Quick, name one song by 80s R&B singer, Patrice Rushen. “Forget Me Nots,” right? The relentlessly catchy track has become ingrained in pop music, appearing in the film Big and sampled by Will Smith and George Michael.
What some may not know, however, is that that one track came from a stellar R&B album called Straight from the Heart, featuring jazz-laced soul, simple yet elegant vocals, and Rushen on multiple instruments, such as piano, percussion, and flute. In 1982, the album peaked at #14 on the pop charts. She released several albums after that, but none reached that level of success. In recent years, Rushen has become known mainly for “Forget Me Nots.” While the track remains a classic, the entire album remains overlooked.
The album leads off with “Forget Me Nots,” followed by “I Was Tired of Being Alone,” a danceable funk groove. “All We Need,” a percussion-driven track, should have been the follow-up single to “Forget Me Nots,” as the beat is just as infectious. Her jazz roots emerge in “Number One,” a good example of fusion. Per Rushen’s style, the percussion, piano, and horns are standouts on the song.
In addition to the fast tracks, Rushen includes plenty of slow jams. “Where There Is Love” features some sultry vocals, while the gorgeous “(She Will) Take You Down to Love” includes exquisite Brazilian percussion. “If Only” bears all the marks of an 80s “quiet storm,” but Rushen’s delicate singing style rescues the song from banality. The only track that succumbs to 80s overproduction is “Breakout,” a synthesizer and electric guitar-heavy number that resembles an outtake from a Beverly Hills Cop movie.
Despite the album being 26-years-old, the overall sound hasn’t aged. The jazz traces sprinkled throughout the tracks prevent Straight from the Heart from sounding dated. The production is sparse, and her whispering vocals are simple yet effective. Current soul divas who must exhibit “vocal acrobatics” with every syllable should listen to this album as a master class in singing.
As for Rushen’s career post-“Forget Me Nots,” she has accumulated several awards and distinguished positions. Rushen was the first woman to serve as head composer and musical director for the Grammy and Emmy Awards, as well as the NAACP Image Awards ceremony. Interestingly, she also served as Janet Jackson’s musical director for her early 90s tour “janet.”
Though she may be forever known for one strong single, Straight from the Heart deserves recognition as one of the best R&B efforts of the 80s. Unlike much soul music from that period, Rushen’s sound remains as fresh as it did over two decades ago.
Be sure to pick up the newest reissue of Straight from the Heart, as it includes extended versions of “Forget Me Nots” and “Breakout,” as well as two versions (one with some vocals, one without) of “Number One.” To explore more of Rushen’s impressive catalog, try her greatest hits collection, Haven’t You Heard?