Before there was Rapture, there was The Songstress.
Anita Baker’s name became known to the masses after 1986′s Rapture swept onto VH-1 playlists and into living rooms, but it wasn’t her debut album. It wasn’t even her first hit album. As a member of Chapter 8. she had a minor hit with “I Just Want To Be Your Girl” (later providing the musical bed for Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony’s guilty pleasure “1st Of Tha Month”.) After she was allegedly let go from Chapter 8 (because some label head apparently said she couldn’t sing), Anita laid in the cut for a minute and then got scooped up by a tiny label called Beverly Glen Records. Beverly Glen was riding high at the time off of the success of Bobby Womack’s comeback album The Poet. Anita recorded her debut album, called it The Songstress, and it became a Top 15 album on Billboard’s Soul Albums chart in the summer of Thriller. No video, tiny indie label, barely any publicity and the album still damn near went Gold. Much of that was thanks to “Angel”, a slow burner with some tasty George Benson-esque guitar licks atop Anita’s sumptuous (and unique) vocal tones. I vaguely remember hearing it on the radio when I was a kid (probably because I spent the summer of 1983 in Anita’s hometown of Detroit) but it became a Quiet Storm classic as a recurrent, especially when Anita became a Grammy-winning megastar.
Pre-Rapture, Beverly Glen was dealing with financial woes and probably some shady business practices-Anita said that she never received a dime from The Songstress’s original release. Post-Rapture, Anita sued the shit out of Beverly Glen and got the rights to the album, which she re-released in 1991. Sharp lady.
“Angel” might be my fave Anita song of all time. It’s not overly orchestrated or slushy, and it doesn’t have the ‘80s production that immediately dates some of her more commercially successful work. Just that voice, that guitar, and that groove. It’s feline, but not in an immediately sexy way. “Angel” just luxuriates. It basks.