Without wishing to go into a lengthy history lesson because 1) soul fans don’t need reminding and 2) I’d soon run out of space, suffice to say these guys were originally known as The Charlemagnes, and unsuccessfully recorded for several labels before hooking up with Philadelphia International where their story really began in earnest. Their membership had changed constantly until Harold Melvin recruited Teddy Pendergrass as lead singer, previously of The Cadillacs. Joining Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International launched Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes on an incredible career across several decades, marking them as the first group to achieve international success within the first year of the company’s trading. So, let’s get started.
With the unexpected success of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, the “I Miss You” album, the group’s debut for Philadelphia in 1972, was later re-marketed under the name “Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes”. Anyway, originally penned by Gamble & Huff for Labelle, the single was chosen as one of the Songs Of The Century by the RIAA: rightly so. Steeped in warm, emotional stylings, musically supported by a sympathetic orchestra, it was an authentic soul classic, and marked the group’s debut in the UK chart where it peaked in the top ten. Such was the power of the song that it’s been re-visited by many including the UK unit, Simply Red, where another hit was enjoyed. However, while this song is so powerfully attractive, there’s others on “I Miss You”: “Be For Real” for starters, with its interesting diversion, and their take on Billy Paul’s “Ebony Woman”.
In 1973, “Black & Blue” arrived with another block busting title lifted for single release – “The Love I Lost”, a song that was conceived as a ballad but re-arranged to make it attractive to the growing lucrative disco market at the time. A second UK hit but in the top twenty this time. And, my, that solid, driving beat exemplified the changing Philly sound with the arousing unison of soul voices. “Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)” followed, a top forty UK hit, while you can’t ignore “It All Depends On You” and “I’m Weak For You”. Next out, the “To Be True” album, the first of two issued during 1975, where you instantly zone in on “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon” because of Sharon Paige’s involvement. The young singer toured with the group and had released her first single “Let’s Get Together Soon”, later recorded By Dusty Springfield on her “Brand New Me” album. Other notable slices of soul included on “To Be True” are “Bad Luck” and “Nobody Could Take Your Place”. So, onto the “Wake Up Everybody” album (the last to feature Teddy Pendergrass) which kick starts with “Where Are All My Friends”, but once again, among the powerhouse titles, two immediately catch on – the album’s title and, of course, “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. Both were UK hits at no 23 and no 5 respectively. The latter track competed against Thelma Houston’s version which, although a much deserved hit for the lady, she lost out to the group’s version by peaking at no 13. Listening to these CDs now, apart from a few hiccups, music doesn’t get much better than this, and to chose a particular favourite is nigh impossible for this ol’ lady. Enjoy!
THE EMOTIONS: DON’T ASK MY NEIGHBORS/ THE COLUMBIA/ARC RECORDINGS (1976-1981) (SOULMUSIC RECORDS)
I don’t know about you, but when I see one of these colourful boxes arrive in the post, I feel my spirits lift. Not only are they great value but the music within has been well researched and lovingly presented. Well, that’s earned me a few brownie points if nothing else! Together or singly The Emotions have worked with the best including Earth, Wind & Fire, Smokey Robinson, Nancy Wilson and George Duke. As recording artists they were nominated as one of the most influential female groups of all time. With a changing membership over the years, they first stepped on the public platform as a gospel group named the Hutchinson Sunbeams, before hitting the R&B market building up a staunch following in their home state Illinois. As The Emotions, they joined the Volt label during the late sixties, working with David Porter and Isaac Hayes, to release their first album “So I Can Love You”. The title track hit the R&B top ten and top forty mainstream listing. Here we have the ladies’ Columbia and Arc recordings spanning 1976-1981, covering five albums on this 54-track, three CD box set. It was in 1976 that The Emotions hooked up with EW&F’s Maurice White and his Kalimba Productions with the resulting “Flowers” album, when “I Don’t Wanna Lose Your Love” elevated them into the dance market. For me the highlight is the melancholic “How Can You Stop Loving Someone” and the gospel tinged “God Will Take Care Of You”. Into the chart topping “Rejoice” album and the global runaway hit “Best Of My Love” which, apart from being a multi-million seller, won the Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Grammy in 1977. Check out as well, the placid “Key To My Heart” and “A Long Way To Go”.
Their gold status “Sunbeam” album opens with “Smile”, upbeat and instant; “Spirit Of Summer” hints at jazz and “Walking The Line” is wonderfully delicious. So, a pot pourie of sounds, indicating that once again, no style is alien to these ladies. Unfortunately, “Come Into Our World” failed to reach its predecessors’ heady heights. The idea behind the release was to move forward with changing musical public demands, but somehow, apart from a handful of tracks like the R&B hit “What’s The Name Of You Love”, The Emotions had lost their impetus. Finally, the album “New Affair” from 1981, a poor seller yet it spawned the up tempo “Turn It Out” and the EW&F influenced “Here You Come Again”. It was also their final Arc release.
Following a short interlude, The Emotions recorded an album for the Red label in 1984, before releasing the one off album “If I Only Knew” for Motown in June 1985. From this, “Miss Your Love” and “If I Only Knew Then (What I Know Now)” were issued as singles. All were only moderate sellers, despite the power of Motown behind them. Rounding off this box set are various bonus tracks including “I Should Be Dancing”, “Flowers”, “Boogie Wonderland” with Earth, Wind & Fire. What’s there not to like?
During the eighties Billy Ocean was the most popular Trinidad/British R&B singer to hit the UK chart. After a shaky start, “Love Really Hurts Without You”, lifted from his self-named album in 1976, stormed into the UK top two. “L.O.D. (Love On Delivery)” and “Stop Me (If You’ve Heard It All Before)” followed to peak in the top twenty. The next year, Billy enjoyed a solitary hit with “Red Light Spells Danger”, another top two single. From here he struggled a bit with “Are You Ready” and “Stay The Night”, then came the new decade when his star began to rise again. During 1984, his album “Suddenly” spawned a single that remains as popular today as when first issued – “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)” – compelling hooks and singalong chorus. “Loverboy” was next, top twenty, until the album’s title, the smooth sounding “Suddenly” was issued to become a top four seller, paving the way for “Mystery Lady”.
Billy’s star had not only risen but was shining brightly. “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” (the theme from “The Jewel In The Crown” movie) hit the top in January 1986, with “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” stalling in the top twelve. Two further top fifty hits followed this year – “Love Zone” (the title track from the double platinum album) and “Bittersweet” – with the ballad “Love Is Forever” and “Get Outta My Dreams Get Into My Car” , hitting the top forty and top three respectively. The latter track’s lyrics sat uneasily with some and I must admit I was concerned. A pair of singles in 1988 charted but sales were sluggish. By any stretch of the imagination, Billy’s career was the envy of many. So, yeah, he was definitely one of the defining voices of the eighties, and now we have a number of these titles wearing different musical overcoats – dub, club, 7th Heaven and instrumental mixes. There’s driving rhythms, heavy percussion and hard cutting sequences steering the songs, adding a new dimension to the original recordings. Drum riffs blast out, Billy’s voice is often distorted and the relentlessness of the music drives the in-demand alternate versions, some appearing on CD for the first time. Anyone liking Billy’s music the first time around, will welcome this totally new take although I do confess some of the extended versions just don’t know when to stop!