and synthesized, but those were the times. It plays like a lovely, fat, comfy cushion. 

The tick tock of the snare is a bit too obvious, but that's what made it pop on the radio. Love the drama that tiny bridge into the chorus gives this piece, halting the cadence with it's big pronouncement. It sets up the chorus nicely. The chorus has a bit of muscle to it thanks to an additional synth that's percolating beneath the mix, adding additional rhythm, propelling the piece forward and preventing it from stalling like a lump of gush. 

Scaggs is smart. This very easily could have been nothing but sludge, however he keeps the energy up with his vocals, maintaining a very bright sound. That said, there's a bit of wobble here and there in that second verse; undercooked phrasing. Arrangement-wise, the second verse is a repeat of the first, verbatim - why mess with success? 

Huh. Those manly backing vocals on the second chorus. Necessary? I don't like the contrast with Scaggs' voice.  That's James Ingram and his brother Perry on the backing vocals, by the way. I don't think it's a great marriage. And sort of a waste. I mean Ingram has such a distinct sound and has leant it to so many songs successfully, adding a special kind of magic. It barely registers here. Odd choice. Maybe they tried something more and it didn't work? But a nice counter line to Scaggs' lead would have brought an additional dimension to the last chorus. 

Oh, dear. Listen to Scaggs twist the word 'mine'. Painful. Like I said... an acquired taste. Good thing it happens on the fade. 

This is a very well-constructed song. Very pleasant. I could see this being a concert favorite, bic lighters in the air (do they allow that anymore - no, they use glow sticks!)

Bobby Caldwell

Okay. The synth sounds cheap. So does the click track. I do appreciate that Kenny G swoop... at least it's a real instrument. 

Oh. I'd forgotten. Sorry. But Bobby Caldwell's voice? It's a panty dropper. He makes me melt. I've seen him in concert twice. I do like his voice. Huh. this arrangement is a lot less junky. You really hear the pluck of that fake bass. The synth swells are there but kept very much in check. 

There is a bit of drama lacking. He's not over-emoting, and coming off of Scaggs version, Caldwell's interp feels rather shallow. Scaggs vocals were high in the mix and very vibrant from the first note. Caldwell is working a different angle. And he starts to ramp it up as we go into that short bridge into the chorus, where he's immediately swamped by some less than melded backing vocals. Those backing vocals? Big mistake. They sound like he pulled people out of the audience and threw them in front of a microphone. I can't believe he didn't fix them. 

"Stop. Reminiscing," on the other hand? Very nice. Oh, now they're cooking with gas. That's nice. Weird. That echo of "heart of mine" does not work, but the vocals that follow? Just right. 

Oh. You know, I used to hate Kenny G. sounding sax lines, but this just made my heart leap up. That's a nice, warm bit of fill. 

Yeah, I like Caldwell's phrasing on the second verse - the melody line of which plays quite differently from the first - much better than Scaggs'. Scaggs sounded a tad unsure. Caldwell nails it with certainty. It's a very confident, knowing reading. 

I like that airy whistle synth that accents "if I could stop the hands of time..." Very nice. 

So, Caldwell's version runs an additional 30 seconds and once we get to the instrumental break, we discover why. Unfortunately, that is some grade A cheese; a sax and synth combo worthy of a late-1980's sitcom theme. 

After the break, Caldwell turns up the fire a bit. I love how they dig in on "who is she kissing..." That has a great feel.  I don't like what he does with the word 'mine', though, pulling it to the back of his pallet. Sounds whiny. I like the breakdown at the 4:08 mark. Oh, that snaky string line. Mysterious. I like the play out. Nice touch.

The Verdict

Kind of a tie. 

There are things that compliment each version and things that detract. 

Scaggs vocal style is an issue. His wobbly second verse hurts, too. His has a more substantive sound - meatier. I like the energy he brings to this. 

The sax, though dated, is a nice touch throughout. The instrumental break does him no favors, though. His vocals are pleasant (save "mine"), if unremarkable. The backing vocals echoing the song title are not good, but everything else they do works incredibly well, adding warmth. 

Both sound a bit chilly. The nuts and bolt construction of this song is rather glaring, that's why I used the phrase "well-constructed," because it truly sounds like it was built rather than coming from some natural place. But it is also a slice from its time.

If I must (and I must), I will give this to Scaggs. His is the crowd pleaser. And I find the big bottom his production has to offer more pleasing. Caldwell's sounds rather thin, in comparison.  

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Okay, that's my opinion. What about yours? Leave your thoughts in the comments section. I love to hear from you. 

That's all for now. 

Thanks for reading... and listening!

Heart Of Mine - Boz Scaggs


Sixpence Notthewiser said...

I have no idea.
They both sound good to me, but I do think the second one has more... emotion? I don't know.
BTW, that blue-eyed soul phenomena is nothing new, huh? I can imagine the surprise of people seeing a white dude show up when the voice had told them otherwise.


Mistress Maddie said...

I couldn't get through either song. It's one of those songs that make my ears bleed. But that said I'd go with the Boz Scaggs. I did like his voice...had hints of Rick Astley for me.

whkattk said...

Not a fan of either one....