Today in Music History: Steve Winwood goes to No. 1

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After a lengthy career in other bands, Steve Winwood launched a solo career in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, Winwood had begun to amass some chart placings, and by 1986, the singer reached No. 1 with a pop-oriented tune called “Higher Love.”

 Steve Winwood: no stranger to chart success

Before going solo in 1977, Winwood was in a series of bands. Among the bands that featured Winwood were Blind Faith (Eric Clapton was also a member), Traffic and Ginger Baker’s Air Force.

Arguably, Winwood’s first album (self-titled) was one of his least successful. This distinction persists even though the album reached No. 12 on the UK charts, and reached the US Top 40. However, no hit singles were derived from this album.

Throughout the 1980s, Winwood continued to produce albums. Known for his blue-eyed soul, Winwood changed his style a bit, and when “Back In the High Life,”(1986) was released, his style shift was obvious.

The single “Higher Love” actually demonstrates Winwood combining both soul and pop. Further, the video for the song helped to secure Winwood’s new approach to song making. In it, against a backdrop that sometimes consists of rich colors, graceful, modern dancers lift their legs until their backs are parallel to the floor. A tangle of limbs and what looks like formal or cocktail dresses fill the screen. Then, helping out on the chorus and appearing onscreen with her trademark mane of hair and stylish clothes, is none other than Chaka Khan. Khan and Winwood seem to have established a rapport as they perform onscreen.

“Back In the High Life” contains other hits for Winwood. “Back in the High Life Again” and “The Finer Things” also charted for the British singer. Eventually, the album was certified platinum three times.

Winwood’s subsequent album, “Roll With It,” would also find success with regard to its eponymous single. By 1990, Winwood began returning to his soul roots with an album called, “Refugee of the Heart.” And some have claimed that this marked an unsuccessful period for the singer. While it is true that since only one single made to the US chart, “One and Only Man” (No. 18), it seemed that Windwood might recover his earlier successes. Even with “Higher Love” as his biggest hit, Winwood has a body of work to be proud of.

Winwood has continued to release albums in the 21st century. To date, he has sold almost 10 million albums.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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