The title of Al Jarreau’s sixth studio album, released in 1983, is simple and straightforward: Jarreau. But if you ask me, it’s missing an exclamation point at the end — the multiple Grammy winner puts such joy and excitement into his performances that it’s hard not to feel as giddy as he does.
The album’s big hit was “Mornin’,” written by Jarreau, David Foster, and Jay Graydon. It still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, and one reason is the lyrics, which are uplifting in more ways than one:
My heart will soar with love
That’s rare and real
My smiling face
Will feel every cloud
Then higher still
Beyond the blue
Until I know I can
Like any man
Reach out my hand
And touch the face of God
What really sells the bridge is Jarreau’s delivery of the second verse. By the time he gets to “touch the face of God,” he’s pretty much done just that, leaving a mere mortal like myself marveling at the minor pop miracle I’ve witnessed. All in all, “Mornin'” is a solidly constructed, catchy song, but that moment in the bridge is absolutely transcendent — eternal rebirth captured in a four-minute “easy listening” number.
I thought about comparing that “Mornin'” moment to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, but that’d be a teeeensy bit of a stretch, I suppose. The famous Sistine Chapel fresco does remind me of SCTV‘s parody of Ben-Hur, however, in which the titular slave is visited by Jesus Christ, seen only from the waist down and wearing checkered pants, when he’s dying for a drink of water. Instead the son of God quenches Judah Ben-Hur’s thirst with a dry martini, and as the gin is being poured into the glass, Michelangelo’s masterpiece appears on-screen. God’s breath of life for Adam becomes Christ’s cocktail for John Candy, who never needed the aid of a fig leaf covering his privates to get a laugh.
Al Jarreau appeared on SCTV in the fall of ’81 in a parody of the Jazz Singer remake starring Neil Diamond. Popdose’s John C. Hughes once called this parody “interminably long,” but it’s one of my favorites, especially its premise — Jarreau plays a pop singer who really wants to be a cantor, against the wishes of his Jewish record-producer father (played by Eugene Levy as his recurring character Sid Dithers, complete with Stevie Wonder cornrows). SCTV generally did a great job showcasing its musical guests, letting them perform one of their songs in a sketch — while playing a character, no less — instead of just shuffling them on and off for their own separate “concert” segments. Jarreau sang “We’re in This Love Together” in the Jazz Singer parody, and watching him as he sings is one of the unexpected, possibly unintentional pleasures of the “Jarreau!” experience.
For one thing, the man has an elastic face, which is necessary if you’re going to bend words and sounds and sing out of one side of your mouth like Jarreau does on “Roof Garden”; the line “Does anyone wanna go waltzin’ in the garden?” wouldn’t sound right any other way. Pitched somewhere between a yawn and an orgasm, his game face has been a source of comedy gold for several decades now. In Living Color‘s Tommy Davidson used to do a great Jarreau impression, and Amy Sedaris, the funniest woman alive, showed off her Jarreau face on Late Show With David Letterman last June.
Jarreau’s appearance on SCTV wasn’t his only contribution to classic ’80s television. He also happens to be the singer of a very popular theme song from that decade.
When I was in grade school my favorite show was Moonlighting. (SCTV was my favorite show in middle school. Please keep track of this useful information in case you decide to ask me out on a date.) I watched way too much TV growing up, to the point where my dad once asked me, “Are you actually enjoying what you’re watching?” I know I should’ve gone outside to play more often, but who else was going to watch all those Scooby-Doo reruns — starving kids in Ethiopia? They were too busy starving.
Moonlighting showed me what episodic television was capable of. Never before had I encountered TV characters who knew they were TV characters and weren’t shy about admitting it. Moonlighting broke a lot of rules in its four years on the air, mixing comedy, drama, and romance in spectacular fashion. It crashed and burned faster than most fans would’ve liked, but when it was “on,” there was no other show like it.
Its theme song was the icing on the cake. Credit goes to Lee Holdridge, who came up with the memorable melody, and Jarreau, who wrote the lyrics and sang both the original 60-second version and the 1987 revamp, which was recorded as a three-minute single and became his last Top 40 hit. Jarreau’s syllable-snapping dexterity isn’t required in either version, but his vocals soar nonetheless, and his lyrics elegantly illustrate the show’s “opposites attract” dynamic:
There is the sun and moon
They sing their own sweet tune
Watch them when dawn is due
Sharing one space
Jeff Giles thinks Jarreau’s cover of “Since I Fell for You,” recorded in 1986 for the Bob James/David Sanborn album Double Vision, is “the definitive version.” I still prefer Lenny Welch’s take from ’63, which was used in Moonlighting‘s pilot episode, but there’s no denying that Jarreau’s take on the song is powerful stuff. The James-Sanborn-Jarreau version appeared in the 1987 episode “Blonde on Blonde,” which introduced Mark Harmon as Sam Crawford, David Addison’s (Bruce Willis) romantic rival for the affections of Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd), who—
I should probably save my Moonlighting tangents for another time. But one of my favorite Al Jarreau songs, the positively Jarreau!-tastic “Murphy’s Law,” was memorably featured in the second-season episode “Money Talks — Maddie Walks.” Why it doesn’t appear on any of his greatest-hits collections is a mystery to me.
Okay, now I’m done talking about Moonlighting. And the moon. But not the sun.
In 1992 Jarreau appeared on the soundtrack to Glengarry Glen Ross, director James Foley’s big-screen adaptation of David Mamet’s warm ‘n’ fuzzy play about male friendship. Jarreau’s skittery rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” provides perfect ironic accompaniment for the film’s end credits, but even in that context the joyful essence of “Jarreau!” still manages to shine through.
I’d also like to talk about 1981’s “Breakin’ Away,” an exquisite soft-pop number that makes fine use of Jarreau’s light falsetto, and 1975’s “You Don’t See Me,” which I’m going to declare as an early inspiration for beatboxing without verifying that claim in any way whatsoever. But it’s getting late. Dawn is due, and it’ll be mornin’ sooner than I think. In conclusion …
Murphy’s Law (from 1984’s High Crime)
Breakin’ Away (from 2001’s import-only The Best of Al Jarreau)
You Don’t See Me (from 1975’s We Got By)
Moonlighting [1985 Theme] (from 2005’s All-Time Top 100 TV Themes)
Blue Skies (from 1992’s Glengarry Glen Ross soundtrack)
Mornin’ (from 1996’s Best of Al Jarreau)