Hump Day Slow Jam of the Week: Luther Vandross, “A House is Not a Home”

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(Welcome to our latest weekly blog feature, the Hump Day Slow Jam of the Week. Every Wednesday we’ll celebrate the silkiest slow jams, the smoothest Quiet Storm ballads and the finest in tailored, sensual R&B from the ’70s and ’80s.)

The Singer: No one epitomized the slick studio perfection of 1980s R&B like Luther Vandross. His 1,000-thread-count voice could be poppy and sprightly (as on “Never Too Much,” from the 1981 album of the same name), but on “A House is Not a Home,” the singer turned down the tempo and plumbed some seriously soulful depths. Vandross’ success carried through the mid-’90s, and he won the 2004 Song of the Year Grammy with co-writer Richard Marx for “Dance with my Father.” Vandross died in 2005, reportedly due to complications from a stroke he suffered two years prior.

The Song: “A House is Not a Home” was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for their songbird-in-residence Dionne Warwick. Her 1964 version was a minor hit, and the song remained a little-known gem the Bacharach-David songbook until Vandross revived it. His version is far slower and more seductive than Warwick’s original, and Luther takes some scat-singing-inspired liberties with the final section.

The Video: There is not much to say about the video, which features Vandross singing with a backing track at the 1988 NAACP Image Awards. However, it’s pretty touching to see Vandross sing the song to Warwick, who is visibly moved by the performance.

Hipster Cachet: Vandross began his career as a session singer, appearing on records by Roberta Flack, Chic and Barbara Streisand. He sang back up on David Bowie’s 1975 album Young Americans and co-wrote that album’s “Fascination” with the Thin White Duke. Speed-rapper Twista sampled a sped-up track of Vandross’ free-from coda for his 2004 hit “Slow Jamz,” featuring a young Kanye West and Jamie Foxx. Luther gets additional props as Kanye boasts, “I’m gonna play some Vandross, you gonna take your pants off.” Video below:

-- Christian Schaeffer

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