Having run across this LP at last week’s Pasadena City College Flea Market and Record Swap, and added it to my vinyl collection, seemed a good time to write about it and one song in particular. My tendency toward 80s songstresses who could belt out soulful ballads is showing once more as I love this artist’s initial success. Trust me, there are worse habits to have. Steve Huey described for Allmusic the attraction of this vocalist:
“With her classy, refined brand of romantic soul, Anita Baker was one of the definitive quiet storm singers of the ’80s. Gifted with a strong, supple alto, Baker was influenced not only by R&B, but jazz, gospel, and traditional pop, which gave her music a distinctly adult sophistication. Smooth and mellow, but hardly lifeless, it made her one of the most popular romantic singers of her time.”
The little lady with the big voice, Anita Baker, caught me like few others way back in the decade of Reagan. Introduced by someone then close1, too. Her 1986 major studio album debut, Rapture, was filled with a number of tracks that made significant inroads on airwaves, various music parades, and even a popular TV show of the day. Moonlighting‘s season opener The Son Also Rises wonderfully culminated2 to her majestic Sweet Love hit.
One of the great albums of the era, Rapture was a success story in more ways than one. As Alex Henderson related:
“In fact, Baker was earning her living as a legal secretary in her native Detroit when she signed with Elektra in the mid-’80s. Elektra gave her a strong promotional push, and the equally superb Rapture became the megahit that The Songstress should have been. To its credit, Elektra made her a major star by focusing on Baker‘s strong point — romantic but gospel-influenced R&B/pop ballads and “slow jams,” sometimes with jazz overtones — and letting her be true to herself. Rapture gave Baker one moving hit after another, including “Sweet Love,” “Caught up in the Rapture,” “Same Ole Love,” and “No One in This World.””
There’s not a number on it one could label as just filler. Her breakout album was that strong, as year-end awards and honors attested. The Top 10 Billboard single Sweet Love and album winning Grammys, as well as scoring very well across pop, R&B, and jazz charts. Rolling Stone magazine listed it #36 on their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties. Credit Michael J. Powell, who produced most of its tracks, along with Ms. Baker.
I still own the original CD I bought back then to this day. Yet, I’ll single out the last track on Rapture that strikes a distinct chord. Watch Your Step, music, lyrics, and keyboard by the singer3, wasn’t a pop hit. Only logging on R&B/Hip Hop stations of the time, but believe me it was a worthy number off this already stellar album. One that left the listener wondering what brought them to this point, only wishing to repeat it. Per Rolling Stone:
“Interestingly, despite its torch songs and paeans to love, Rapture ends with the edgy “Watch Your Step” — one of three songs Baker wrote or co-wrote. It’s a relatively uptempo R&B number that warns an inconstant lover, “You better watch your step/You’ll fall and hurt yourself one day.” Baker says: “The last thing that people hear from you should be something to stir your emotions, to shake you up. I don’t like to leave people relaxed. I like to start off relaxing them and then build up to some sort of crescendo.””
Philandering lovers can, and do, upset the apple cart of love. This ditty made that known, with a certain rapture, no less. It carried a been there, done that resonance. No matter how it’s sliced, Watch Your Step maintained an infectious melody and lyric throughout its musical complaint. One that gave warning, along with its passion, like few before. By beat and attitude, Anita’s song being one both sides of the equation recognized, even if the person informed continued their ways.
I know the kind of pain you offer Baby, I've felt your kind of pain before Change your mind like revolving door Change your women like you change your clothes Chorus: I'm telling you You better watch your step You'll fall and hurt yourself one day You better watch your step You'll fall and hurt yourself one day I don't understand your thinking Don't know why you do the things you do Break my heart, disregard my feelings Breakin' hearts, some kind of game to you (Repeat Chorus) It's so easy to tease me It's so easy to let me down It's so easy to mislead me So easy to leave me hangin' around No where to come down Baby, we should just forget this Baby, just throw me out of your mind I won't stay, not while you mistreat me I won't stay, it's just a waste of my time (Repeat Chorus)
- It would be she-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned who turned me on to Anita Baker, and even favors her in looks. ↩
- David and Madelyn teasingly slow dancing at episode’s end to this song had fans all aflutter. ↩
- Donald Albright, Donald Griffin,Paulinho da Costa, Sir Gant, and Ricky Lawson performed instrumental backing; background vocals by Alex Brown, Bunny Hall, Darryl Phinnissee, Jim Gilstrap, and Vesta Williams on the tune. ↩