CANDI STATON: YOUNG HEARTS RUN FREE (1976)
1) Run To Me; 2) Destiny; 3) What A Feeling; 4) You Bet Your Sweet, Sweet Love; 5) Young Hearts Run Free; 6) Living For You; 7) Summer Time With You; 8) I Know.
It is a little unlucky that Candi's big break had to come with the onslaught of the disco era, but at least she got her big break, unlike many less lucky souls — with a little help from producer and professional songwriter David Crawford, who ended up writing almost everything on her second LP for Warner Bros. The shift in tone is abrupt — while, technically, most of the songs here are «proto-disco» rather than proper disco, without the diagnostic basslines, Young Hearts Run Free is clearly a club-oriented dance record; and even if, at the time, this shift could be regarded by Candi herself as a fun change of image, in retrospect it joins the large number of similar shifts that ended up completely eroding the artist's personality and making him/her just another faceless face in the exuberant, carefree dance-pop crowd.
Yet, as it also often happens, it was not half bad the first time around. Crawford might be just a commercial hack, but he hacked out plenty of fun hooks for this record — mood-wise, 70% of these songs are interchangeable, yet some of them could stand their ground next to contemporary Bee Gees material. First in line is, of course, the title track, which seems to be pretty much the only thing that people remember about Candi Staton today — I'd much prefer her to be remembered by something like ʽI'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheartʼ, but it's hard to fight the appeal of a well-polished proto-disco groove when it is combined with a good vocal hook and a message of youthful optimism rather than bitter pragmaticism. (Actually, the song is pretty bitter — sung from the perspective of an abused wife envying the young people their freedom — but on the instinctive level, the only thing that matters is the anthemic "young hearts!... run free!" slogan).
Next to that one, ʽRun To Meʼ, ʽDestinyʼ, and ʽI Knowʼ sound like weaker clones of the big hit, but the vocal hooks are different enough to simply offer the people more of what they want without directly self-plagiarizing oneself. Slower ballads like ʽWhat A Feelingʼ are less exciting, but decently recorded — as is the cover of Al Green's ʽLiving For Youʼ, for which a pleasant bedrock is built out of tonally similar brass lines and slide guitars. The only properly corny song in the lot is ʽSummer Time With Youʼ, where they seem to be intruding on the Europop turf with dubious results (or maybe it's just that Candi tries too hard to be subtle, sensual, and seductive, with too much sexy breathiness — hardly the style of a gospel-bred R&B belter who once used to be a minor competitor for Aretha's crown).
Outside of all context, I would probably pass the record by in the end, but in the framework of her overall life trajectory, Young Hearts Run Free is a bit of a rejuvenating step forward — she may not be too responsible for the songs or the sounds, but Crawford seems to have been working in her interests, and gave her all this energetic, uplifting material to both alleviate her personal problems and get her out of the rut she'd settled into by 1974. And while I can't properly put my finger on it, or explain what it is exactly that makes these party-ready romps a tad more spiritualized than the average run-of-the-mill party-ready romps, I still trust that old intuition and give the record as a whole (not just its title track) a moderate thumbs up.