Johnny Gill – Johnny Gill (1990)

Johnny Gill’s self-titled LP was released on April 17, 1990 to the masses of R&B fans and it was well received upon its release. Serving as a springboard to the new phase of Gill’s career, this album helped to propel him as one of the leading R&B singers of the decade. Being one of the lead singers for then popular R&B quintet, New Edition, he was provided with the platform to showcase his vocal gifts to the world at large. During this juncture, New Jack Swing production was dominating the urban radio and television formats, but Johnny Gill was a welcomed return to traditional, soul-stirring R&B ballads of a bygone era.

His singing style was refreshing reminder of past R&B balladeers such as Luther Vandross, Jeffrey Osborne, Teddy Pendergrass, etc. His voice moved effortlessly between a gritty baritone and a sweet tenor, which lent him to have a profound range when singing songs on this album. These two things made him stand out amongst his counterparts in ways unmatched. It allowed for the titanic production duos Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis and Babyface/L.A. Reid the potential to develop an album centered on the stellar vocals of Johnny Gill.

Johnny Gill’s career began like most R&B singers in the church. Gill crafted his signature vocals in the choir of his father’s church in Washington, D.C. Alongside his three brothers, Gill became the lead singer in the family’s gospel group Wings of Faith. In 1983, his childhood friend and then up and coming R&B/pop star, Stacy Lattisaw encouraged him to record a demo after hearing him sing. Shortly thereafter, he was signed to Atlantic Records. He went onto to record two solo albums, Johnny Gill (1983), Chemistry (1985), and a duet album with Stacy Lattisaw, Perfect Combination (1984).

He enjoyed moderate success from the singles “Super Love” “Half Crazy” and “Perfect Combination” from the aforementioned albums. In 1987, his career took on a change of course in the form of being recruited by Michael Bivins of New Edition to fill a spot left vacant by Bobby Brown in the all-star laden group. Gill’s incomparable vocals ascended the group’s sound into a more mature one thus establishing them as one of the greatest R&B quintets in the history of music. After the release of N.E. Heartbreak in 1988, the members within the group mutually agreed to pursue solo careers, which led to the recording of Johnny Gill’s third studio album, Johnny Gill.

Between September 1989 – February 1990 Johnny Gill was recorded inbetween Flyte Tyme studios in Minneapolis and in LA. The highly anticipated album was released in the spring of 1990 and it received rave reviews from the culture writers of the time period. It highlighted the rebirth of Johnny Gill becoming a formidable solo act once again after his three year stint as a front man for New Edition. Gill supplanted himself as a stalwart within the genre after this robust effort. The results proved to be monumental.

Johnny Gill featured the then reigning kings of R&B production and lyricism, Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis and Babyface/L.A. Reid. This was a historic feat in its own right to be able to have an album recorded by these iconic duos along with a recording artist who was in his prime. They were able formulate different sounds in showcasing Gill’s gospel tinged vocal ability. Unlike previous artists, Gill’s fan base expanded exponentially after this album. These production duos served as executive producers for the project, which yielded four number one records on the Billboard charts.

The first single penned by Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis from this album “Rub You the Right Way” went straight to #1 on the Billboard R&B single charts upon its release in the spring of 1990. The second single penned by Babyface/L.A. Reid “My, My, My” also became another #1 single on the Billboard R&B charts for Gill and it peaked at #10 on the Hot 100 singles. Johnny Gill went on to reach #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart. Four singles were released and as a result it sold over two million copies in the US and a million copies in Canada and blessed Gill with unprecedented success.

I recently rediscovered how epic this album was in its hey-day. I vividly remember the feeling my soul felt when I first heard the singles “My, My, My” and “Giving My All To You.” At the time, I was only nine years old, but when you hear great music the targeted demographic becomes moot. I may have been too young to fully understand the context of “My, My, My,” but the song was written so flawlessly like many of the tunes birthed from the creative geniuses of Babyface, L.A. Reid and Daryl Simmons. The singles “Rub You The Right Way” and “Wrap My Body Tight” gave further credence to the penmanship and instrumentation prowess of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

My favorite records from this album remain “Giving My All To You” (written and produced by newcomer Randy Davis) and “Fairweather Friend” (written by Babyface, L.A. Reid, Daryl Simmons). These songs really encapsulate the vocal range of Gill. It’s a little known fact that Johnny Gill contributed in being percussionist for this album. Many music critics have said Johnny Gill proved to be a gift and a curse because every album he released after it was held to this standard. I, wholeheartedly disagree because Gill solidified his status as an R&B artist who could sing with past greats in the history of the genre.

It is evident that Johnny Gill contains all of the ingredients to be a classic album.

Purchase: Johnny Gill [iTunes]