The 12" single for Steve Winwood's 1986 hit "Higher Love".

The 12

There’s not a whole lot of songs out there that you can recognize by the opening drumbeat. However, you know “Higher Love” is playing the second you hear John Robinson’s virtuoso solo. Robinson was the former drummer for Rufus, and he also played on Michael Jackson’s “Rock with You”, so the man obviously knows how to open a song.

Speaking of Rufus, this song gets some extra flavor enhancement from the one and only Chaka Khan. The diva sings background vocals and delivers a sassy vamp at the end (“braaaaaang me a higher love!”). The song’s good without her, great with her.

Then there’s Steve Winwood himself. Already a twenty-year music veteran, this song broke Winwood’s solo career wide open, becoming the first of his two #1 hits. Winwood’s high pitched, soulful wail sounds positively joyful on this song. This was one of several songs (Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” immediately comes to minds) that were hits in the Eighties and had strong spiritual (if not overtly religious) overtones.

In February 1987, “Higher Love” took home the Grammy for Record of the Year, becoming one of the few even remotely decent songs to take home that prize during the decade. Here’s a quick run through Grammy’s “Record(s) of the Year”

1980: “Sailing” by Christopher Cross
1981: “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes
1982: “Rosanna” by Toto
1983: “Beat It” by Michael Jackson
1984: “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” by Tina Turner
1985: “We Are the World” by USA for Africa
1986: “Higher Love” by Steve Winwood
1987: “Graceland” by Paul Simon
1988: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
1989: “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler

Only one other song from this list appears on my countdown. Take a stab at who it might be.