A Shot of Soul
The Ebonys - The O'Jays - Harold Melvin
Part One of Two
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2003, Volume 10, #8
Written by John Metzger
In the 1960s, soul music evolved out of the R&B movement of the previous decade, exploding like a fireworks display with each sparkle representing a different sonic twist. There was the pop sensation of Motown, the gritty sound of Memphis, and the contemplative style fostered in Chicago by Curtis Mayfield. By the end of the decade, nearly every city seemed to have its own, unique variation. In Philadelphia, a smoother, silkier strain was developed by producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff along with arranger Thom Bell (although Bobby Martin and MFSB founder Norman Harris later became the arrangers of choice). Together, the trio of Gamble, Huff, and Bell put The Delfonics on the map with the release of its 1968 classic La La Means I Love You. By the mid-í70s, the Philly Soul style was well-established, though it also began to wear a little thin as social commentary took a back seat to sexual desire, and disco crept into the public consciousness. Here is a look at several recently reissued albums in Legacy Recordingsí "Philly Soul Classics" as well as its "Rhythm & Soul" series ó each of which has been digitally re-mastered and augmented with bonus material.
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Wake Up Everybody
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes actually got its start in 1954, but it was the ensembleís association with Gamble and Huff as well as the 1970 addition of singer Teddy Pendergrass that pushed the group over the top, allowing it to score its first number-one R&B hit (and only Top Five pop hit) with If You Donít Know Me by Now. Pendergrass didnít stay with the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes for very long. He departed four albums later to begin a solo career, shortly after the release of the somewhat disappointing Wake Up Everybody. For certain, the group never recovered from his exodus, nor would the seven songs on its Wake Up Everybody have amounted to much were it not for Pendergrassí emotive vocals. Itís he who saves songs like Donít Leave Me This Way ó which later became a disco hit for Thelma Houston ó and the slinky groove of Keep on Loviní You from becoming standard Philly Soul/R&B fare, though even he couldnít help the group rise above the drab You Know How to Make Me Feel So Good. The finest song on Wake Up Everybody, however, is the title track, a powerful plea for social responsibility and community healing that transcends genres to become something far greater. While thereís little doubt that the album was an unsuccessful combination of two Marvin Gaye-classics (Whatís Going On and Letís Get It On), Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes truly lived up to its lofty aspirations on Wake Up Everybodyís title track. Only one bonus selection was added to the reissue: Donít Leave Me This Way was remixed and given extended treatment as a single in 1975, and in hinting at its revival in the disco era, this rendition is largely inferior to the shorter album version.
Wake Up Everybody is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
The Ebonys didnít have nearly as many chart successes as its peers, leading it to release only two albums before disbanding in 1976. The better of these was the groupís self-titled debut, the only collection it recorded for Gamble and Huffís Philadelphia International. Released in 1973, the album was largely a hit-and-miss affair, though its highs rivaled those of the premier Philly Soul outfits. Itís Forever easily could have become mired in its overwrought orchestrations and saccharine lyrics, but instead the ensemble lifted the song out of the muck with an impassioned vocal performance that was pure magic. Likewise, Life in the Country explored some intriguing grooves courtesy of backing band MFSB ó the same group behind The OíJaysí Ship Ahoy and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notesí Wake Up Everybody. Elsewhere, Iím So Glad Iím Me was a masterful piece of Motown-influenced pop, while both Hook Up and Get Down and Sexy Ways carried a grittier feel than most Gamble and Huff projects. Dotted with horn-splashes, the loose arrangements of these songs suited The Ebonys just fine. The remainder of the album was routine fare, barely saved by the groupís shimmering vocals. Four bonus tracks have been tacked on to the recent reissue: the perky Do You Like the Way I Love, the minor hit Determination (which never appeared on an album by The Ebonys), the terrifically funky Do It, and a forgettable edited version of Itís Forever.
The Ebonys is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
The influence of Marvin Gayeís Whatís Going On also reverberated through The OíJaysí terrific 1973 release Ship Ahoy. Like Back Stabbers, the groupís previous outing, Ship Ahoy mixed lyrics on social and political issues with those of love. At its core was the epic, nine-minute title track, which merged the sound of a turbulent ocean with those of whips cracking through the air while the group told its audience the ominous tale of African slaves being brought to America. The voices of The OíJays touchingly ached with sorrow and pain, while strings and guitars churned tempestuously about them. Indeed, this may be the finest song the production team of Gamble and Huff ever unleashed on the public. Elsewhere, The OíJays delivered a sermon on wealth and greed during the funk-fueled For the Love of Money ó a song that has since become an oft-misused parody of itself in bad Hollywood films ó as well as an impassioned plea on behalf of the environment on the soaring This Air I Breathe. Songs like You Got Your Hooks in Me and Now that We Found Love sounded a little out of place in the middle of all this seriousness, but Put Your Hands Together ó which kicked off the album and is also resurrected from a concert recording and included as a bonus track ó is uplifting, joyous, and downright heavenly.
Ship Ahoy is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box