Teddy Pendergrass, at least for his part, wasn’t keen on the notion that he’d be a contributor to the notion that there was a shortage of high quality music in 1978. Life Is A Song Worth Singing stands out as a strong example to the contrary. As potent as the Philly sound was in the 70’s, there were signs in the middle of the decade that there was a need to adapt the style in order to accommodate changes in the R&B/soul/funk world of music. Gamble & Huff already had been doing that as far back their second album with The Jacksons’ Goin’ Places.
Gamble & Huff were taking basic Philly orchestral soul/funk/disco sound, and swinging it just a bit harder driving. Where orchestration was a major part of the whole on Teddy’s debut, this album takes a different approach already with the first two cuts-including the title song and “Only You”. The strings take a strong backseat whereas the horns are upped in the mix. And the slower beats and rhythms are channeled into the same forward thinking musical approach. All with a strong use of rhythmic style electronics and keyboard textures while still being very recognizably the Philly Sound.
The title track not only showcases this production style to a strong degree, but has an excellent message about taking the time to find an inner strength (and hope in yourself) in times of crisis. It’s a message of self determination that Teddy is channeling directly from what James Brown,Sam Cooke and Curtis Mayfield did before him and extended into the disco/funk era pretty much uncut. And I also have to thank Gamble & Huff for keeping that going too. “Cold, Cold World” offers another message of hope on a great mid-tempo tune that looks to the same new direction as the faster tempo beginnings.
The new direction of “Cold, Cold World” is a modernistic sweet funk type of sound- given a toughness largely due to Teddy’s dynamics and that of the arrangement. The classic “Close The Door” and “When Somebody Loves You Back” offer up similar concepts right where one needs them. “Get Up,Get Down,Get Funky,Get Loose” is definitely a classic “Philly Jump” kind of tune and an example of the most positive direction disco was going at this time.. Now “It Don’t Hurt Now” is the slowest song here however it extends on the overall positively affirming and genuine good intentions of these songs messages.
As with its predecessor Life Is A Song Worth Singing makes you think, makes you happy and is romantically and creatively satisfying at the same time. And that makes it yet another example of an album that avoids the sophomore slump syndrome It’s also a prime example of what made Teddy Pendergrass such a great voice and artist. And on this album, Teddy also represented what writer Rickey Vincent referred to as the black male soul singer as a symbol of strength and pride. This makes Life Is A Song Worth Singing one of Teddy’s definitive albums.
The Jacksons self titled label debut on Epic is a very nostalgic one for me. For one thing, it’s the very first CD I purchased with my own money-if I remember sometime in the autumn of 1994. The history of the brothers breaking their contract with Motown,the record company who made them famous for the sake of gaining more creative control fascinated my burgeoning artistic ethic at the time. I was very interested to hear what the Jackson brothers sounded like having experienced their first tastes of artistic freedom. Even understanding they only wrote two of the ten songs on this album was still an exciting understanding to have as a teenager growing up near the turn of the millennium.
During the final years at Motown,the Jackson brothers had become fascinated by the Philly sound coming out of the PIR studios. Especially under the tutelage of Kenny Gamble,Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. These were record producers who thought like artists-in the case of the latter two they made records under their own name. So they always approached the record from a quality control rather than a commercially geared manner. Because this was quite a different approach to the assembly line hit factory approach of Motown,it did allow for the brothers to gain a stronger uniqueness to their sound. And the result was the lead off song and single from their 1976 debut as The Jacksons on “Enjoy Yourself”.
A nasal bass pitched rhythm guitar opens with the main melody of the song. It’s accompanied with the medium tempo beat with a bouncing conga drums-perhaps from the Jacksons youngest brother Randy. The harmony’s of the brothers trading off with the leads of Michael are themselves harmonizing with a short chordal burst of electric piano and big band style horns. Those horns play more sustained phrases on the refrains. The bridge of the song is sung by elder Jackson brother Jackie in his gravely lower register along a jazzy funk electric piano part and horns that keep building in intensity up until the song fades out on an even more powerful variation of the chorus.
Conversing with my main musical inspiration right now Henrique about this song has bought me to a significant musical understanding. He describe this song, especially it’s opening rhythm guitar part as having a country sound. My drummer had me on the beat that in musical terms “country” was short hand for country/western music. In fact it referred to a very rural approach to playing an instrument-such as at a family reunion or county fair live band. Considering these brothers were taught old blues and country songs by their mom Katherine,it’s probably no surprise that Gamble & Huff would tailor an uptempo funk/soul tune for them with that strong down home instrumental flavor.
In any event this song was a wonderful way to begin the Jackson brothers adult career. The song really emphasizes them strongly as a group-with their deep,gospel drenched five part harmonies taking presidents on the choruses. The focus of the family was not yet focused so heavily as a dry run for the upcoming solo career of brother Michael. And as I listen to it as an adult with all these new musical understandings, the fact that Gamble & Huff put that country styled soul flavor into their new funk really gave the brothers more musical distinction than the production line approach Motown often used with them. In a lot of ways,it’s a song that says a lot about the Jacksons more personal musical interests.
Thematically the song also has it’s place in the creative liberation of the Jackson brothers. Basically Mike is singing about being at a party with a very insecure date whose “sittin’ over there starring into space” while everyone else is “dancing all over the place”. He’s advising this person to not obsess over what they can’t change. Finally he asks them flat out to have a good time instead of “sittin’ there with your mouth poked out just sweet as you can be”. It was recorded during the bicentennial year. Seems to have been the idea at the time of moving ahead from where the 60’s attitudes left off. And this song simply advises to live the life they’ve got and to enjoy themselves.
Filed under 1970's, country/soul, Dexter Wansel, electric piano, Epic Records, Funk, Gamble & Huff, horns, Jackie Jackson, Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson, Philly Soul, Randy Jackson, The Jacksons, Uncategorized
Obviously many classic soul lovers have been awaiting this for a very long time-finally Sarah Dash and the incomparable Nona Hendryx team back up with the now solo diva Patti Labelle for a full fledged reunion. ‘Back To Know’ features the production help of both “contempo” musicians Wyclef Jean and Lenny Kravitz along with old Labelle pals Gamble & Huff for this gutsy,funky soul fest-full of those high energy gospel shouts and harmony’s that Sarah,Nona and Patti can give us. All of the songs are excellent-even “Rollout”;the only cut obviously designed to “reach the kids” of the new millennium with it’s bass heavy hip-hop/pro-tools softwhere sound. Aside from that all of the music here could easily have been ripped from a late 70’s follow up to Labelle’s last album Chameleon (a classic more then worth hunting down);”Candlelight”,”Superlover” and “System” all explore the waters of soul,gospel drenched R&B and hardcore funk before each tune is out. Lenny Kravitz’ presence makes itself clear on “Truth Will Set You Free”,a tough funk rocker reminding us not only that Labelle were one of the earliest female groups to combine funk and rock but that none of that spark has faded with time or separation.
Even if the music world of today welcomes them the world Labelle are making a comeback in has changed dramatically. We’ve moved way beyond Marvin Gaye’s concerns about an “overcrowded land” with “fish full of mercury”;we have global warming,a disintegrating economy and paranoia about terrorism. In their tradition Labelle over up almost half an albums worth of messages songs,all with a different motivation-in “Tears For The World” documents in traditional funk message song style a litany of todays problems and our unexpected apathy towards them;that maybe showing feeling might bring people to act.”Dear Rosa” is a tribute to the late civil rights pioneer-thanking her for her efforts but somberly pointing out that she died before you dream was fully realized. On “How Long” and “Miss Otis Regrets” stories of triumph and wonder prevail and we as the listener really feel we’ve experienced something magical,and we have. It would be a pity if this was the last we heard of Labelle as a unit but if it is this would be a worthy,if long long delayed,goodbye.
Originally Posted On October 21st,2008
*Here is the original review on Amazon as well: