Anyone who had a heart could appreciate the music of Luther Vandross. The singer was gifted with one of music’s most amazing voices and the legacy he left behind of love music is one the world still needs to hear. Vandross, an eight-time Grammy winner, was beloved for his amazing runs and his mastery of romantic soul.
There are a lot of singers who have come before and since, but very few exist in his special lane. Just recently “Hidden Gems,” a collection of lesser-known Vandross songs was released with new liner notes written by longtime collaborator Fonzi Thornton.
Sadly, Vandross left us way too early on July 1, 2005 but he lives on through his classic songs. Here, we choose five of his very best. You might disagree, but we think these reflect the diversity of this music maestro’s towering talent.
5. ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART (1986)
No one could sing heartbreak better than Luther Vandross. Written by Burt Bachrach and Hal Davis originally for Dionne Warwick, she hit with the song in 1963. Legend has it she recorded it in one take. Vandross’ version was more of a deep album cut from his 1986 double platinum album “Give Me The Reason,” but became a fan favorite anyway because of his beautiful take on it. Vandross did several uptempo songs like his big hits “Never Too Much” and “Bad Boy/Having a Party” and as good as he was with those, he was pure genius on his sadder recordings. Vandross had a way of using his voice to wring every bit of emotion out of the notes through his runs and use of melisma. If you’ve ever been brokenhearted, you have probably soothed your soul at least once with a Vandross song.
4. IF THIS WORLD WERE MINE (1982)
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell recorded this song back in 1967. It became a hit for them, but for many, the 1982 version that Vandross recorded with Cheryl Lynn is the definitive one. Their version was recorded for Lynn’s 1982 album “Instant Love” and it was a #4 R&B hit, surpassing the chart placement of the original. It’s arguably among the greatest duets of all time. Vandross and Lynn’s voices blend perfectly as each declares their undying love and support for each other, and all the blessings of the universe they would provide each other if they could. If you were born after 1982, it’s very possible that your parents either got married to this song, or conceived you to this song…or maybe both.
3. SO AMAZING (1986)
Vandross must have been truly in love when he wrote this. He is the sole songwriter on “So Amazing” penning it without his longtime collaborators Nat Adderley, Jr. or Marcus Miller. This is another album cut from his “Give Me The Reason” CD but it’s taken on a life of its own because of how much people love it. While Vandross’ heartbreak songs were truly sad, this celebration of love is also exceptional. If you’ve been in love and never played this song…well, then you’ve never truly been in love.
2. SUPERSTAR/UNTIL YOU COME BACK TO ME (THAT’S WHAT I’M GONNA DO) (1983)
This classic song was not written by Vandross. It is from his platinum 1983 “Busy Body,” album but was actually written in the 60’s by Bonnie Bramlett and Leon Russell. Many people have done versions of it, including the famed brother/sister duo The Carpenters who had a big hit with it in 1971. This version, which incorporates elements of Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do)” has become one of Luther’s most popular songs.
The recorded version is over 9:00 long and while it originally written about a groupie, it now stands as an ode to longing and love. Luther’s riffs on this song should be inducted into some kind of riff Hall of Fame. When he sings “Loneliness is such a sad affair” using his gift with melisma to stretch those lyrics out, it’s like he’s crying over the notes. Vandross’ admitted struggles to find love in real life may be one of the reasons why he’s so good at conveying sadness, pain and longing and this song is one of the best examples of it.
1. A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME (1981)
Watch video below.
Who among you have known the feeling of being broken and bereft, sitting in the house alone when someone has left you and you’re surrounded with nothing but memories? Well, if you’re lucky in love, maybe that never happened to you. If you haven’t been that lucky, “A House Is Not a Home” is the song to drown your sorrows in. Also written for Dionne Warwick by Hal David and Burt Bachrach, the song was recorded by Brook Benton, among others. But Luther’s definitive version made it his signature song. There are so many superlatives to describe the way he sings “A House Is Not a Home” with the dramatic pauses, the riffs, the melismatic mastery of his performance both on record an in the live version from the NAACP awards you can see below, but there aren’t really enough. Vandross was a master of song, and this is his masterpiece.