When it comes to male R&B vocalists, many people mention Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Al Green and Luther Vandross as their favorite if you are going old school. Others mention Kem, Maxwell, Anthony Hamilton, and John Legend as their favorite if you are going new school.
Alexander O’Neal has been my favorite male R&B vocalist over the aforementioned names. He has one very good album, the self-titled debut. He has one solid album, All True Man, and one great album, Hearsay. I will write about Hearsay because it’s the album that made me an O’Neal fan and the one I still listen to three decades plus later.
Hearsay is a concept album focused around a house party at Alexander O’Neal’s house. No one had done a R&B concept album at the time around people enjoying themselves. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life were concept albums that had political, social, and spiritual ambitions from the 1970s. O’Neal’s Hearsay did not have those lofty ambitions. However, it does not make it any less of an artistic achievement.
There are 17 tracks on Hearsay with several being interludes that capture the party’s atmosphere and adds texture to people wanting to having a good time. Hearsay spawned six hits: Fake, Criticize, Never Knew Love Like This (duet with Cherelle), What Can I Say To Make You Love Me, and Sunshine. Fake and Criticize became 1980’s dance floor staples and Sunshine (my favorite song on the album) was a quiet storm favorite.
O’Neal’s husky tenor voice reminds one of Otis Redding. He can sing with authority and masculinity on a song like Fake and with sensitivity on a song like Sunshine. The legendary production team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis captures the full range of O’Neal’s voice on Hearsay and after many repeated listens it never gets old.
Hearsay represented the high watermark of O’Neal’s career. It’s unfortunate that substance issues derailed his career. However, O’Neal became a beloved performer in England and had many sold-out shows in London’s Wembley Arena during the height of his career.
I love this album and play it often. If you are a fan of R&B music, then you must listen to Hearsay.