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Johnny Mathis’ Expanded “Special Part of Me” Highlights Paul Anka and Michael Jackson Collaboration

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Johnny Mathis - A Special Part of MeIt’s been a wonderful, wonderful time to be a fan of Johnny Mathis, with the singer’s long-lost Mercury Records catalogue recently having been upgraded to CD by Real Gone Music.  As 2013 opens, another label is turning its attention to the Mathis catalogue.  Funky Town Grooves is returning the 1984 album A Special Part of Me to CD in a first-ever expanded edition due on January 15.

Mathis’ association with Columbia Records began in 1956 when he was just 21 years of age, and these many years later, he’s still a label fixture, with his most recent album (2010’s Let It Be Me: Mathis in Nashville) having arrived on Columbia.   Other than the 1963-1966 tenure at Mercury, Columbia saw Mathis through every conceivable genre of music.  While at Mercury, Mathis dipped his toes in the waters of the “covers album,” in which he would record “the Johnny Mathis” version of popular, charting songs.  The romantic, lush tones that had served him so well on readings of Broadway and Hollywood standards in his early years proved remarkably adaptable to songs by Bacharach and David, Lennon and McCartney, and Jimmy Webb.

Producer/composer/arranger Thom Bell was one of the first to realize Mathis’ untapped potential as a true soul singer, tailoring the lush 1973 album I’m Coming Home to the artist’s rich vocal talents.  Steadily recording throughout the seventies, Mathis reached the “top of the pops” in 1978 with “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” a duet with Deniece Williams, and stayed current with disco-flavored cuts (1978’s “Gone, Gone, Gone” for one), hit film themes (Marvin Hamlisch and the Bergmans’ “The Last Time I Felt Like This,” with Jane Olivor, from Same Time, Next Year) and even a funky, dancefloor-ready collaboration with CHIC (the still-unreleased album I Love My Lady).

We meet Mathis in 1984 after the jump!  Plus: a pre-order link and full track listing.

1984’s A Special Part of Me was produced by Columbia A&R veep Denny Diante, with arrangements from Michel Colombier.  An A-team including saxophonist Ernie Watts, bassist Abe Laboriel, percussionist Paulinho da Costa, horn arranger Jerry Hey and background vocalists James Ingram, Philip Ingram and Angela Bofill was assembled.  Like many of Mathis’ underrated albums, it drew its material from a wide variety of writers including Leon Ware (“Priceless”), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (“Right Here and Now”), Wendy Waldman (“One Love”) and Colombier and Kathy Wakefield (“Lead Me to Your Love”).  The album’s title song was co-written and performed as duet with Bofill.  The song “The Best is Yet to Come,” alas, is not the Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh song but rather a composition from the A.R. Scott/B. Short team.  Two singles were drawn from the album.  Vinnie Barrett and Bobby Eli’s smoky Philadelphia soul classic “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” originally recorded by Major Harris, was sung with Mathis’ favorite partner Deniece Williams and reached No. 14 Hot AC/No. 32 R&B/No. 106 Pop.  Keith Stegall and Marvin Morrow’s “Simple” was also released as a single, and it reached a berth of No. 6 Hot AC/No. 43 R&B/No. 81 Pop.

Much of the attention surrounding A Special Part of Me, though, centers on the track “Love Never Felt So Good.”  The song was written by Paul Anka, Kathy Wakefield and Michael Jackson, one of two songs written in an abortive collaboration between Anka and the King of Pop circa 1982.  The other, of course, was “I Never Heard,” which Jackson re-recorded as “This is It.”  That melodic confection became the title track of Kenny Ortega’s documentary film chronicling the late singer’s final rehearsals for a concert stand that would never happen.  “Love Never Felt So Good” is a glossy, up-tempo production appealingly sung by Mathis.

Funky Town Grooves’ new edition, limited to 2,000 units, has been remastered from the original tapes by Sean Brennan at Battery Studios, and includes two bonus tracks, vocal and instrumental recordings of “Simple.”  It’s available on January 15, and can be pre-ordered below!

Johnny Mathis, A Special Part of Me: Expanded Edition (Columbia CK 38718, 1984 – reissued Funky Town Grooves FTG-310, 2013)

  1. Simple
  2. Love Won’t Let Me Wait (with Deniece Williams)
  3. The Best is Yet to Come
  4. Lead Me to Your Love
  5. You’re a Special Part of Me (with Angela Bofill)
  6. Love Never Felt So Good
  7. Priceless
  8. One Love
  9. Right Here, Right Now
  10. Simple (Vocal Version) (source TBD – possibly from Columbia 12-inch single AS 1867 or 44-05034, 1984)
  11. Simple (Instrumental Version) (likely from Columbia 12-inch single AS 1867 or 44-05034, 1984)

Written by Joe Marchese

January 10, 2013 at 09:52

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