“Back Together Again” was the last song Donny Hathaway added his voice to before his suicide in early 1979. Actually, I read somewhere (can’t remember where…might have been David Nathan’s book The Soulful Divas, might have been the 33 1/3 book on Donny Hathaway Live!) that it was actually completed on the day of Donny’s passing.
Given that sad information, one might then infer that “Back Together Again” gives some clues into his depressed state of mind at that time. The opposite is true-”Back Together Again” (one of the two tunes he completed with Roberta Flack for what was to be their second duets album) is quite possibly the most joyous song Hathaway ever sang lead vocals on.
Writer/producers James Mtume and Reggie Lucas were on a creative roll when “Back Together Again” was recorded. Between 1978 and 1980, they completed work on three Flack/Hathaway duets (including the glorious “The Closer I Get To You”), Stephanie Mills’ first adult album What’cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’?, Phyllis Hyman’s You Know How To Love Me and their own underrated In Search Of The Rainbow Seekers. The common thread that runs through those projects is that they were of the disco era, but are not tied directly to disco. “Back Together” is one of those sunny, uptempo roller skating songs that feels timeless no matter when you hear it. It’s got a funky bounce to it, and you can’t say Donny ever turned in a vocal performance that wasn’t sanctified in some way. Roberta seems totally cool in a secondary role here, adding shading to Hathaway’s commanding vocal.
Actually, I’d say her role is tertiary, although she receives top billing on the single. Luther Vandross’s background arrangement (you can pretty clearly pick out his vocals) stands out as one of his most inspired. The full-length album version (9 minutes plus) is probably a bit much, but seek out the single edit and you won’t regret it.