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‘Old School Is the Sh-t’: Inside Veteran Soul Singers’ Battle to Make New Fans


As the lead singer of L.T.D. in the second half of the Seventies and then a solo act with more than a dozen R&B hits, Jeffrey Osborne has enjoyed his fair share of commercial glory.

But pop music tends to reward youth, so like many older singers — Osborne is now 70 — the former L.T.D. frontman has trouble keeping his new music in the public consciousness. “People come up to us and say, ‘You know, you haven’t had a record in years,'” Osborne explains. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’ve got a record out now.’ That happens to all of us. It’s just that we don’t get any airplay now. The airplay we get is ‘Jamming Oldies.'”

This year, however, Osborne managed to transcend Jamming Oldies: For a time, his single “Worth It All” was reaching around two million listeners a week thanks to the support of the radio format known as Urban Adult Contemporary or Adult R&B.

And Osborne is not the only singer in his age group enjoying moderate success in this space, which caters primarily to black listeners between the ages of 25 and 54. Adult R&B has also been playing “Fine,” a stepping-ready single by Lenny Williams, a 73-year-old veteran of Tower of Power, “You and Me Together, Forever,” a romantic ballad from L.J. Reynolds, the 66-year-old singer who once led the vocal group the Dramatics, and “Love Like Yours and Mine,” a comeback single from the 67-year-old Peabo Bryson.

“The one common denominator is that even if you had a big song 20, 30 years ago, until you have that next hit, that song that is radio friendly and accepted by radio and the public, that is when you are welcomed back,” says Jesus Garber, a longtime radio promotions veteran who campaigned on behalf of Osborne’s new single. “But as far as the artist is concerned, they never went away.”

Osborne’s last major hit was “Only Human,” a big-old-we-all-make-mistakes ballad that reached Number Three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1991. But for the last decade plus, the singer has not been releasing new songs. “I’ve had a couple of albums where I covered some R&B songs and then I covered some jazz, but this is the first time I’ve done some original material in 13 years,” he says.

R&B has changed a lot just during that period, and it’s wildly different than it was when “Only Human” was on the charts. “You don’t see many songs that have a bridge and a hook today,” Osborne points out. “Everything’s written off the verse and they just change the vocal melody [during the chorus] — musically it doesn’t go anywhere. When I was recording, things were dry. Today, everything is just wet, full of echo.”

Garber came up with a plan to help Osborne fit into the “wet” modern world. “I knew the radio people in America that their batting average is very high, so I asked them to put an ear to [the new album],” Garber says. The high-powered focus group narrowed the choice of single down to “Worth It All,” but, “they said it needed to be remixed and updated so that it would be the sound of 2018.”

Osborne’s team enlisted Gregg Pagani — who co-wrote massive Urban AC hits like Charlie Wilson’s “There Goes My Baby” and Johnny Gill’s “This One’s For Me and You” — to tweak the original. The primary change is in the drums: The album version of “Worth It All” is beat-less, but Pagani’s version ticks and rattles like everything on the radio.

This had exactly the intended effect: “Worth It All” rose to Number 12 on the chart. “Radio people basically make an opinion in the first ten seconds,” Garber says. “If you come to them and say, ‘remember that song that I played for you six months ago? I just did a remix,’ the problem is they’ve already formulated an opinion. And, if that opinion was not favorable, it’s still hard to get over that first impression.”

Read the full piece from: Rolling Stone

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Jeffrey Osborne #: ART7051 RELEASED: 05/25/18