I had simple plans when I announced the Summer Slow Jams series back in April. I even scheduled each post, giving you the viewers an inside look at what to expect. But as it always does when you make plans, life happened. I got off schedule. Through it all, you guys have encouraged me and even contributed and for that I am eternally grateful. There will be at least one more Summer Slow Jams entry after this one but I will not commit to a day or date. For now though, this one closes out the series. Thanks for sharing your valuable time with me.
While I may have eventually discovered Rhino's Smooth Grooves - A Sensual Collection on my own, it was my good buddy John Book who sent me cassette rips of the first four volumes in the series early in 1995. The scan above is of those four cassettes, all Sony CD-IT 74s. As was his usual mode back then, John wasted no time labelling the j-card with titles or tracklists - all he did was label the tapes and that was more than good enough for me. (He did include the complete tracklists in an accompanying letter that I have tried several times to scan but cannot get the contrast and brightness worked out enough for it to be legible - the ink seems to have faded away over the past 20 years.)
Rhino was not the first player in the slow jams compilation game but by all accounts they emerged with the best sounding and biggest series, with over thirty discs released between 1995 and 2002. Today we're listening to the core of that collection, the nine discs that make up Smooth Grooves - The Sensual Collection. The first four volumes were released in 1995, with volumes 5-7 coming early in 1996 and the final two volumes appearing late in 1996. Somewhat surprisingly, each of the nine albums made the Billboard R&B Albums chart, with Volume 1 spending nearly a year falling off the chart and Volume 9 lasting just one week before being banished from both the chart and the photo above. Each album has a dozen tracks and clocks in just over an hour long.
The series gets off on the right note as Volume 1 features the over eight minute live version of Earth, Wind & Fire's "Reasons", the album length cut of Heatwave's "Always And Forever" and Champaign's "How 'Bout Us" - all three songs also appear on The Greatest Slow Jam Mix Ever. My pick hit on the disc is "Shining Star" from The Manhattans.
Volume 2 has an early Anita Baker track before she embarked on her solo career and those pipes are unmistakable but it is Bobby Caldwell's ultra-swank slow jam that steals the whole disc.
The first four smooth grooves on Volume 3 share a spacey, cosmic vibe and I was fortunate enough to hear them out back underneath starry skies with a cool breeze blowing through my mind. I came inside to check on my girl, get her involved but she had already called it a night. It was a beautiful thing and get this, those four songs account for nearly thirty minutes of the disc. Still gotta go with the later track on the disc "Special Lady" as my pick to click but if you got the time and the stamina, put those first four tracks on and see what happens.
Slow jams stalwarts "Between The Sheets" and "Sexual Healing" finally show on Volume 4 of Smooth Grooves so yeah the wait is over. An odd choice is the inclusion of Patrice Rushen's uptempo "Forget Me Nots" disco jam. Though my favorite song on the disc is another uptempo female bumper - "You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else" by The Jones Girls. Try sitting still when that one comes on.
Volume 5 was almost a near-miss. Fortunately, Bootsy Collins makes an appearance and even as a big P-Funk fan, I was caught unawares. My favorite track on this disc also appears on The Greatest Slow Jam Mix Ever, GQ's "I Do Love You".
Six has always been my lucky number but my luck ran out with the sixth disc in Smooth Grooves - A Sensual Collection. All recognizable artists just not their best songs. Pass.
This one opens with another solid four song block of some of my favorite smooth grooves. (Dreamboy is MIA on Spotify but can be found HERE.) Though I have very strong emotions tied to Klymaxx's "I Miss You", my favorite song this time out is Champaign's other, lesser hit "Try Again".
At the same time Volumes 5-7 were released in January 1996, Rhino re-issued the first four volumes of Smooth Grooves - A Sensual Collection as a boxed set. For your convenience, I made the playlist above.
The Jones Girls set the pace for Volume 8 but almost none of the following tracks do much to advance the cause. A couple of women cover songs originally sung by men and it is Millie Jackson's take of "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right" that got my attention. The song is so good that not even Rod Stewart, Barbara Mandrell, Tom Jones or Paul Carrack could mess it up.
The ninth and final volume of Smooth Grooves - The Sensual Collection sounds like a collection of odds and ends rather than a cohesive genre defining disc. A song I only recently re-discovered appears on it though and that is the only good thing I can say about the disc. The song? "A Penny For Your Thoughts" by Tavares.
The sound is definitely better on these discs compared to other discs from other labels and for that we should all thank Bill Inglot, who mastered all the tracks. If you still haven't gotten a slow jams collection going, you can do little better than Smooth Grooves - A Sensual Collection and its 108 songs from the Seventies and Eighties. More often than not, the full-length album cuts were used in lieu of the single edits and at the time these discs were issued (1995-1996), almost all of the music was otherwise unavailable on compact disc.
Read some first-rate reviews of a
few Smooth Grooves discs over at