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The 13 best moments from Sunday's classic Gladys Knight vs. Patti LaBelle Verzuz battle

By Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

- LaBelle described "Stir It Up," one of her two hits (along with "New Attitude") from the "Beverly Hills Cop" soundtrack, as "kind of corny - but I love it." Here, Knight matched the bouncy, synthed-up number with "Every Beat of My Heart," from way back in her earliest days with the Pips, and it was beautiful to see how much the half-century-old tune still means to her. "I had to borrow one of your high notes, Patti," she told LaBelle.

- Though Knight sounded great in "Licence to Kill," the theme song from the 1989 James Bond film of the same name, Knight offered a warning to her fans: "Don't y'all be out there killing nobody," she said. "I ain't giving you a license to kill."

- In Round 6, LaBelle sang "My Love, Sweet Love," from the "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack, then shouted out the soundtrack's mastermind (and Verzuz alum), Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds: "Everything he writes turns my heart to happy."

- LaBelle evidently experienced some trouble with her prompter during "Love, Need and Want You," which led to some stern words for the show's crew. "Put my lyrics up on the next one or you gonna get cut," she said as she smoothed her hair. "I'm only joking."

- Part of Verzuz's appeal is clocking the verified names that come through the comments section on Instagram, and this time we were treated to the sight of the competitors themselves watching who was watching, including Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. "We also got a special hello from the CEO of Apple," LaBelle said, before Knight identified Tim Cook as "Tim Cuckoo" and said she hoped he was enjoying the show "with a plate of collard greens."

- At the climax of "Over the Rainbow," LaBelle kicked off her shoes and stood to dance, though one of her heels flipped back and smacked her in the knee. She usually has more room onstage, she explained. But no matter: "It was cute to kick," she said.

 

- Things started to go off the rails a bit in Round 12, when LaBelle inexplicably broke from the song-by-song format and started jamming more than one tune into each of her turns, beginning with a medley of "New Attitude" and "On My Own," both of which certainly deserved their own showcase. Then, even more strangely, Knight did a second rendition of "Midnight Train to Georgia," which she'd already sung earlier in the show.

- Round 13 was loosy-goosier still, with LaBelle combining four tunes, including her take on the alphabet song from "Sesame Street" and the iconic "Lady Marmalade," which she admitted she'd recorded without fully understanding the French lyrics. To her and her bandmates in LaBelle, she admitted, the song's key line - "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi," meaning "Do you want to sleep with me" - "just sounded like a hit."

- Verzuz ended with that unannounced cameo by Warwick, 79, who like the two headliners wore a crisp pantsuit to join in on "That's What Friends Are For" and "Superwoman," the latter of which the three recorded in 1991. With its lyrics about a woman disappointed by a lover's neglect, the song upends the expectation established by its title; the narrator is making the point that she's not a superwoman available for this guy's casual abuse. And though the women's strong vocals tempted all kinds of hyperbole about how time had proved the song wrong, what was so moving about it here was its lived-in quality - precisely the idea that each of them had endured by feeling it all. As she left the stage, LaBelle (who'd slipped into a second pair of heels after "Over the Rainbow") took these ones off too and left them behind. "I want 'em back," she made clear to no one in particular. "Somebody take 'em to the room."

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