Stephanie Mills – 1975 – For The First Time
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A really unusual album from the young Stephanie Mills – not only because it captures the singer at a wonderful early point in her career, when she was still open to a rich range of expression – but also because the whole thing was written and produced by the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David – who almost work with Mills as a 70s update of their classics with Dionne Warwick! Yet the sound here is also different – deeper in that nicely matured way that Burt had brought to his own great albums and special projects of the time – with these sensitive emotional moments that are a real surprise from Mills, especially as she could have just been phoning it in at this point. Backings are definitely Bacharach-like, but nicely subtle too – again like the direction Burt himself was going at the time.
In 1975, an 18-year-old Stephanie Mills was well known in the theatrical world for her portrayal of Dorothy in the Broadway play The Wiz. But as a recording artist, Mills didn’t hit big until she recorded the gold What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’ (her third album) for 20th Century in 1979. Produced and written by the Burt Bacharach/Hal David team, For the First Time is the only album that Millsrecorded for Motown. Contrary to what its album implies, this wasn’t her first album — 1974’s Movin’ in the Right Direction on ABC was Mills’ debut album, and this LP was her sophomore effort. Despite the participation of Bacharach and David, For the First Time received little attention. The producer/composers seemed to envision the artist as another Dionne Warwick, and the result is a very pop-minded album. Mills, however, is more effective as a straight-up R&B singer. While her performances of “I See You for the First Time,” “Living on Plastic,” and other Bacharach/David tunes are pleasant enough, she is a lot more exciting on subsequent gems like 1979’s What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin’, 1980’s Sweet Sensation, and 1987’s If I Were Your Woman. This isn’t a bad record, but it pales in comparison to the releases that came after it. Not recommended to casual listeners, For the First Time is strictly for historians and die-hard collectors.