required listening

CD Review


Be For Real : The P.I.R. Recordings (1971-1975)

Soul Music (UK) SMCR 5188BX (3cd box)

I MISS YOU... I Miss You; Ebony Woman; Yesterday I Had The Blues; If You Don’t Know Me By Now; Be For Real; Let Me Into Your World; Let It Be You; BLACK & BLUE... Cabaret; The Love I Lost; It All Depends On You; Concentrate On Me; Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back); Is There A Place For Me; I’m Weak For You; I’m Coming Home Tomorrow; TO BE TRUE... Where Are All My Friends; To Be True; Pretty Flower; Hope That We Can Be Together Soon; Nobody Could Take Your Place; Somewhere Down The Line; Bad Luck; It’s All Because Of A Woman; WAKE UP EVERYBODY... Wake Up Everybody; Keep On Lovin’ You; You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good; Don’t Leave Me This Way; Tell All The World How I Feel About ‘Cha Baby; To Be Free To Be Who We Are; I’m Searching For A Love; BONUS TRACKS... Everybody’s Talkin’; Bad Luck (Tom Moulton mix); Don’t Leave Me This Way (Tom Moulton mix); The Love I Lost (live); If You Don’t Know Me By Now (live); I Miss You (live)

While the magic of Motown ruled the black music scene in the sixties, it would probably be fair to say that the seventies saw the Detroit giant giving way to the music of Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia and the associated labels related to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International empire.  Neither outfit remained unscathed from certain soul purists, Berry Gordy’s Motown being accused of selling out to the pop market - to be fair, pop hits and an appeal beyond the market of Black America were always Gordy’s prime concern - while the sound of Sigma was similarly decried as being ‘watered down black’, thanks to the lush orchestral arrangements that were such a feature of so much of the music that emanated thereform.  Not being such a purist, yours truly’s love of both Motown and Philly existed then and has remained true to this day and, concentrating here on the box set that Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ four albums cut for Philadelphia International in the first half of the seventies - plus a cd of bonus tracks - I am not in the least ashamed, indeed I am delighted, to admit that I still get the same goose bumps on hearing the group’s ballads ‘I Miss You’ and ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ as I did for the very first time.  The soaring voice of drummer-turned-lead-singer, Teddy Pendergrass, combined with harmonies from the rest of the group, the songwriting of producer’s Gamble and Huff and the arrangements by Thom Bell and Bobby Martin respectively for me epitomise soul perfection and, if it proves too ‘smooth’ for some purists that’s their loss, not mine!  (Incidentally, the marginally greater success of ‘If You Don’t Know...‘ led to the original ‘I Miss You‘ album being retitled eponymously as by the group.)  The group’s treatment of ‘Ebony Woman’, cut earlier by label-mate, Billy Paul, is a further standout but when one bought album number two and got slammed between the ears by the opening track, one could have been forgiven for wondering what the hell had happened.  Indeed, the ‘Be For Real‘ sophomore set opens with a dire, upbeat treatment of ‘Cabaret‘ - yes, that one! - the only redeeming feature being its paucity of length at 1:43.  Fortunately, from that point things get on to a more even keel and we get the Philly dancers, ‘The Love I Lost‘ and ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)‘ and more ballad splendour by way of ‘Concentrate On Me‘ and ‘I’m Coming Home Tomorrow’.  The release of the ‘To Be True‘ album specifically acknowledged the dominant presence of Teddy Pendergrass as, beneath the group name on the album cover, it boasted the words, ‘featuring Theodore Pendergrass‘ and it also introduced female singer, Sharon Paige.  Indeed, when her featured track, the beat-ballad ‘Hope That We Can Be Together Soon’ was issued in single format, credits went to ‘Sharon Paige & Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’.  ‘Somewhere Down The Line‘ follows much in the group’s ballad tradition while both that and the midtempo ‘Nobody Could Take Your Place‘ might lyrically have referenced the personal situation between Melvin and Pendergrass at the time.  The two had been reported as often coming to physical blows backstage and, when it came to deliver album number four, ‘Wake Up Everybody’, studio-wise it was very much a solo Pendergrass effort, he dubbing in ‘group harmonies’ and with vocal duet assistance from Ms Paige on the floating ‘You Make Me Feel So Good’ and the tender, mid-paced ‘I’m Searching for A Love’.  The album also introduced the Gamble-Huff-(Cary) Gilbert composition, ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, remarkably unissued on single in the US, leaving the field clear for Thelma Houston a year later.  The Pendergrass situation led to his remaining with Philadelphia International, while a split in the remaining Blue Notes resulted in a move to ABC for Melvin himself, who recruited fellow Philadelphian, David Ebo to fulfil the Pendergrass rôle.

US R&B Chart statistics  (peak positions: BB = ‘Billboard’, CB = ‘Cashbox’)...

Bad Luck (pt.1)  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3562)  -  BB 4, CB 1

Black & Blue  (Philadelphia Int’l LP, 32407)  -  BB 5

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (originally issued as I Miss You)  (Philadelphia Int’l LP, 31648)  -  BB 4

Hope That We Can Be Together Soon  (Sharon Paige & Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes)  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3569)  -  BB 1, CB 1

I Miss You (pt.1)  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3516)  -  BB 7, CB 1

I’m Weak For You  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3543)  -  BB 87, CB 9

If You Don’t Know Me By Now  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3520)  -  BB 1, CB 1

The Love I Lost (pt.1)  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3533)  -  BB 1, CB 1

Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back)  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3543)  -  BB 6, CB 9

Tell The World How I Feel About ‘Cha Baby  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3588)  -  BB 7, CB 11

To Be True  (Philadelphia Int’l LP, 33808)  -  BB 1

Wake Up Everybody  (Philadelphia Int’l LP, 31648)  -  BB 4

Wake Up Everybody (pt.1)  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3579)  -  BB 1, CB 1

Where Are All My Friends  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3552)  -  BB 8, CB 10

Yesterday I Had The Blues  (Philadelphia Int’l 45, 3525)   -  BB 12, CB 15  /                                                                                                             

review posted 18/9/19