Steve Winwood is simply one of the most talented singers of all time across genres. He is also a musical prodigy who can play a variety of instruments like keyboards, mandolin, guitars, bass, drums, and saxophone. He started his career as a vocalist at the age of 14 years when he joined the Spencer Davis Group and gave them several hits in the mid-60s like “Keep On Running,” “Gimme Some Lovin’,” and “I’m a Man.” Winwood then formed the enigmatic band Traffic and released several highly acclaimed albums before becoming part of other super groups like Blind Faith and Ginger Baker’s Air Force. In the late 1970s Winwood branched off to start his solo career and this has been the most commercially successful phase of his long and brilliant career. He scored big with hit singles like “While You See a Chance,” “Valerie,” and “Talking Back to the Night” and proved to a new generation of music listeners that he was unarguably one the best vocalists ever.
Showcasing an Incredible Musical Diversity
In the mid-1980s Steve Winwood was going through a turbulent personal relationship with his wife and this found expression in the lyrics and music of his fourth solo album Back in the High Life Again. Back in the High Life Again was released on June 30, 1986, and from the very start, it was and has been hailed as one of the most polished and sophisticated pop albums of all time. This time Winwood worked with gifted sessions musicians like Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, Chic co-founder Nile Rogers, and veteran drummer John Robinson unlike before when he played most of the instruments. Winwood was in an introspective and contemplative mood when he began work on this album and the ups and downs of his seminal and influential career played heavily on his mind. He wanted to incorporate all the sounds running through his head and took elements of gospel, R&B, Caribbean music, folk, and soul to create a classy, fresh, and intelligent album that took the Billboard singles and album charts by storm.
Intelligent & Meticulously Crafted Songs
“Higher Love” was the first single from the album and it streaked up the Billboard Top 100 charts and took pole position in little time. The song urges the listeners to rise from the negativity around them and believe in a force that can uplift them. Winwood sings “Think about it, there must be higher love/ Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above/ Without it, life is wasted time/ Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.” Winwood sings like a believer, Chaka Khan sings the backing vocals, and the piano and synthesizer create irresistible sounds that just fill you with hope and positivity. Winwood won the Grammy in the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance category for “Higher Love” and the song was later covered by several other artists like Whitney Houston, James McMorrow, and DJ Kygo.
The title track “Back in the High Life” touched millions of listeners from the very first time they heard it. It talks about the hope and determination of a person who was once very successful but then fell into bad days but knows that he or she has it in them to come back to the top again. Winwood sings with wisdom and patience “I’ll be back in the high life again/ All the doors I closed one time will open up again/ I’ll be back in the high life again/ All the eyes that watched me once will smile and take me in.” The haunting video of Winwood walking through a small railroad town and the song has given strength to everyone who has heard this mature meditation on the vagaries of success. “The Finer Things” stresses the importance of living in the present moment and appreciating all the good in your life and not taking them for granted. It has a bouncy, upbeat vibe that is infectious.
“Take It As It Comes” is about not worrying unnecessarily about the unknown future and dealing with life as it unfolds right now. “My Love’s Leavin’” brings out the pain and despair of a failed relationship when the woman you have loved all this while has left you all alone. She is gone and won’t come back but you are in denial and hoping helplessly that she will walk back in through the door again. In “Wake Me Up on Judgement Day” Winwood wants to put off the inevitable need to introspect and understand what your life has been and how the decisions and actions you have taken have affected people in your life. It’s a hard day when you have to accept and account for all you have done. “Freedom Overspill” and “Split Decision” round off an album that forces you to listen to it again and again for its sagacity and joyousness.
Sounds Just As Fresh Even Today
Over the years Back in the High Life Again has been regularly mentioned as representing the pinnacle of 1980s pop and one of the most important pop-rock albums of the decade. It proved that quality music would appeal to the classes and masses and it sold more than five million copies worldwide. It took Steve Winwood’s career to a new high which he further cemented with his follow-up album Roll With It released in 1988. A new generation of young listeners got introduced to Steve Winwood who is one of the most passionate singer-songwriters-instrumentalist the world has ever seen. With Back in the High Life Again Steve Winwood sealed his reputation as one of the best white “black” singers in music which millions of his fans and critics believe him to be. Since then Steve Winwood has always been in the high life in the music pantheon.