As is the case with all great songwriters, the mark of true worth is not necessarily the success they have with performing/recording their own material. More importantly, the depth and breadth of artistry is further expressed in how others interpret their songs, bringing new meaning and color to the originator’s lyrics.
There’s little disputing that Prince Rogers Nelson is an exceptional songwriter; his lyrics stir up a myriad of emotions, and are as endearing as they are enduring from one generation to the next. Prince gave Chak-Chak-Chaka Khan a pop smash in “I Feel For You,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which he he originally penned for his ownPaisley Park signees, The Family. He made Sinead O’Conner a household name as she ethereally cried on cue, and topped both the UK and US charts with her emotive reading of one of his songs.
Soul newcomer Meli’sa Morgan would similarly top the charts with a Prince composition, reaching the summit of the American R&B chart in February 1986. She would remain on top for three weeks, although this was a tune she had initially fought tooth and nail not to sing, an erotic and sexually charged ode.
A mere 21-years old at the time she recorded “Do Me Baby,” Capitol Records executive Don Grierson insisted Morgan cover the song after he played a rough demo for her. “My parents will never forgive me if I sing this song, because Prince’s version was so erotic,” she told him of her initial thoughts on the idea. Thankfully, using his charm and powers of persuasion, Grierson promised Morgan that, “If you do this song, this will be the start of a very great career.” He wasn’t wrong.
Cast your mind back twenty-five years, if you can, and those of you old enough will remember that 1986 was a very different time, musically. Female pop and R&B vocalists were frequently restrained by their labels from recording songs of a sexual nature, particularly where the woman was the assertive one. Today we rarely bat an eyelid when Rihanna, Mary J Blige, Beyoncé, or latest wannabe Nicki Minja use expletives as adjectives; Gone is the era of trying to hide expressions of sensual urges with cryptic euphemisms.
Whether she liked it or not, Meli’sa was a trailblazer, and her label fully supported her. By the time she heard the finished version of “Do Me Baby,” expertly produced by Paul Laurence, it was on the radio and racing up the charts. Originally recorded by Prince on his CONTROVERSY album, it would be the final song she recorded for her DO ME BABY opus.
She would eventually meet the songwriter and realise his great humbleness. “The first time I met Prince, he said, ‘Thank you for such a great song.’ And I said, ‘No, you wrote the song. Thank you for such a great song.’ He said, ‘No, you made it happen. Thank you.’ So that was a real compliment.”
Growing up in Queens, New York, Morgan got her initial taste of success singing with the group Shades Of Love, and later, the trio High Fashion (who were responsible, I might add, for one of my all-time favorite songs in “Feeling Lucky Lately”).
Morgan’s real break came when a young producer named Kashif drafted her to sing backup on his session; she would go on to be featured on albums by Melba Moore and Freddie Jackson, as well as on the debut set by Whitney Houston. While touring with Kashif (she also performed on his album), she was courted and signed by Hush Productions, Melba Moore’s production company, that helped secure the deal with Capitol.
Hush also represented Paul Laurence, so keeping her within the family, he co-produced her debut, along with Bryan Loren. Morgan and Lesette Wilson would write and produce five of the set’s eight compositions. After the success of “Do Me Baby,” her label went for the equally laidback and romantic ballad “Do You Still Love Me?” (another top 5 R&B hit).
But it was the third single, “Fool’s Paradise,” that her UK audience embraced like a long-lost relative. The funky boogie dancer won widespread appeal with both the old soul boy fraternity of Caister Weekenders past, and the newer rare groove crowd led by the likes of Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, Trevor Nelson, and Norman Jay. Jay Z would later sample it for his 1996 hit “Can’t Knock The Hustle,” featuring Mary J. Blige.
Paul Laurence was also responsible for the upbeat electro-etched “Lies” (co-penned by Kool & The Gang’s Amir Bayyan), which although sounding somewhat dated now, that’s more than offset by Meli’sa’s strong vocal performance. Bryan Loren’s studio input on the dancer “Getting To Know You Better” is another example of that typical mid-‘80s sound that would evolve into new jack swing in only a matter of years. The bonus US 12-inch remix, in particular, adhered to a formula that would later saturate American urban radio.
Another added bonus comes in the form of the Diane Warren composition “Deeper Love,” which has a certain Donna Summer “She Works Hard For The Money” quality to it. Featured in the Eddie Murphy movie, The Golden Child, it gave the singer another R&B hit, and rounded off a great year for the young siren. Alternative versions of Meli’sa Morgan’s hits, plus liner notes, including an interview with Meli’sa produced exclusively for this reissue, make this an essential release. This has undoubtedly become the strongest and most in-demand album within her discography.
About the Writer
Lewis Dene has been involved in the many facets of music business for over 20 years. As a music journalist he has previously written for Blues & Soul, Record Collector, Music Week and the BBC, in the process compiling and/or writing liner notes for over 200 CDs (including a number for SoulMusic Records). Lewis currently consults for Kings Of Spins and is a resident DJ for Hed Kandi in America.