Gladys Knight & The Pips have always been a favorite of mine at Motown. Aside from the uniqueness of their setup (more on that later), their sound had that Southern soul vibe that set them apart from whatever else was happening at Motown in the late 60’s. After they left Motown in the early 70’s,they signed up with Buddah and had success right out of the box with 1974’s “Midnight Train To Georgia”. Three years later,Gladys night got a chance to have be the leading lady in the Stephen F. Verona film Pipe Dreams. She and the Pips would be the ones performing on the movie’s soundtrack.
The only reason I ever saw Pipe Dreams was due to an accident. My parents went to a video store to look for a copy of the then very rare film That’s The Way of The World,with Harvey Kietel and Earth Wind & Fire,on VHS in the late 90’s. They got me a pre-owned tape of Pipe Dreams instead-knowing how much I enjoyed Gladys Knight’s music. The film is a romantic drama set against a good deal of historical info on the then under construction Alaska pipeline. So it was only appropriate that the song that stood out most for me,as well as coming from the pens of Motowner Ivory Joe Hunter,was called “Alaskan Pipeline”.
A jingling chicken scratch rhythm guitar starts out the groove. The groove itself has a drum beat that clips along at a relatively slow 70 beats per minute for so. A Larry Graham style deep bass thump and a thick wah wah guitar set the stage for the rhythm too. The song also has a heavy bluesy piano that comes down really hard on the keys. The horn charts come in hot and heavy-accenting the choral vocals and harmonic “shoop shoops” of the Pipes,who actually sing the lead line for the backup. Interestingly enough,this song has no instrumental chorus per se. It just keeps grooving along until it fades.
This is some of the strongest funk I’ve heard from Gladys Knight & The Pips. It’s got that slow,crunching tempo. And the rhythm section is hot as they come with the bass ,guitar, horns and driving piano. This song reprises throughout the movie-especially in scenes of Gladys flying over the pipe line with her co star and real life husband Barry Hankerson. Lyrically the song tells the story of how the great employment opportunities the pipeline provides also open the door to massive corruption-another key component of the film. So it’s another example of strong message funk in a film soundtrack setting.