On January 29th, 2019, James Ingram, one of my favorite singers, passed away from brain cancer. I’m a little late in paying tribute to him, but I wanted to do so because his work, as with so many musicians who were active in the 1980s, helped get me through some of the darkest times of my life.
I’ve decided to choose five songs that James Ingram performed. Some of them were solos and others were duets or collaborations, but all in all, these songs inspired me and my writing.
The first song I would like to mention is “Just Once”, one of his collaborations with Quincy Jones on Jones’ album The Dude. Famous for its’ usage in The Last American Virgin, the song is one of the most emotionally charged ballads of the 80s. We’ve all had relationships, whether romantic or platonic, that have gone off the rails and ended badly, and we’ve hoped against hope that we could redeem ourselves and make peace. Those are the emotions I get from this song, and James Ingram’s vocals sold the hell out of it.
Even though this was a very emotional ballad, it was also used in a very comedic context once. During the NBC run of the cult classic Canadian comedy series SCTV, James Ingram appeared as the musical guest at the 3-D House Of Beef, a restaurant run by Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty), Dr. Tongue (John Candy) and Woody Tobias Jr. (Eugene Levy). After performing “Just Once”, Count Floyd asks James Ingram to perform another tune, and James refuses, demands his money and tackles Dr. Tongue as the restaurant descends into chaos. It was hilarious.
Speaking of hilarity and James Ingram, Beverly Hills Cop II is a movie I’ve come around to enjoying again in recent years, and while the soundtrack isn’t as killer as that of the original Beverly Hills Cop, there are some excellent contributions, and one of them came from James Ingram with the song “Better Way”.
This song was actually the first song of James’ that came to mind when I heard about his passing, mainly because I recently had to undergo a major change in my life due to medical and financial issues that have been tied together. Looking for the positive side of things is something I’ve always associated with the pop culture of the 1980s, and that’s why I thought of the song. Although I’ve had to have my hours reduced at work in order to keep my medication at a low price, I’ll make my way through it. Listening to this song, I know I’ll find a better way to help myself through these changes.
The next James Ingram song that influenced me was one I wrote about when I paid tribute to the late Rod Temperton, who co-wrote this song with James, upon HIS passing in 2016. It’s the classic “Yah Mo B There”.
This is a song I’ve often found myself reflecting on in the years since I first heard it. The world has always been a rough place, and we’re all looking for some sense of peace. While this may be a religious song for some, I don’t view it that way. I view it as a song about finding that which brings you peace of mind. For some, it’s music. For others, it’s good food. For still others, it could be going for a walk or seeing a movie. James Ingram and Michael McDonald’s vocals on this song helped to express the yearning and wonderment of the song’s lyrics.
Duets were where James Ingram excelled, as he and his duet partners helped bring out the emotion and intensity of a song more together than they could individually. One of the best examples of that would have to be his duet with Linda Ronstadt on the pop version of “Somewhere Out There” from An American Tail.
I know some have said this version makes it sound like a love song instead of a song sung from one family member to another, but I don’t hear it that way. James and Linda’s vocals are reflective of how any people separated by long distances or even worse things still think about each other. Parents and children, friends who have moved away from each other, yes, even lovers…We’re always thinking of others and hoping that, wherever they may be, they’re happy and safe.
Finally, the very first James Ingram song I ever heard was his duet with Patti Austin on “How Do You Keep The Music Playing”, which I heard on a 4-disc set of songs from Warner Brothers movies released to coincide with the studio’s 75th anniversary. This song came from the movie Best Friends, and even though the relationship between Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn in that movie didn’t work out, this song is a question that can often be asked about relationships of all kinds. How do you keep the music playing? It’s like asking how can we make it through this rough patch and still like each other?
In my opinion, though, although James Ingram has passed away, his music will still keep playing forever. As long as people yearn for connection of any kind, whether romantic, friendly or in terms of a new adventure, James Ingram’s music lives on.
R.I.P James Ingram, and although I haven’t written it in a long time, FUCK CANCER!
What are your memories of James Ingram’s music?