Alexander O’Neal (1985)

Alexander O'Neal album cover
Alexander O’Neal album cover

Alexander O’Neal was one of the best B list R&B stars of the ’80s. While it might seem unfair to call him B list, it’s only because he was often trumped by bigger label stars like Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson or Kashif (where sales and promotion was concerned).

That’s unfortunate because O’Neal was far more dynamic than either of them. As a former member of the Time, he had left the band well before they recorded their debut in 1980. Apparently there was no bad blood, as a considerable number of then current and former Time members contributed to his debut. The album cover features O’Neal posing as Morris Day might have with a Studebaker with (former) members of the Time visible in the background.

With Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Monte Moir and others involved as producers and or musicians, you’d expect Alexander O’Neal to sound like a Time reunion album. Instead, O’Neal and company was able to forge a version of the Minneapolis sound that was distinctly different from what the Time or Prince was doing.

In fact, O’Neals work was far more interesting that the solo projects coming from Morris Day or Jessie Johnson. His self titled 1985 debut was a strong effort from someone who had the experience to be a true headliner, even with one album under his belt.

The attention to detail and production quality was not something expected on a smaller label like Tabo, but Alexander O’Neal was clearly more than just a platform for a few singles, it was a concept album all about love, lovers and loving.

O’Neal made an immediate impact with hits like ‘Innocent’ and the wonderful ballad “If You Were Here Tonight’. Overall it would be O’Neals dapper and smooth talking romantic image was similar to that of Morris Day, minus the bafonary. O’Neal would be all about the business of romantisising with notable ballads like ‘If you Were Here Tonight’ making an impact on the Quiet Storm circuit.

O’Neal’s refined man about town image played well in England where he was equally popular. Despite the smooth crooning, it would be the dance numbers like ‘Innocent’ and ‘What’s Missing’ that would establish Alexander O’Neal as a true alternative to his old band the Time or any other artists from the Minneapolis scene.

Through the mid to late ’80s, O’Neal’s music became more popular, especially when he would hook up with his musical partner in crime Cherelle. Cherrelle would sing back up on Alexander O’Neal, but would move to the forefront as the two would go on to make some of the best R&B duets of the ’80s.

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