Some choice sounds for love's big day


So you look up and find yourself alone on Valentine's Day.

Don't sweat it; you can still make Feb. 14 special. You can send flowers to yourself, take yourself out to eat, buy your own chocolates, write yourself a ...

OK. That's pathetic.

But, really, you don't need a commercial concoction like Valentine's Day to luxuriate in some of the baaadest, most sensual love songs ever committed to tape. A pitiful romantic, I typically indulge myself with aural candy confections -- the Stylistics, Deniece Williams, Leon Ware, Norman Connors and Jean Carne -- almost every day.

One of the biggest hits on the charts right now, "Slow Jamz" by Twista, featuring Kanye West and Jamie Foxx, name-checks some of Quiet Storm's best artists (and a few of my favorites, too): "She said she wants some Ready For the World, some New Edition, some Minnie Riperton, and definitely set this party off right ..."

If you're lucky enough to cuddle with a honey on Valentine's Day, do it with the right tunes. Here are few new collections and some timeless goodies that'll get you in the mood.

* Quincy Jones, Love, Q: Though not a definitive set, the 17-track album covers the music legend's R&B; material from the '70s through the '90s. Q always had a knack for matching the right artist with a delicious arrangement. And, apparently, the dapper 70-year-old father of seven (the youngest is 11) knows a little somethin' about romance. Among the CD's most succulent cuts is "The Secret Garden," the 1989 smash featuring James Ingram, Al B. Sure!, El DeBarge and sultan of pillow talk Barry White. Perfect baby-making music.

* Isaac Hayes, Greatest Love Songs: Before Barry White swept onto the pop scene in '73, the soul man known as Black Moses had cleared the way for him with 1969's Hot Buttered Soul, a groundbreaking album of four daylong songs that smoldered with rich, layered symphonic arrangements and Isaac's Southern-kissed baritone. Perhaps best known today for his role as Chef on South Park, the Memphis-based singer-songwriter-musician was an incredible force in R&B; (and pop) throughout the '70s. And some of his sexiest songs -- "Walk On By," "A Few More Kisses to Go," "Joy Pt. 1" -- are featured on this 12-track collection.

* Peggy Lee, Love Songs: The legend died two years ago, leaving a generous catalog of regal jazz and pop. Although this set doesn't feature "Fever," her breathy signature, it's a classy album sparkling with such gems as "Autumn Leaves," "You Go to My Head" and "Love Letters."

* Earth, Wind & Fire, Love Songs: The influential band is known primarily for such glossy funk tunes as "Shining Star," "Boogie Wonderland" and "Got to Get You Into My Life." But back in the day when Afros bloomed and platform boots elevated everybody, E,W&F; sparked many quiet fires with transcendent, sometimes mystical ballads: "Reasons," "Be Ever Wonderful" and "Can't Hide Love" are just a few. Those classics and 11 others make up this new collection, an impressive and essential installation of Sony's solid Love Songs series.

* John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman: Add a touch of class to your evening. This shimmering album came out 41 years ago, and it has lost none of its luster. Shortly after its release in the spring of '63, the critically lauded duet set rekindled the career of Hartman, who hadn't recorded since 1956. With his calm, sea-deep baritone, Hartman spins silk out of "Lush Life" and "My One and Only Love" as Coltrane shadows him with stunning, explorative work on the tenor sax.

* Various artists, Reggae Pulse 3 Love Songs: Give your night of love an island twist, mon, with this groovin' collection of lilting lovers' rock tunes. Most are sultry reggae versions of soul-pop evergreens. Among the best interpretations are Marcia Griffiths' take of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Sharon Forrester's coy performance of James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and Al Brown's rendition of Al Green's "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)."

* Luther Vandross, Forever, For Always, For Love: Now, you know you can't get through a romantic evening without any Luther. The recent Grammy winner waxed this masterpiece in 1982. It features the hit "Bad Boy / Having a Party" plus some of Luther's most beautiful ballads: "Promise Me," "Once You Know How" and the wax-melting title track.

* Teddy Pendergrass, The Love Songs Collection: In the late '70s, Teddy cemented his legend with a string of platinum albums and his striking cowboy-hat-and-rough-beard look. His commanding voice could blow the doors off the hinges. And his ladies-only concerts are still talked about today. This 17-cut CD collects his best slow jams from his heyday at Philadelphia International Records (1977-81). The song titles let us know how the evening should go: "Come Go With Me" and "Close the Door," then "Turn Off the Lights" 'cause "It's Time For Love." "The More I Get, the More I Want" from you but we're gonna take it nice and slow, 'cause "You're My Latest, Greatest Inspiration" and "All I Need Is You."

No doubt. Teddy knew how to lay the mack down.

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