Alicia Keys’ “Fallin'” was a massive, Grammy winning, Number One record. I remember “Fallin'” being ubiquitous during the summer of 2001 the same way that “Hold On” by En Vogue was omnipresent during the summer of 1990 or “I Wanna Sex You Up” ruled the airwaves and car sound systems in Brooklyn the following year. It was a hood classic with massive pop appeal.
The song turned Alicia Keys into a superstar, but nerdier or more observant folks may have recognized her name and/or voice from an adaptation of “The Little Drummer Boy” (called “The Little Drummer Girl”), which was released on a Jermaine Dupri/So So Def holiday album in 1996. She also appeared on the Men In Black soundtrack in 1997. It took a few years, some image tweaking (the braids/beads were a great touch and also subconsciously reminded listeners of a lineage that features two other braid/bead-wearing piano prodigies-Patrice Rushen and Stevie Wonder), a little bit of artistic maturity, and the savvy of Clive Davis (who famously got her on Oprah the week her debut album was released) to turn her into a superstar.
Oh, and let’s not forget that “Fallin'” is a great song. R&B was not exactly teeming with female artists (or male artists, for that matter) who played as well as sang, so Alicia was a novelty for the younger folks being raised on a steady diet of Britney, Christina and Beyonce. Older folks could compare her to Roberta Flack, or Carole King. “Fallin'” has a similar timeless quality. The drum pattern maybe ties it to a specific era, but the melody and lyrics could’ve been a hit any time. I even love the fact that after the final chorus, Alicia mutters “whut?” to add a little NYC hip-hop attitude to the proceedings. It all added up to a great entry into the public consciousness for an artist who has stood the test of time. Hell, she’s hosting the Grammy Awards in 2019. Not a bad shelf life.
With all of that said, though, does it still strike those of you nerdy types as a little weird that the musical backing of “Fallin'” features a “Blurred Lines”-like swipe of James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” but only credits Alicia as a songwriter? Hmmm…