Sunday, January 11, 2004

Now is the time for us to praise semi-famous men. Men like Gerald Levert, following in the sterling tradition of Frankie Beverly as men of R&B who, basically, have never crossed over and will never do so. [Sure, Levert's "Casanova" was a top 5 hit back in '87, but his group never graced the pop top 40 again, and Gerald himself has only done so twice, never getting higher than #28.] Gerald will never hurt for money - his albums are consistent gold sellers, and always spin off hits at Adult R&B radio (where his most recent single, "U Got That Love," just last week topped Radio and Records' Urban AC chart) - just as white audiences will look at you with befuddlement at the mere mention of his name: "Who's that?" But the greatest reason to praise Gerald is that he's had not one, but two superb singles which open with the sound of a telephone.

The first was his solo debut back in 1991, the title track of his Private Line album. "Private Line" is, first and foremost, a very cleverly-written kiss-off song:

"It's good to see you glad to be in your company
And it's so funny 'cause it brings back old memories
How it used to be and now you wanna come back
You said I was in too deep
You said I was too serious
And girl you broke my heart
When you broke it off between the two of us
Now it's a shame and now you wanna come back

I can't give you my private line
'Cause you be calling me all the time
A year ago would have been fine
Now I gotta give you my service line
You can call me anytime

I never thought that I would get over you
You left me broken down lonely, sad and blue
And it's a shame and now you wanna come back
I finally realized that I could make it on my own
And it don't hurt no more that I'm all alone
Ain't it funny baby that you wanna come back

I'll call you back I'll swear I'll get back with you
All you gotta do, gotta do is call me
Call me, call me, call me on my service line
I've gotten over you baby
And I don't need that attitude
You can call me anytime"

I mean, c'mon, now. That's good, 'cause it's so cold. But when Gerald sings it, even the harshest kiss-off sounds full of love and emotion. But it's not just the lyrics, nor Gerald's voice (which always sounds good). This is also an impeccable-sounding record. Yeah, the production's slightly dated, but it's tough and muscular and complements Gerald's strong, meaty voice like perfection. As the Allmusic review of the album states, it's got "a locomotive rhythm track and a churnin' horn arrangement." Indeed.

Then, four years later, G did it again, releasing "Answering Service." This song was essentially the flipside of "Private Line" - he's hurt his girl, and she's not taking his calls, making him talk to her answering service (remember, both singles were pre-cell phone mania). As opposed to "Line," it's a ballad. But what woman (or man) wouldn't respond to a message like this from Gerald Levert? He's second only to Luther Vandross as far as romantic big men go, and this song's a fine example why.

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