When John Legend was putting together the pieces that would eventually become his sophomore album, inspiration came to him from an unlikely source: Tony Bennett.
The crooner invited Legend to join him for a track on his recently released duets album, which coincided with Bennett's 80th birthday last month. The experience, Legend said, was not only flattering but helped put him in the right frame of mind for recording Once Again, due Tuesday on G.O.O.D. Music/ Sony Urban Music.
"He's a great singer, a great talent, and he's been around forever," Legend said of working with Bennett. "And he's been making great music forever, so for him to ask me was an honor and a privilege.
"I want my music to be [just as] popular because it's good," he continued. "I want it to be popular because it strikes a chord with people and it moves people. But I don't want it to sound like everything else that's popular. I want it to sound different, so part of what I'm trying to do is to do something that's distinct, do something that's unique. I think people want something that's different right now. I think they want something that's fresh, so that's what I'm here for."
Legend's lead single, "Save Room," certainly fits the bill as far as being fresh. The organ-driven composition was produced by the Black Eyed Peas' Will.I.Am and harkens back to the doo-wop era with its melodic vocals. The singer said the track was one of the first he recorded for Once Again and also one of the more natural songs to appear on the project.
"It's a sexy song and it's a feel-good song," Legend said. "It's based on an old song called 'Stormy' by the Classics IV, and it just feels good. I love the sound and the vibe on the song. It was exciting [to make]."
In addition to working with Will, Legend again collaborated with mentor Kanye West (see "Kanye's Hook Singer, John Legend, Ready For The Spotlight"), as well as with Raphael Saadiq and labelmates Sa-Ra Creative Partners. The singer mixed contemporary production with his childhood musical influences to create timeless music, he said.
"I think it's a good blend," Legend said of the album. "You make melodies and lyrics that could be written 20 years ago or 20 years from now and won't sound dated, and that's what I try to do, and I think it's good. Sometimes people want to make sure you are going to continue with the same stuff you did before, and to some extent this album has a lot of the same flavor that I had on the first album, but we expanded that. We went beyond, and I think you can see my growth, hear me keep moving, even though that old chord is there, but you won't get the same thing you got before."