In this ‘Rare Cut’ we look back at Luther Vandross’ stellar cover of the Little Anthony & The Imperials classic ‘Going Out of My Head’ from his underappreciated album Your Secret Love.

When an artist makes the decision to cover a song, there are normally two outcomes. The first is the most common, and that is the cover is nothing special and easily forgotten. Think Barry Manilow’s countless albums of covers, or Smokey Robinson’s last album covering his own songs, and even the album Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics (although we do enjoy her auto-tuned version of ‘Rolling In The Deep’). Yet some artists have the ability to cover a song without it sounding like a mere replica. Take Will Downing for instance, his recent cover of Whitney Houston’s ‘Saving All My Love’ is stunning, as his version of ‘Does Your Mama Know About Me’. It seems then, that the true merit of an artist is their ability to reinterpret someone else’s work without copying; rather they learn, interpret, and add something different. In that regard, in soul music, no other artist has arguably been as successful as Luther Vandross.

On Vandross’ debut album Never Too Much, the New York native took the rather bold decision to cover the Bacharach-David standard ‘A House Is Not A Home’. Done most famously by Brook Benton then by Dionne Warwick, the song was a 3-minute ballad, but Vandross re-interpreted the song, taking the tempo down further, and extending it to a full seven-minutes. Vandross’ version was so spectacular it caused Warwick to cry at the NAACP Awards in 1988, and Bacharach himself wrote in his memoir that Vandross’ version is his favourite. From there on Vandross covered several songs: he covered more Bacharach tunes with ‘Are You There (With Another Guy)’ and ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’, The Temptations’ ‘Since I Lost My Baby’, and even released an album entitled Songs in 1994 which was comprised totally of covers, including a tasty version of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’.

(Luther Vandross singing ‘A House Is A Not A Home’ at the 1988 NAACP Awards, in front of a crying Dionne Warwick. Bless.)

Yet this ‘Rare Cut’ goes a bit amiss in Vandross’ back catalogue, but in fact it’s pretty stunning. ‘Going Out of My Head’ was written by Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein and originally recorded by the R&B greats Little Anthony & The Imperials in 1964, and would become one of their greatest hits. Since then the song has been covered by nearly everyone, from Gladys Knight & The Pips to Frank Sinatra to Cilla Black.

As you might expect, Vandross’ version is rather delightful. He slows the tempo down somewhat, allowing him to stretch out his vocals in the same manner that proved so insatiable on ‘A House Is Not A Home’. His background singers provide some stunning harmonies to cushion Vandross’ emotional pleas, and they are given ample room to do so with the fairly stripped back nature of the production. Whereas Little Anthony & The Imperials were given a big arrangement in the sixties, Vandross gives his version his classic ballad treatment. Vandross was not trying to be Little Anthony on his version of ‘Going Out of My Head’, but instead apply his trademark approach to singing ballads that made him world renowned. Again, it proves that the truly great artists can refashion and reimagine classic songs without treading on the toes of the original artist. His version reminds us again of the talent that Vandross possessed, and it sadly reminds us how much he is missed.