DeepSoul: Jeffrey Osborne - "I Really Don't Need No Light"

While best known for his ballads, the R&B singer could belt out uptempo tracks like this deep cut.
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One of R&Bs most underrated vocalists, Jeffrey Osborne produced some of the late '70s and '80s most catchy and memorable tracks.  Sultry one moment and full-volume the next, Osborne's voice displays impressive range and surprising emotion.  He may be best known for hit ballads such as "On the Wings of Love" and "You Should be Mine (the Woo Woo Song)," but he showed his funky side on the classic "Stay with Me Tonight" and "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again," the latter with his previous band L.T.D.  But the song that kicked off his solo career, 1982's "I Really Don't Need No Light," benefits from Osborne's strong vocals and a lush string arrangement.  It remains one of the 1980s most underplayed yet distinctive soul singles.

The youngest of 12 children, Osborne was born with music in his blood: his father, Clarence "Legs" Osborne, played trumpet with such jazz luminaries as Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Count Basie.  Originally a drummer, Osborne built his reputation playing in Providence clubs; one night, when the O'Jays' drummer was too tired to perform, a then-15-year-old Osborne sat in with the band.  The gig lasted for two weeks until he left to join Love Men Ltd. in 1969.  Later shortened to L.T.D. (standing for "Love, Togetherness, and Devotion"), the band relocated to Los Angeles and eventually promoted Osborne to lead singer status.  They issued two albums before finally striking gold with their third, 1976's Love to the World.  "Love Ballad" became a top 20 hit, and L.T.D. found themselves on a roll.  Their followup LP, 1977's Something to Love, featured the R&B staple "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again."  After a decade with the band, Osborne elected to leave L.T.D. to embark on his own career. 

Making sure his solo venture exuded class, contemporary jazz pioneer George Duke helmed Osborne's debut.  Top session men Jerry Hey, Paulinho De Costa, Steve Ferrone, Abraham Laboriel, Sr., Michael Sembello, Ernie Watts, and many more graced the tracks, and Osborne co-wrote numerous songs for the project.  The ballad "On the Wings of Love" was an across-the-board smash, cracking the Billboard Top 30, R&B Top 20, and Adult Contemporary Top 10.  While not the album Jeffrey Osborne's biggest hit, "I Really Don't Need No Light" still fared well, reaching number three on the R&B charts and number 39 on the Billboard Hot 100.  

Cowritten by Osborne and keyboardist/producer David "Hawk" Wolinksi, " I Really Don't Need No Light" sounds like an outtake from Quincy Jones' The Dude.  The lush strings and memorable keyboard riff cushion Osborne's rich voice, which emotes both regret and anger.  There goes another night time / There goes another dream," he laments.  "When will it be the right time / It's later than it seems."  Despite the song's uptempo, danceable pulse, the lyrics express heartbreak, particularly in the chorus: "I really don't need no light to see through you / I really don't need your love to see me through."  Toward the end of the song he moves from the grief of earlier lines ("How much can someone love / A someone like you?") to resolute determination in words like "All of your alibis have long gone."  He chants the title phrase as the track fades out, stressing that he has learned from the disastrous love affair and will not be fooled again.

The lyrics may not be revolutionary, but Osborne's sincere delivery and Duke's multilayered production make for a sublime slice of 80s R&B.  Why "I Really Don't Need No Light" receives virtually no radio airplay today remains a mystery, and is truly a shame.  It did help propel Osborne's self-titled debut to the R&B top five and the Billboard Top 50, although the album now seems better remembered for "On the Wings of Love."  Seek out this hidden gem and experience Osborne's unique, powerful, and evocative voice.