If you were here tonight, Alexander O’Neal would sing. It’s not just hearsay, so please don’t criticize!
He was one of the 1980’s most charismatic and successful male voices, so just what is Alexander O’Neal doing these days? Born in Mississippi in 1953, it took Alexander some fifteen years before fame and success came his way. He performed in a number of bands in his home town of Natchez during the early-mid 1970’s, most notably, Flyte Time, which featured singer Cynthia Johnson and future songwriter and producer Jimmy ‘Jam’ Harris. The group spent eight years touring and recording, although no hits came their way. Following the breakup in 1980, Jimmy met with a then unknown artist by the name of Prince and together with Alexander, they formed a new band, The Time. But almost immediately, O’Neal was replaced as the main singer of the band following a disagreement with Prince.
Alexander had not gone un-noticed as he would gain employment as a backing singer for the likes of The SOS Band and rising American singer, Cherrelle. Following work on her debut album, “Fragile”, in 1984, Alexander was signed by Tabu Records to develop him as an artist in his own right. With former band mate Jimmy ‘Jam’ in tow, work started on what would become his self-titled debut. O’Neal would enjoy limited success in his home country, but it would be internationally, particularly in the UK, where he would really make it big. HIs debut single, “Innocent”, came at the beginning of 1985 and just scrapped into the US singles chart. The album followed soon after and would largely do the same. His first sizable hit came with the second single, the R&B ballad, “If You Were Here Tonight”, which peaked at No.13 in the UK and would lead to the album selling over 200,000 copies there.
O’Neal would team up with Cherrelle for a song on her second album, “High Priority”, a duet called “Saturday Love”, which would take him into the UK top ten (No.6), to No.2 on the US R&B chart and No.26 on the singles chart. A total of five songs would be pulled from the album, but only “What’s Missing?” would produce one further R&B top ten entry in 1986. Alexander, along with Jimmy ‘Jam’ and Terry Lewis would develop his sound further the following year with the release of his second album, “Hearsay”, in the Summer of 1987. The pumped up lead track, “Fake”, would take Alexander to No.1 on the R&B chart, his first and to date, his only number one as well as No.25 on the top 100. It was the second single from the album that would really cement its popularity. Released in October, “Criticize”, produced another top five hit on the R&B chart but only reach No.70 on the singles chart. Worldwide the song fared much better and reached a new high of No.4 in the UK in November that year.
“Hearsay” would go on to sell over 700,000 copies in his homeland, but gain a triple Platinum certification in the UK for sales of more than 900,000 copies. It was Cherrelle who this time repaid the favour in joining Alexander for the song “Never Knew Love Like This”, which would go to No.2 on the R&B chart and No.28 on the top 100 (UK No.26). Alexander would actually achieve a total of SEVEN UK top 40 hits from the album including “The Lovers” and a remix of “Fake” (UK No.16), before closing 1988 with his recording of the festive classic, “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”, which made No.30 in the UK, and taken from his seasonal long player, “My Gift To You”. “Hearsay” was not quite done yet, as Alexander went into 1989 with a new mix of the title track and a “Hit Mix” for Christmas 1989, which put him back in the UK top twenty (No.19), bringing the number of songs associated with the album to eight!
With two successful albums behind them, it was no wonder, Alexander, Jimmy and Terry joined forces for his third studio album, “All True Man”, in 1991. The title track gave him a sixth R&B top ten hit (No.43 on top 100) and another UK top twenty hit (No.18), that Spring. The album would chart at No.2 in the UK, his highest yet and No.3 on the US R&B chart, only one place lower than “Hearsay” had achieved four years earlier. In both territories, the album achieved Gold status, while the single, “What Is This Thing Called Love?”, went top ten on the US dance chart. 1992 saw the release of his first greatest hits album, “This Thing Called Love: The Greatest Hits of Alexander O’Neal”, which would produce another top five success in the UK and win another Gold disc and he was back in the charts the following year with “Love Makes No Sense” (UK No.26, US R&B No.13) and “In The Middle” (UK No.32), both taken from his 1993 album, “Love Makes No Sense”, which reached No.14 in the UK, but became his last charting album in America, which it peaked at No.89.
Alexander enjoyed more success in the UK in 1996 with “Let’s Get Together” (No.38), the lead single from his first album with new label, One World. The album, “Lovers Again”, would see him reunite with Cherrelle once again for the song “Baby Come To Me”, although this was less successful commercially. This hits began to dry up soon after, although Alexander would be afforded one further Gold disc with his 2004 expanded “Greatest Hits” collection, in the UK. He has continued to play live at 80’s festivals and record new material with one more UK top 50 album in 2008, “Alex Loves…”. In the UK, he became something of a TV star in the 2000’s, appearing on quiz shows, celebrity reality shows and even Big Brother, in 2015! Both he and Cherrelle performed at the 2019 Soul Train Awards and sang their best known song, “Saturday Love”, for the first time in three decades.
With sell-out live shows from the Hammersmith Apollo and even The Palladium, it seems we certainly do not want to criticize Alexander O’Neal’s friends, his ideas or his lifestyle just yet. Don’t be fed up, Alex!
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