Love Notes The music of romance is more popular than ever, a trend the record industry finds heart-warming

February 09, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

So you've got a big date coming up, and you really want to show this person that you're serious. But you're not sure how to send the right message. Should you bring candy? Flowers? A book of poems?

Or say you're planning a special evening at home with your loved one. You've planned the menu, done the cleaning and chosen your outfit, but you need something that will make the mood romantic. Would it be scented candles? A fine wine?

How about a CD? That's the route an increasing number of young -- and not-so-young -- lovers are taking these days. Rather than opt for one of the traditional courting gifts, they've decided to say it with music. And the recording industry is going out of its way to help.

Flip through the Various Artists section at your local CD store and you'll find a slew of albums with only one thing in mind. "Hot Luv." "Smooth Luv." "The Glory of Love." "Love Jams." "Baddest Love Jams." "Smooth Grooves." "Sex & Soul." "Feel Like Makin' Love." The only thing missing is "Dr. Ruth's Greatest Hits."

Albums intended to enhance romance aren't a new phenomenon, of course. By most accounts, the age of "make-out music" began shortly after hi-fi sets became standard equipment for young bachelors. In those days, nothing typified single-man savoir-faire so much as a smoking jacket, a lava lamp and a well-worn copy of Jackie Gleason's "Music to Make Her Change Her Mind."

That's hardly the case now. Only lounge-music hipsters follow that "Playboy After Dark" approach these days (and even then only with a heavy coating of irony). Instead, modern make-out music has its roots in the "slow jam" phenomenon.

"Slow jams" are a style of low-key, romantic R&B that became popular in the mid-'70s. With strong, emotionally charged melodies and a more insistent pulse than the average ballad, slow jams are ideal for slow dancing and other forms of pitching woo. They became a fixture on urban radio in the '80s and bred a generation of fans.

These were the people Rhino Records had in mind when the company began work on its slow-jams series, "Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection." As Quincy Newell, the label's urban product manager, explains, "The original concept was to develop a series of slow jams, because there was a lack of those particular slow jams on the market."

Nicely familiar

Much of what turned up on those first few volumes will be instantly familiar to R&B fans from the early- and mid-'80s: "Reasons" by Earth, Wind & Fire. "How 'Bout Us" by Champaign. "Love's Train" by Con Funk Shun.

"A lot of the songs that started out that collection were songs that were unavailable," says Newell. "They were hit songs that people loved, were looking for at retail, and couldn't find."

But people didn't just buy Smooth Grooves CDs because they were looking for Shirley Murdock's "Go On Without You" or the 12-inch single version of Mtume's "Juicy Fruit." They bought them because they liked the romantic mood each disc evoked.

"If you look at the very first release, it was very romantically targeted," Newell says. "The songs, basically, are love songs, slow love songs that set the mood for a million lovers."

Still, it was the music -- particularly the care that went into choosing tunes for the collection -- that made the difference. "We spent a lot of time and put a lot of thought into the packaging and the songs that were selected," says Newell. "We did a lot of research into what was available, what wasn't available. What are people looking for that isn't available?"

One factor the folks at Rhino think played a large part in the series' success was the attention paid to "home turntable hits" -- that is, songs that got a lot of play in people's homes, but never made much of a dent on radio. "Because we did a lot of actual research -- a lot of investigating and asking people -- we were able to find [the lesser-known hits] that people would consider their song," he says.

Romance may be implied in the presentation of Rhino's Smooth Grooves series, but it's an explicit component of Capitol/EMI's Luv Collection. It isn't just these CDs include L-U-V love in each title; the collection's groin-level ad campaign stresses the zTC earthier value of this music.

Strong marketing

"Love songs are the reason people say 'yes,' " claims "Luv Therapist" Dr. Phil White in ads for the series.

Where did they get this guy? "We used Deutsch Advertising," answers Capitol/EMI spokeswoman Sue D'Agostino. "They developed Buzz the Bee for the floral industry." Buzz, in case you've forgotten the ads, was a guy in a bee suit who would rescue men from trouble with their loved ones by suggesting they buy their way out of that jam with flowers.

"Buzz the Bee increased the floral industry's revenues," says D'Agostino. "So we went to Deutsch and said, 'Develop something -- a character, a logo -- to go with this collection.' " Dr. Phil White was the result.

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