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STEPHANIE MILLS: Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin'

Reviewed by Ismo Tenkanen

Rating: 8/ 10

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UK BBR reissue CD, 2011
The original release on US 20th Century, 1979
1) What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin'
2) You Can Get Over
3) Deeper Inside Your Love
4) Feel The Fire
5) Put Your Body In It
6) Starlight
7) You And I
8) Don't Stop Dancin'

Bonus tracks on the UK BBR reissue:
9) What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin' (12" Remix)
10) Put Your Body In It (12" Remix)
11) You Can Get Over (12" Remix)
12) Better Than Ever
13) What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin' (7" Version)
14) You Can Get Over (7" Version)

One of the good features of Big Break Records and reissues is that they have released numerous CDs that were earlier available only in Japan (at a price that was 3-4 times higher). Stephanie Mills' 20th Century Fox debut Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin' has been one of our best-selling "Japan only" releases for years, but now it's available as a mid-priced European release by BBR - and with six bonus tracks, which were not included in the Japan edition!

Stephanie had released two albums on ABC and Motown before this 20th Century Fox album, but without any commercial success. Also, another Motown album by the title Love Has Lifted Me, which was recorded around 1976-77, was released later in 1982, after Mills had scored several major hits on 20th Century. But this album, which was produced by James Mtume and Reggie Lucas, was really the turning point of Stephanie's career. Mtume & Lucas had already written a great smash hit (The Closer I Get to You) for Roberta Flack, and now they did the similar trick with Stephanie, when this album was released in May 1979. Later in the same year, Mtume & Lucas also produced Phyllis Hyman the hit You Know How to Love Me.

This period was, of course, the hottest disco period of music history, and you could hear it on this album, too. It contains a couple disco tunes like Put Your Body in It, You Can Get Over and Don't Stop Dancin', none of which represent Mtume/Lucas style at its best - and none of which really were major disco hits, either. Instead, the magical production team earned a gold disc with this album, selling over 500.000 copies, and the breakthrough hit for Stephanie was the title track of the album. What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin' is really vintage Mtume & Lucas, a mesmerizing mid-tempo tune with great melody and full of nuances in the background. Still, Stephanie herself is definitely the star of the show with her unique and wonderful phrasing. The track was released as a single, and it peaked at number 8 on Billboard's soul chart, gaining Stephanie her first ever chart hit. But certainly not the last. A new star was born.

Although the album did not provide any other big hits (the Donna Summer-ish disco churner You Can Get over peaked at 55), the album was selling like hot cakes, and with reason. Surely the year 1979 was not ideal for recording soulful ballads, but the Peabo Bryson cover Feel the Fire was really unforgettable, and Stephanie still sings the tune in her concerts. Deeper Inside Your Love is a mellow and relaxed mid-tempo ballad in a light-weight backdrop, but the Mtume/Lucas-written melody is beautiful and Stephanie sings it in her extremely colourful manner. You and I is a very traditional, slow ballad in an guitar-laced backdrop, and demonstrates how Stephanie could lite a neat melody into a passionate fire.

And I have yet to mention my personal favourite amongs the tracks: Starlight. It is another magical Mtume-Lucas song in their typical richly arranged backdrop, and Stephanie is absolutely breathtaking while doing her delicious ad-libs over the written lyric lines. Simply, no one could this song better that Stephanie!

The album was a sought-after gem for years, as the label had folded and only the Japs had printed a few limited editions of the album on CD. I'm sure BBR must have sold thousands and thousand copies of the CD when it was made finally available at mid-price in Europe. The bonus tracks are also more worthwhile than usual: they include the glorious 12" version of Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin', plus a very rare non-album track Better Than Ever, which was originally a track from Paramount Motion Picture "Starting All Over", and released as a 7" single, with You Can Get over on B-side. Despite the three disco tracks - an essential album for lovers of soul music!

Ismo Tenkanen

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