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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Who Did It Better? In The Name Of Love

Who Did It Better? 
In The Name Of Love

So, sorry to disappoint, but...

No, this is not the Thompson Twins song. 

Or the U2 song. 

Or the Earth, Wind & Fire song.

Or the Martin Garrix song.

Or that one by The Supremes... Stop!

This song... has a peculiar birth. 

It began life as instrumental created by two jazz-funk/jazz -soul legends, only to be altered with lyrics by a true soul legend. Then, before said soul legend could record it, an R&B songstress glided in with the ease that seems to have blessed her life like a breeze. All three artists recorded it, with two of them releasing as a single, and even though it didn't make that significant of an impact on the charts, it ended up with a Grammy nomination.

In The Name of Love was originally written  for saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. by bassist William Salter, and percussionist Ralph MacDonald and recorded as an instrumental for Washington, Jr.'s 1981 Winelight album, which also featured MacDonald's best-known co-composition Just the Two of Us. That song, a single featuring vocals by Bill Withers, with a saxophone performance by Grover Washington, Jr., reached the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and has since been covered and sampled by many artists, It should be noted Just The Two Of Us, also written by Bill Withers, William Salter, and Ralph MacDonald, would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1981.

How did Withers get involved?

From 1977 to 1985, Withers, was at war with his label, Columbia Records who was interfering with the song selection and recording process for his next album. So, rather than continue fighting that battle, Withers found a different route for his creative output, concentrating on one-off projects, such as Just The Two Of Us. That collaboration was so successful, he decided to create lyrics for another track on the album, In The Name of Love. However, Washington, Jr. wanted to do the track as an instrumental, so the song, as most of us know it, languished, unrecorded.

Around this same time, Roberta Flack was finalizing song selection for her album, I'm The One, and it was decided that  In The Name Of Love would be included. It made sense. MacDonald had written Flack's Grammy winning song, Where Is The Love, back in 1972. So the two had quite a bit of history together.  

At this time, Flack found herself in a bit of a slump, not having had a Top 40 hit since 1978. That would change in 1982, when the theme song for the film Making Love, featured on this album, would climb all the way to #13. In The Name Of Love was chosen as the third single and while it failed to make the Hot 100, it did chart at #80 on the R&B Chart and #24 on the A/C chart. 

Two years later, Ralph MacDonald, one of the song's co-writers was working on his album, Universal Rhythm.  He and Withers got together with plans to finally record In the Name of Love, as they had conceived it, with vocals. They used the same arrangement in a rearranged form, minus Washington's saxophone track. This time, the song managed to nab #58 on the Hot 100, #13 on the R&B Chart and #6 on the A/C chart. In addition, it ended up being nominated for a Grammy for vocal performance of the year.

And that's the whole story.

Now, on to the competition!

The Song: In The Name Of Love
The Competitors: Grover Washington, Jr. vs. Flack vs. MacDonald feat. Withers

In The Name Of Love - Grover Washington, Jr.

In The Name of Love - Roberta Flack

In The Name of Love - Ralph MacDonald feat. Bill Withers

Grover Washington, Jr.

Initially, I was not going to include this version in the competition, but you know what? The man was there first... so let's see what he has to offer. 

Lovely and warm intro, courtesy of the Fender Rhodes. Once the Washington, Jr. appears its... kind of snoozy. This is jazz-lite at it's lightest. How does he keep it from becoming elevator music? Well, his phrasing helps, as does that muted horn. It's all very warm and fuzzy. 

The mix is a little dense, not getting a sense of space or air between the instruments.

Oh, he brings a lot to that little bridge into the key change... and then. Huh. I must say, I have to be in a certain setting and mood (preferably with a cocktail in hand) in order to enjoy this kind of thing. His mastery is clearly on display here, and there are moments of brightness, but overall this remains rather sleepy.  The instrumental break here, it's a lot to unpack. Suffice to say, it's entertaining with nothing unexpected served up. Starting at the 3:05 mark is some of his best playing. But by 3:44 we've returned to the actual song structure and... back to sleepy town. He plays saxophone with the phrasing typically reserved for a trumpet player. 

And by the 4:15 mark we embark on the play out and he's bringing in all sorts of colors we have not heard before. Very funky-lite. A bit shrill? Only in comparison with what came before it. 

It's a solid song and I can see why Withers was eager to put a human voice to it. 

Roberta Flack

Roberta can be so sleepy sounding... this can hardly be considered upbeat, but at least she's working with more of a groove. 

The intro is lovely and warm and exactly the same as the original version - a nice Fender Rhodes, manned by Richard Tee, who also played on Grover Washington, Jr.'s version.  She's pitched a bit high and her phrasing is too relaxed for my taste, but it's  a lovely, relaxed sound. 

Guess what? That's Grover Washington, Jr. on the sax! Roberta was not fooling around. 

This mix is very adult contemporary, lite-jazz. Not your thing? I understand. But at the time, it felt sophisticated and very urban. While I wish her vocals were a bit more focused, I am enjoying the interplay between Washington, Jr.'s sax and her voice. 

So, there are two ways of interpreting her phrasing. Is she being incredibly sly with the syncopation or is it simply lacking? There's a rhythmic component to the vocal lines in this song and she sure is muddying the waters. 

Oh, the instrumental break is nice. Love the subtlety of the rhythm section and, of course, Washington, Jr. has this down cold. 

Flack doesn't change it up one iota. Burning hot is not something the lady ever seems to do. Her emotional thermostat seems to only vary by a few degrees. Not that it's not warm and comforting.

Love Washington, Jr. into the play out, but not feeling those back up vocals. Heavy handed?

Huh. Two minutes and 35 seconds of song followed by one minute and 25 seconds of play out, during which the backing vocals carry the load and do become a bit more interesting, while Roberta opens up a tad, but not enough for me. When you bring in a choir that solid, you better be prepared to cut loose. Instead, Flack opts to occupy the corners, flitting about with her lovely voice, but with no intention of bringing anything home. 

Still, very pleasant. Love the groove. 

Ralph MacDonald feat. Bill Withers

That intro is abbreviated, but pretty much the same as Flack's. 

Withers voice is so powerful. And mixed a bit hot and high, here. I don't think this is his best vocal performance. I don't like all the scooping. I do like all the energy he brings to the table. The smile never leaves his voice. I find his phrasing to be succinct and filled with subtle syncopation. 

I don't like this mix. 

The interplay between the guitar and the keyboard (Richard Tee and a Fender Rhodes, again...) is fun. I like the way it lilts in and out in the backdrop. MacDonald makes his presence felt in the second verse. What is that piece of percussion? I can't name it. Maybe a woodblock?  No, a maraca followed up with some flat up cowbell. 

As this rolls on, Withers grows sassier and that's fun. He's loosened up considerably by the second bridge. The percussion is a bit much, but this is MacDonald's album. Oh, interesting. The bridge into the instrumental is little more than a pair of modulations. Necessary? Odd. And we get a trumpet. Huh. That's some nice blowing. Great phrasing, I wonder who's playing. I tried to find the album credits, and failed. 

Withers continues to stretch out and by the time the back up singers arrive (with a more concise sound than Flack's version and a bit of Hammond organ in tow), he's ready to see if he can get this thing to take flight. While he certainly brings more to it than Flack, and it's a good attempt, I don't think he quite makes it. 

Certainly a pleasant listen. I think I would have brought back in the trumpet on the play out and allowed them to filter in and out in the background. 

Listen to me... second guessing greatness.

The Verdict

As an instrumental? It's fine, but lacks distinction.

As a pop song? I don't know that it ever gets its feet off the ground in either version.

I am normally a total sucker for anything Withers breathes on, but the mix here is too harsh. His vocals never seem to find a pad to launch from. 

Flack can be so damn laid back. But I like the smile that is in her voice, just as much as I like the one found in Withers'. 

This is a hard one. So it goes to the instrumentalists. And there... I have to say, I prefer Flack's choice of saxophone (Grover Washington, Jr.!) over that of  MacDonald's trumpet player. 

So, I give this one to Flack - although it might as well be a tie. 

(Imagine if all four of them had come together and recorded this!)

--- ---

Still awake? Enough to offer up an opinion? 

Leave your thoughts in the comments section. You know I love to hear what you're thinking. 

That's all for now. 

Until next time...

Thanks for reading... and listening. 


whkattk said...

Well, I'll have to come back for this one. It appears Avast has "updated" the sound system on my laptop yet again. No mic, no speakers. Again.
Withers was okay....but I always loved Roberta Flack's voice. She gets my vote without even being able to listen.

Mistress Maddie said...

I never hared of the song...but after listening I thought made Ralph MacDonald...but then I knew for sure Roberta had this one...not even a contest to me. Pure silk to my ears.

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Same. I think it belongs to Roberta Flack because the instrumental version is too 'elevator' for me. Washington was super cool, though.
I have to watch Making Love again. That movie was trendsetting.


whkattk said...

Okay. I'm back. Sound all fixed - again! Though I had to figure it out myself. Again!
My conclusion is the same. Sleepy though she may be, Flack still gets my vote.

BatRedneck said...

I'm feeling straightforward tonight so:
- MacDonald/Withers: I like the voice but he makes it so obvious it's all just a money-akin cover that it quickly gets boring. Rating is a D, elevator music.
- Roberta Flack: typical interlude between two dance moods in old fashioned discos, the kind of music which sole purpose is to awake slow dancers and warns the others that something more groovy is to come. Rating is a C, transition music, yet forgettable.
- Grover Washington Jr: I'd put this tune on to advertise my friends or family that the time is up to gather and have a drink before dinner. Then, once all of the in the living room I'd fade it to transition over anything appropriate - Electric Light Orchestra? Bach? Anything worth the people attending.

PS: to me 'In the name of love' refers first to 'Pride' from U2, then to the lovely 'Elephant Song Medley' from Moulin Rouge :-p