Love-song compilations will put you in the mood

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

"If music be the food of love, play on," wrote Shakespeare, and even though he wasn't actually referring to CDs, his words still apply. In fact, given the number of romance-themed albums on the market these days, it's possible to play on and on. And on.

There are dozens of these compilations in CD stores. For instance, there are nine volumes of "Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection," five volumes of "Slow Jams: The Timeless Collection," four volumes of "The LUV Collection," four volumes of "The Glory of Love," three volumes of "Heart Beats" and two volumes of "Love Jams." Face it -- there's a lot of love out there.

Maybe too much. It's easy enough to find a specific love song to serenade your sweetie by looking in a catalog. But if what you want is music to help set the mood for a romantic evening, all those options may seem daunting.

But since all the world loves a lover, let's cut them some slack. Here's the lowdown on the major love music collections out there.

* "Smooth Grooves: A Sensual Collection": With nine volumes released so far, these discs cover a lot of material. But their musical focus is actually fairly narrow, sticking entirely with slow jam R&B hits. Ah, but what hits! Drawing equally from big hits and forgotten gems, the "Sensual Collection" discs are assembled as much for music lovers as for the regular kind.

There really isn't a clunker in the bunch (though if you doubt your lover's fidelity, stay away from the all-cheating-songs Volume 6). Fans of '70s soul will swoon over "Volume 1" (Rhino 71859), which includes Teddy Pendergrass' "Love T.K.O."; Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons" (the live version, of course); and Patti LaBelle's "If You Only Knew." If instead the early '80s are your good ol' days, get "Volume 4" (Rhino 71862), and feast on the Gap Band's "Outstanding," Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots."

There are also three volumes of "Smooth Grooves: The '60s," but they emphasize nostalgia over mood, since the songs are, on the whole, too short and rhythmically varied to generate the sort of sultry atmosphere the main series delivers. But if soulful declarations of love are your turn-on, by all means pick up "Volume 2" (Rhino 72619), which includes Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," Otis Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" and Sam & Dave's "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby."

* "The Luv Collection": Unlike the oldie-oriented "Smooth Grooves" releases, which assume their audience has been around long enough to remember those songs, the Luv Collection discs place their emphasis on recent hits and younger listeners.

Consequently, its slow jam equivalent, "Smooth Luv" (EMI-Capitol 54548), includes nothing older than Sade's "No Ordinary Love" or Janet Jackson's "That's the Way Love Goes." Likewise, the dance-driven "Hot Luv" (EMI-Capitol 54547) is as much a club sampler as a make-out album, thanks to tracks like Real McCoy's "Run Away" and "Be My Lover" by LaBouche.

"Movie Luv" (EMI-Capitol 54555) is perhaps the most conventionally romantic of the bunch, thanks to its emphasis on such sweepingly emotional power ballads as "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes and "It Must Have Been Love" by Roxette. But the country-oriented "Real Luv" (EMI-Capitol 54549) is too much a mixed bag to be satisfying. Sure, there are solid selections by George Strait ("Baby Blue"), Vince Gill ("Whenever You Come Around") and Patti Loveless ("You Saved Me"), but no Reba McEntire? No Randy Travis? No Garth Brooks? Hello??

* "The Glory of Love": Although this series bills itself as offering "Sweet & Soulful Love Songs," this isn't a slow jam series so much as a nostalgia offering, designed for those who want a CD featuring "their song" along with hits from the same era.

But because the series breaks things down decade by decade, it paints with unfortunately broad strokes. "The '70s" (Hip-O 40030) is by far the most consistent, with tunes running the gamut from Gladys Knight & the Pips' "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me" to Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You," while "The '50s" (Hip-O 40028) neatly conveys the heartbreak charm of such crooners as Johnny Ace ("Pledging My Love") and Jesse Belvin ("Goodnight My Love").

"The '60s" (Hip-O 40029) is too fond of obscurities (Lenny Welch? Ketty Lester??) to be of interest to anyone but collectors, while "The '80s" (Hip-O 40031) is maddeningly erratic, too freely mixing obvious choices (Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Love Come Down") with head-scratchers (The Jets' "You Got It All").

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