Classics: Alexander O’Neal – What Is This Thing Called Love (Dee Classic 12″ Mix) (Tabu Records)
“What is this thing called love?” An interrogation which has undoubtedly been on everyone’s lips since the world began…
Takin’ the center stage, Alexander O’ Neal is most likely the best singer Flyte Time moguls Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis have ever produced. The man leavin’ and instantly and like no other imprint over the R&B production, from the mid-80’s until the mid-90’s. Meanwhile delivering an impressive series of seminal classics. From ‘Hearsay’ to Fake’ and ‘Criticize’ to name a few. With this gem, from his 1991 ‘All True Man’ album makin’ no exception…
Brilliantly showing the existence of a bridge between R&B and House vibes, David Morales brought it to another dimension at the end. This along with Eric Kupper on Keyboards and Teddy Burrus on piano. The threesome remaining true to the Def Mix sound signature meanwhile spicin’ up the whole with aerial string parts over a smooth bass-driven rhythm pattern.
What is this thing we call love? Don’t look any further…
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Alexander O’Neal first saw the light of the day back on Nov. 15, 1953 in Natchez, MS, a few months after his father got killed. He attended Alcorn State University after graduating from high school in his hometown. And at age of 20, he relocated to Minneapolis, where he started working as a petrol-pump attendant. He also happened to be a keen football player before venturing into singing. Believing in his vocal abilities, he sang with local group The Philadelphia Stories before forming his own bands. First with The Black Market Band then The Mystics.
O’Neal delivered his first single – ‘Do You Dare’ – on Erect Records back in 1982. Meanwhile his follow-up – ‘Attitude’ – saw the light the year after on Rich Records, featuring Jesse Johnson on guitar. He then came to join Flyte Tyme as their lead singer. A band which included Monte Moir, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. But a disagreement with Prince would get him to soon after leave the band and be replaced by Morris Day.
In 1984, O’Neal signed a deal with Clarence Avant‘s Tabu Records. There, he did some backing vocals for labelmates The S.O.S. Band and Cherrelle. The year after seeing him releasing his eponymous debut-album. But also duetting with Cherrelle on ‘Saturday Love’ and eventually score his first R&B Top 10 single.
1987 saw him gettin’ a new status with the release of his ‘Hearsay’ album. An effort which yelded a bunch of classics for him. From ‘Fake’ to ‘Criticize’. But also ‘(What Can I Say) To Make You Love Me’, ‘The Lovers’ and ‘Never Knew Love Like This’. Eventually enjoying greater success in the UK than he was in his native US. Such as demonstrated by six sold out nights at Wembley Arena. ‘Hearsay’ reapparing the year after under the form of an ‘All Mixed Up’ remix album.
Alexander O’Neal released his fourth album – ‘All True Man’ – by the beginning of 1991. But although it featured extra charting singles such as its title cut and ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ (with remixes courtesy of David Morales and Frankie Knuckles), its sales did not reach the level of ‘Hearsay’. No more than its follow-up – ‘Love Makes No Sense’ – which was his first without without production from Jam and Lewis and his last for Tabu back in 1993. Eventually marking O’Neal‘s progressive fall along with time. Such as his signature with Motown although no singles or albums saw the light at the time.
From then on, none of O’Neal‘s attempts to recapture his glory happened to work unfortunately. Including his latest ones such as his re-recording of ‘Fake’ with Mancunian band Mamma Freedom back in 2016. With the same applying to ‘Hearsay30’, a re-recording of his 1987 ‘Hearsay’ album.