“A House Is Not A Home” by Luther Vandross (1981)

Was Luther Vandross the premier “love song” singer of his generation? I think if you look a little closer, you might realize that Luther’s most affecting vocal performances were not so much love songs as they were songs of lost love, unrequited love, or straight up loneliness. This holds true especially when you look at his choices of cover material: “Anyone Who Had A Heart”, “Are You There (With Another Guy)”, “If Only for One Night”, “Superstar”, and of course, his dramatic re-reading of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “A House Is Not A Home”; a version that many (including myself) consider definitive.

Luther slows the song way down, wringing every drop of emotion from the lovelorn lyrics. Even though his vocal pyrotechnics are on full display towards the end of the song, he doesn’t appear to be showing off as much as he appears to be lost in the sentiment of those words. He spent most of his career (and if you believe the story, most of his life) wanting to be in love. Nowhere is it more nakedly expressed by him (and rarely has it been more nakedly expressed by anyone) than it is on “A House Is Not A Home”.

Luther’s death was announced on a Friday night, if I remember correctly. I’d been at my new job barely two weeks, and I’m pretty sure I got the news towards the end of the work day. I played every Luther song I had on my iPod during the subway ride home, and when I finally arrived home, I turned my stereo up as loud as it could possibly go, played “A House Is Not A Home”, and let the song wash completely over me as I had a good cry; for the loss of Luther, for the life he spent looking for love and acceptance, and for my own struggle for love and acceptance.

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