Chart Week: November 14, 1981
Song: “Never Too Much” – Luther Vandross
Chart Position: #37, 6th week on the chart, first week in the Top 40. Peaked at #33 for two weeks.
Happy Thanksgiving week to you all! A quick entry based on a Casey anecdote about how a pop artist paid the bills before he started making hits of his own.
The Voice of a Generation. The Velvet Voice. Soundtrack to more babies being made than any artist of his era.
Those are a few of the nicknames Luther Ronzoni Vandross Jr. picked up over his career. That last one is unofficial, of course.
“Never Too Much” was indeed the first single of his solo career. But Luther had been on the charts before. He was a highly valued backup singer to some of the biggest stars of the Seventies, lending vocals to tracks by Donna Summer, Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Carly Simon, and Chaka Khan. For my readers, the song you probably heard his voice on first was David Bowie’s “Young Americans.”
Luther did more than sing backup to other stars, though. He wrote and sang advertising jingles for a variety of major companies, including Pepsi, Juicy Fruit gum, Miller beer, and NBC. As I was looking into his jingle career, I found this amazing ad for Gino’s pizza. Which, unfortunately, will not embed in this post. Please, click the link.
There’s an equally amazing video on Facebook where Luther talks about the making of that ad.
In this countdown, Casey mentioned some of those ads Luther’s voice appeared on, and suggested all that work had made him both famous and very comfortable financially, an assertion the Facebook video seems to confirm. That wasn’t enough, though.
“The money is fine,” Casey quoted Luther as saying, “but sometimes I want to sing a whole song!”
Luther got his chance and capitalized on it, becoming one of the most successful soul singers of the next two decades.
He wrote, composed, arranged, and produced this track, along with most of his debut album. From the first notes, Luther carved out a unique space in music. “Never Too Much” is a cool mashup of contemporary soul and yacht rock, largely thanks to its impeccable production. Every sound is polished for maximum shininess. There’s a jazzy quality to how Luther sings the verses. The song is not too far off from the music George Benson was making around the same time. Luther is always in the pocket with his vocals, never showing off or pushing too far, which was his great strength. His voice was warm, comforting, sophisticated, and smooth as silk.
“Never Too Much” was #1 on the soul chart for two weeks, the first of his seven Soul/R&B number ones. There were bigger things to come for Luther on the pop chart later in his career. This was fine way to introduce himself to the world as a singer capable of carrying an entire song on his own. 7/10