DeepSoul: Rose Royce - "Love Don't Live Here Anymore"

Best known for the disco classic "Car Wash," Rose Royce recorded some of the best--and most overlooked--R&B singles of the late 1970s.
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The name "Rose Royce" conjures images of mirror balls and flashing lights, thanks to their massive 1976 hit "Car Wash."  They recorded numerous R&B hits that rivaled the song in quality, although those singles never impacted the charts as much as their disco classic. Other Rose Royce tracks such as "I'm Going Down" and "Wishing on a Star" have been covered by Mary J. Blige and Beyonce, while "Ooh Boy" was sampled in the Shaggy and Janet Jackson single "Luv Me, Luv Me."  In addition to those under-appreciated classics, the 1978 slow jam "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" demonstrates that Rose Royce was more than just a flash-in-the-pan disco act.  

Based in Los Angeles, the group was formed by drummer Henry Garner and trumpet player/vocalist Kenny Copeland.  After graduating from high school, the duo decided to pursue professional musical careers, and recruited  Terral "Terry" Santiel (congas); Lequeint "Duke" Jobe (bass); Michael Moore (saxophone); Gwen Dickey (lead vocals); Kenji Brown (guitar, lead vocals); Freddie Dunn (trumpet); and Michael Nash (keyboards).  Then called "Total Concept Unlimited," the group auditioned for R&B legend Edwin Starr, winning the job as his backup band.  While touring with Starr they met Norman Whitfield, the Motown producer who eventually hired them as a studio band.  As they gained experience in the studio, the renamed Rose Royce worked on their debut album under Whitfield's direction.  At the same time, MCA Records was looking for an artist to record the title song for an upcoming film entitled Car Wash.  Whitfield immediately recommended Rose Royce for the job, also presenting the material the group had already recorded in preparation for their upcoming album.  Released in 1976, the soundtrack perfectly encapsulated the disco craze with the title track.  However, it proved the group capable of a Philly Soul-reminiscent sound on songs such as the aforementioned "I'm Going Down" and "I Wanna Get Next to You."  

Now eager to prove that Rose Royce was not just an anonymous disco act, the group and producer Whitfield released the 1977 followup Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom.  Led by the Minnie Riperton-esque vocalist Dickey, the band showcased their sensual side as well as their danceable sound.  "Do Your Dance" may have scored in discotheques, but "Ooh Boy" and "Wishing on a Star" seduced with Dickey's cooing voice and the band's smooth backing arrangements.  After scoring a number one R&B album and breaking the top ten on the Billboard 200, Rose Royce continued the momentum with the aptly named Rose Royce III: Strikes Again!  Interestingly, the most successful tracks from the 1978 album were not dance floor burners, but the midtempo "I'm in Love (and I Love the Feeling)" and the ballad "Love Don't Live Here Anymore."  Bass-popping songs such as "Do It, Do It" satisfied their dance-loving fans, however.  After recording 1979's Rose Royce IV: The Rainbow Connection, Dickey departed the group; while Rose Royce continued recording with a new vocalist, they never again achieved the chart success of their 1970s heyday.  

"Love Don't Live Here Anymore" originated from Whitfield's desire to collaborate with Paul Buckmaster, the British arranger and composer.  Buckmaster contacted songwriter Miles Gregory to compose a song.  Heavily influenced by his ongoing struggles with drugs, Gregory wrote the tortured, angst-filled ballad.  Indeed, the lyrics can be interpreted as heartache from a doomed love affair, but Gregory's pain from drug withdrawal bubbles underneath.  "In the windmills of my eyes / Everyone can see the loneliness inside of me," Dickey almost whispers.  Words such as "vacancy" and "emptiness" indicated loss of love, but also connote the numbness Gregory most likely experienced from his illness.  Buckmaster's arrangement is appropriately spare, allowing Dickey's delicate yet powerful voice to dominate.  When she sings "Why'd ya have to go away / Don't you know I miss you so, and need your love," the listener can sense the narrator's inner turmoil.  "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" is a haunting ballad that sounds timeless--a complete departure from the bouncy disco of "Car Wash."

In addition to being a soulful song, "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" also broke new technological ground.  It made extensive use of the Electronic LinnDrum, specifically its distinctive reverb properties.  The sound would soon dominate late 1970s and 1980s dance music.  

Years later, artists rediscovered this classic, most notably Madonna.  She released two covers:   the first time for her 1984 album Like a Virgin, and a remixed version for the 1995 compilation Something to Remember.  Other covers include Faith Evans and Blige's reverent 1995 version as well as Joe Cocker's gritty 2004 interpretation.  While other artists have paid tribute to the ballad, only Rose Royce and Dickey's emotional lead vocal capture the haunting quality of the original.