Few are synonomous with love songs to the extent Luther Vandross is. His music, more than decade after his demise, remains a penicillin for the lows and woes of love. Despite Luther’s clear penchant for singing of love unrequited, his music remains homogenized in the “love making” category. He sang about “love” but he did not sing about “romance”nearly as much as his legacy is packaged.
A prolific songwriter, Luther revealed to us a man who struggled with isolation, rejection, and uncertainty. His attention to detail in his lyrics did not make listeners feel that they were listening to a novella. Instead, he helped people to find the words that they struggled to articulate from their innermost thoughts.
In his 1983 song “Make Me a Believer,” he expresses his skepticism in such a tender way. He crooned,
“Superman can fly high way up in the sky/’Cause we believe he can/So what we choose to believe can always work out fine/It’s all in the mind/So think of a place and imagine a time/And let’s go be lovers.”
Luther spoke of preparing the vessel for love. So often the idea and sensation of love deceive us. Luther explained in the song that the mind must be prepared to receive. Just the same, sometimes doubt can impede the ability to receive love, as seen in these lines:
“I know the way to persuade me over to your side/And I am sure you can/So if you get me to believe/It all will work out fine/’Cause you’ll blow my mind.” The song shows a constant battle we experience as lovers, which is trying to manage reasonable expectations and never fully letting go of our wildest dreams of love.
A change of perception can help us to realize just how much we can limit ourselves. In his 1985 song, “Other Side of the World,” he sings of someone he had known for “quite some time” and the discovery that the person was actually tailor-made to the love he needed. Luther sang,
“There’s so many stories of love/All with the wonders of love/And so very sad I would be/’Cause none belonged to me/Could be it’s all for the voice/So I finally let it rest/Sad but I thought that maybe/Love wasn’t meant for me…”
Often times as people, we become so engulfed in the love stories we have seen or heard that we forget to appreciate that our own love story will be unlike anyone else’s. As Luther makes this revelation as the song progresses, you can sense the emotional relief he received from realizing the beauty in his own journey to love.
“So crazy how things can change your life/Now that love is you, everything is right/And loneliness is the other side/Of the world…”
Our minds limit us far more than our locale.
The willingness to remain still was often a topic in Luther’s music. “Wait for Love,” released in 1986, reflects someone who had dealt with enough bruises from love that he could recognize a healthy love when it actually came his way. He sang,
“When you take the chance on love you see/It’s not a waste of time if you truly believe/The impossible can be/So hold on tight if you think you’re right/’Cause nothing hurts as bad as when you see.You gave up too easily.”
In the vast majority of Luther’s songs, he offered some sort of resolution to the long suffering of love. While he might not have obtained the object of his affection, he at the very least gained a greater sense of self. In those tunes where his desires were matched, he had matured into a person who could enjoy the lushness of love.
The intention of this piece is not to put a veil of sadness over Luther’s legacy. Instead, we as people should celebrate the ability to be our most vulnerable selves, knowing the importance examining ourselves, and not being comfortable with settling.
Luther left us with many more standards that would take years to encapsulate. In addition to the gift of being able to write his thoughts, he had an unparalleled ability to reinterpret the works of others. Below is a list of songs he sang that are worth a further observation:
- “Better Love” (1983)–a call for his lover to weigh the risk-reward of running off with a new love
- “Promise Me” (1983)–after reflecting about time away from his love, the distance has reignited his passion to make the relationship work. The piano chords are seductive and lure you in.
- “Creepin'” (1985)–the joys and frustration of falling for someone who does not even realize how sprung you are. A great listen when battling insomnia because of its repetition.
- “Any One Who Had a Heart” (1986)–a Dionne Warwick cover, Luther credited seeing her perform this tune live during his teenage years as the revelation that he should pursue a music career. It’s a heart-wrenching portrayal of being exploited in love.
- “I Can Make It Better” (1996)–by the late 1990s Luther had a period where he infused the blues into more of his work. This song is a battle cry to someone who has yet to discover self-worth.
- “I’m Only Human” (1998)–Luther did a bit of reverse psychology in this jazz-blues collaboration with Cassandra Wilson. Rather than questioning himself about love, he was able to convince his subject to do the same.