(June 16, 2024). Often when a singer/songwriter with incredible talent and the voice of an angel passes away, people begin reflecting on (and streaming) that artist’s greatest hits, especially those who we feel didn’t get her flowers while she was with us. That will no doubt be the same for the late Angela Bofill, who passed away on June 13 at age 70 after having suffered two earlier strokes (in 2006 and ’07) from which she had seemingly recovered.

The sad news was initially met with some trepidation after an earlier internet death hoax about the Cuban-Puerto Rican singer (in 2020) proved not to be true.  After that incident (and her earlier health scares), fans longed for a fuller recovery and perhaps even a return to the concert stage for the singer who gave us such classics as “Too Tough,” “I’m On Your Side” and, of course, “I Try.”

But this weekend’s news of the highly underrated talent’s passing would sadly be confirmed by her family, and we immediately began remembering the multi-octave tenor/contralto’s incredible vocal range, tone and diction, and lamented the fact that she never had a million-selling album or single, never charted on the Billboard Hot 100, and never received a Grammy nomination.

Still, there were those amazing songs!

Bofill’s music transcended jazz, R&B, funk, and dance.  From her first album’s more jazz-influenced “Under the Moon and Over the Sky” in 1978, to the follow-up’s more soulful renderings of “What I Wouldn’t Do (For the Love of You)” and the ubiquitous “I Try,” which has been a quiet-storm staple ever since its parent album’s release in the early fall of 1979.

Angie Bofill’s second album, Angel of the Night (1979)

That album was Angel of the Night, the LP that had introduced me to this wonderful new singer by way of my mother’s vinyl purchase.  In a season where I was buying everything funk and disco-related by the likes of Cameo, Michael Jackson, Rufus & Chaka, and, of course, Chic, my mom brings into our home this “adulting album” on this fledgling GRP Records label by this never-before-heard-of singer (at least by me).

Of course, when she played it, I’d wince.  It’s not that I didn’t like the music, I did.  But it took up space on the only record player we had in the home at a time when I otherwise wanted to blast Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” Jackson’s Off the Wall album, and Twennynine’s “Peanut Butter,” not to mention the first rap record I’d purchased, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang, among other up-tempo fare.

But in a home where you’re not paying any bills and you don’t have a stereo to your name (yet), Mom’s rules govern the household playlist.

And so, I’d sit there and listen somewhat impatiently to the opening track of Bofill’s second album, “I Try,” written by the singer herself, and nod along as my mom went on about how much she loved it, and how much my grandmother – who often visited us from Pittsburgh – loved it too.  It was the latter’s favorite song. 

You don’t appreciate these things as a 13-year-old.  Certainly, my mother, then in her mid-30s, and grandmother (who turned 57 the day the album was released) had a better perspective about this song whose lyrics lamented unrequited love and an underappreciative partner than my newly adolescent self did.  I didn’t know this then, but “I Try” was 1979’s more understated, but no less emotional foreshadowing of “Superwoman,” the more grievance-filled and famous version of this painful relationship narrative that Karyn White took to No. 1 on the soul chart ten years later.

Bofill’s label, GRP, never released “I Try” as a single, instead going with the more up-tempo songs “What I Wouldn’t Do (For the Love of You)” and the album’s title track as vinyl 45 releases.  As such, “I Try” never saw the light of day on any of Billboard’s singles charts (it did, however, make my weekly personal Top 75 chart at the time, which had little regard for whether a song was officially available as a single record).  The two singles GRP opted for did modestly on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, while none of them reached the Hot 100 (something that eluded Bofill throughout her entire career).  Another of the album’s tracks would be released many years later, Bofill’s remake of The Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go ‘Round.”

Over the years, as I’ve aged to a point where I’m now older than both my mom and grandmother were at the time, I’ve grown to appreciate “I Try” for what it truly was (and is): a classic among classics.  Although I do so at the end of this article, it doesn’t do this tune justice to only rank it among Bofill’s greatest songs.  It deserves to be ranked among some of the greatest, most passionate, and most complete musical arrangements by any artist, period.

“I Try” was one of the most outstanding tunes of its era both vocally and musically.  Hailing from a label that specialized in the genre, “I Try” has superior jazz fusion elements that were expertly woven into the sound of R&B/soul.  The song’s tenor saxophone, played by Eddie Daniels, riffs throughout her soulful verses like sweet molasses.  The song’s chord progressions are some of the best of the era, complex and melodic at a time when pop and disco tunes demanded simplicity and repetition.  The strings provide a soft bed for Bofill’s aching pleas, while the rhythm track alternates superbly from its rim-shot driven beginnings to full-on snare- and tom-drum hits, complete with prominent hi-hat notes punctuating throughout.

The stellar sax solo beginning about 1:37 bridges two of the most plaintive lines that end and begin consecutive verses.  “Don’t you think I’m good enough for you?” is followed after a brief sax interlude by “Can’t ya see, that you’re hurting me, and I want, I want this pain to stop!”  No, Bofill isn’t shouting from the rafters, but you believe she’s feeling every ounce of pain about which she sings.

But most impressive was Bofill’s performance.  It was indeed the New York native’s most beloved torch song, on par with other such classics like Marilyn McCoo’s performance on “One Less Bell to Answer” (by the 5th Dimension) or Dionne Warwick’s same-season smash, “I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” which was a huge hit around the time that Bofill’s album charted.  Except, while Warwick (and McCoo) had resigned themselves to the fact that their lovers weren’t returning, Bofill’s lyrics spoke of an effort to reach a current lover who just wasn’t there emotionally.  This writer doesn’t believe she ever topped “I Try” vocally or message-wise, making it a small wonder how the song was never invested in by the record company.

Of course, unlike McCoo and Warwick, Bofill was still an unproven entity in 1979, something mogul Clive Davis tried to change when he took her from GRP Records to its distribution label, Arista Records, for her subsequent releases.  She released five albums on Arista, including 1983’s Too Tough, which contained her best performing single in its title track.  The song “Too Tough” reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1983 (and No. 2 on my personal Top-75 chart).

After leaving Arista Records following diminishing success there, she recorded three more albums for different labels before retiring from recording after 1996’s tenth and final LP, Love in Slow Motion.

Over the weekend, both my mother and I have played “I Try” on repeat as we remember the wondrous song it was by the immensely talented singer who wrote and recorded it.

Today, DJROBBLOG remembers Angela Bofill with this ranking of her ten best songs, beginning at the top of the list with what shouldn’t be a surprise to any readers.

1. “I Try” (1979, album: Angel of the Night).

See above.  Not much more can be said about a song that embodies beauty and elegance, even when shrouded in the pain and torture that Bofill’s protagonist professed to be throughout the tune’s heart wrenching lyrics. The above video is a live performance of the song in 1981 on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show,” where she replaces the horn bridge with an amazing scat solo.

2. “Under the Moon and Over the Sky” (1978, album: Angie).

Bofill’s wide vocal range is in full display on this tune, perhaps her most jazz-flavored song of all from her first, self-titled album in 1978.  She gives us a full-on scat, a whistle-register note at the song’s fade, and a display of her Latin music roots which are celebrated here, particularly during a chant in the song’s midsection.

3. “What I Wouldn’t Do (For the Love of You)” (1979, album: Angel of the Night).

The song that opened Side 2 of her stellar sophomore album, Angel of the Night, was the sultry and catchy “What I Wouldn’t Do (For the Love of You),” which garnered a lot of R&B radio airplay in late 1979, propelling it to a No. 18 peak on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, her highest at the time.

4. “This Time I’ll Be Sweeter” (1978, album: Angie).

The late Gwen Guthrie (of “Ain’t Nuthin’ Goin’ On but the Rent” fame) wrote this ballad for Bofill’s first album, Angie.  It was her first single release and the first (and only one) to reach the top 40 on both the soul and adult contemporary charts, where it peaked at No. 23 and No. 39, respectively.  It also was the closest she ever came to the Hot 100, where the song bubbled under at No. 104 in early 1979. 

5. “Too Tough” (1983, album: Too Tough).

By the time “Too Tough” came out in the first half of 1983, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the biggest thing on the planet.  He was slowly breaking down barriers that had prevented up-tempo songs by R&B artists from crossing over to pop during the previous two years.  The full impact of Thriller on other artists had not yet been felt as “Too Tough” was climbing the charts, hence its status as a top-five R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart hit that never saw the light of day on the Hot 100, despite Clive Davis’ and Narada Michael Walden’s influences being all over it.  Perhaps the pre-Madonna inuendo “I want you in between” and about being “not too big, not too small” but “just right” had something to do with its lack of pop play. This song was a year too early!

6. “Tonight I Give In” (1983, album: Too Tough).

This ballad was the follow-up to the album’s title track, “Too Tough,” and became Bofill’s second-highest charting R&B single (at the time) with a No. 12 peak in summer 1983.  It was about as close to a pop-sounding single as the talented singer had made at the time, yet even Arista’s brass couldn’t get mainstream radio to jump on board. Still, this is among Bofill’s most beautiful true ballads.

7. “Angel of the Night” (1979, album: Angel of the Night).

“Angelita de la noche.”  Those were the lyrics that introduced me to Bofill’s Latina roots (as I hadn’t yet heard “Under the Moon” from a year earlier).  This song also contained some of the disco elements that likely helped it reach the lower regions of the R&B chart as the disco era was nearing its end.

8. “I’m On Your Side” (1983, album: Teaser).

Another ballad from the second album she released in 1983, Teaser.  “I’m On Your Side” is one of her more well-known hits, having reached No. 20 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in 1984.  Every singer worth her weight in hits has at least one waltz song in her catalogue, and this one is likely Bofill’s most representative ballad of all.

9. “Rainbow Child (Little Pas)” (1979, album: Angel of the Night).

This lullaby, written by Bofill, was an ode from mother to child and, midway through, switched to being an ode from a child to its mother.  It’s this poignancy that makes it a personal favorite.  “Rainbow” also served as the B-side to both of the album’s official singles, “What I Wouldn’t Do” and “Angel of the Night,” proving that, although it wasn’t deemed worthy by GRP Records of its own A-side release, the label clearly wanted it to have some exposure.

10. “Only Love” (1981, album: Something About You).

This breezy, jazzed-up entry from Bofill’s third album (and her first on Arista Records under the production arm of Narada Michael Walden), harkened back to her first two albums by mixing jazz with other genres, and its easily this album’s standout track, although there were other songs that Arista opted to release as singles.  Still, “Only You,” written solely by Bofill, is one of the reasons the album became her third straight to reach the top five of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.  It was also her last such charting album.

Honorable Mention:

“People Make the World Go ‘Round” (1979, album: Angel of the Morning).

In a total rearrangement of the Stylistics 1972 Philly Soul classic, Bofill flips “People” into a quasi-disco number, one which includes all the genre’s requisite elements: string bursts, clipped brass riffs, a funky rhythm section with handclaps, and even a chant during the song’s middle break.  But even all that, plus a funky bass-guitar solo, can’t overshadow its jazz influences, which Bofill and company weave in and out expertly. This was jazz-disco fusion at its best (even in the era of Crusaders’ “Street Life,” which was a big hit at the same time).

“Something About You” (1981, album: Something About You).

If this post-disco song sounds like something from young Stacy Lattisaw’s early catalogue in 1981, that’s because it was helmed by the same producer, Narada Michael Walden, who was cutting his early production chops at the time (after having recorded his own successful albums).  “Something About You,” co-written by Allee Willis who penned classics like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” and “Boogie Wonderland,” and Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” (feat. Dusty Springfield), was a respectable chart hit, reaching No. 21 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in early 1982.


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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