“Can Heaven Wait” by Luther Vandross (2001)

“Can Heaven Wait” is one of Luther’s most heart-rending ballads. It comes from his self-titled comeback album, which would turn out to be the penultimate Luther Vandross album recorded during his lifetime.

In the song, Luther receives a call finding out his girl has been in a bad accident. He’s asking if her life can be spared-if heaven can wait. Released as the second single from Luther Vandross, I think its chart performance was hindered by the fact that it came out right before 9/11 and maybe hit too close to home for some folks. Songs like Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero” and Five for Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” became hits during that era because their titles provided relief for folks even though the actual songs didn’t address tragedy. “Can Heaven Wait” was directly mournful.

Luther’s voice was able to communicate quite a bit (it’s why I consider him the best male singer of the past 50 years), but there’s a shout of anguish he gives before the final chorus that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up after all these years. It’s the most uncontrolled raw emotion I think I’ve ever heard from him on a song.

NOT QUITE FIVE STARS…

“Calling You” by George Michael (1993): The Five Live EP contained 2 songs recorded at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992, as well as one Queen track with Freddie, and two additional songs taken from George Michael’s “Cover to Cover” tour. That tour, undertaken shortly after the Listen Without Prejudice album was released, found George singing mainly covers of songs by largely black or fellow blue-eyed soul artists.

“Calling You” was originally recorded and performed by Jevetta Steele and included in the film Baghdad Cafe. Saw the film once as a teenager and was bored to catatonia. Was probably too young to appreciate it. “Calling You” stayed in my head to an extent, maybe because it was so haunting. When I finally purchased a copy of Five Live, I felt I’d heard “Calling You” before and just couldn’t place where. I dare say his version of “Calling You” is far better than Steele’s original. It’s a stunning vocal performance, and his background singer (who performs the chorus) is no slouch, herself.

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