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ON THE RECORD: Which Bowie album did Luther Vandross help record?

VANDROSS

Singer Luther Vandross entertains the crowd at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in August 2000. Vandross was invited to work on one of David Bowie's albums. 

I’ve heard that Luther Vandross played a prominent role in the recording one of David Bowie’s albums. Which one?

Luther Vandross began his career as a session singer in the early '70s. In addition to singing, he wrote “Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day)” in 1972 for the Broadway musical “The Wiz” and also wrote many advertising jingles. After being introduced to David Bowie, Vandross was invited to work on Bowie’s 1975 album “Young Americans.” The two worked together so well that they even collaborated on the song “Fascination.” After the album was released, Vandross sang backup on Bowie’s tour. While on tour with Bowie, Vandross met Bette Midler who asked him to sing background vocals on her 1976 album “Songs for the New Depression” and on her corresponding tour. After working with these two performers, Vandross’ services were in high demand. He sang backup on songs by Barbra Streisand, Chic, J. Geils Band, and Carly Simon. He was also the vocal arranger for “No More Tears,” the No. 1 hit for Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer in 1979. Vandross finally achieved stardom on his own when his 1981 album, “Never Too Much,” sold over two million copies and became the first of seven No. 1 albums on the R&B charts. Tragically, Vandross died in 2005, never having fully recovered from the stroke he suffered in 2005. He was only 54 years old.

OK, I admit to being a fan of the AMC television series, “The Walking Dead.” I was watching their Season Four marathon this past weekend. In the episode entitled “Internment” the soundtrack included a haunting song at the end that I am hoping you’ll be able to help identify for me. The only part of the lyric I remember is “I’ll take the long way ’round.”

The song is “Oats in the Water” by the British folk singer/songwriter, Ben Howard. It can be found on his 2012 EP, “The Burgh Island.” The use of the song in that particular episode was an instant hit with the show’s fans and became known informally as “Hershel’s Theme” after the character featured in that segment. Howard grew up in the picturesque south Devon seaside town of Bantham. His parents exposed him at an early age to the music of Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel. By the time he was eleven, he was playing the guitar and writing songs. He went to university intending to become a journalist but dropped out just six months shy of completing his degree in order to pursue his passion for music. Although songs like “Oats” are rather dark, Howard has told interviewers that his was a happy childhood. In 2013, following his winning Brit Awards for Best Breakthrough Act and Best Male Solo Artist, Howard gave an interview with Radio.com in which he said that he wrote “Oats” in a basement with no natural light in Morocco over the course of a few days while fighting a fever. His second album, released in 2014, is entitled “I Forget Where We Were.” It peaked at No. 23 on the billboard Top 200 album chart.

What’s the name of that song? Where are they now? What does that lyric mean? Send your questions about songs, albums, and the musicians who make them to MusicOnTheRecord@gmail.com. Bradford Brady and John Maron are freelance music writers based in Raleigh, N.C.

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