The mid-80s witnessed the rise of slick, machine-tooled smooth soul, and one of the genre's key male practitioners – alongside the likes of Luther Vandross and Alexander O'Neal – was Harlem-born crooner Freddie Jackson. Born in 1956 to a mother who was a singer, young Freddie was reared on a strict diet of gospel music, and sang his first solo, at age 13, as a choir member of Harlem's renowned White Rock Baptist Church. Just 16 years later he would have his first No. 1 R&B album with his debut LP, Rock Me Tonight.
While the title track demonstrated Jackson's prowess as a silky-throated balladeer, there were a clutch of uptempo songs – such as the effervescent "He'll Never Love You (Like I Do)" (which was a Top 10 US R&B smash in early '86) and the chugging "I Wanna Say I Love You" – that showed that Jackson could also cut the mustard as a master of get-on-down dancefloor grooves. Even so, it was on ballads where Jackson could really show his vocal range and expressivity. The album's second single, "You Are My Lady," written and produced by Barry Eastman, who helmed the majority of Rock Me Tonight, is a masterclass in 80s soul balladry, with Jackson's impassioned lead counterpointed by alluring female background vocals in a gospel-influenced call-and-response. It was Jackson's second R&B chart-topper.
Elsewhere, showing that he could write as well as sing was the impressive midtempo cut "Love Is Just A Touch Away," which was co-authored by Jackson with producer Eastmond. Its sleek, mesmeric groove, jazz-inflected chords, chunky synth bassline and sweetly sensual vocals epitomized the aesthetics of mid-80s R&B with its reliance on cutting-edge music technology. Rock Me Tonight's final track presented Jackson's take on "Good Morning Heartache," a jazz standard co-written by the immortal Billie Holiday. Featuring a solo from veteran tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, it offers listeners a glimpse of Jackson's versatility and finds him stretching out vocally with some virtuosic passages of extended melisma.
Musically, Rock Me Tonight was an impressive and varied debut, and its commercial success – it spent 63 weeks in the US R&B charts and penetrated that country's pop Top 10 – conferred instant star status on the previously unknown Freddie Jackson. It also gained him two Grammy nominations, while his penchant for romantic balladry also accrued legions of enthusiastic female fans who regarded the moustachioed, well-groomed Jackson as a heartthrob figure. Now available as a single LP on standard weight vinyl in celebration of Capitol Records' 75th anniversary.