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.
One of those fascinating coincidences in the history of soul and funk music is the tendency of the British music scene to fill in significant gaps when the music is experiencing a low popularity and audience in the United States. Funk oriented new wave era groups such as Level 42,Heaven 17,Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet provided this during the US post disco radio freeze out. Some maintained this style through mid decade even. Sade,Simply Red,George Michael and Soul II Soul continued this tradition later in the decade. Aside from American adoration’s such as Prince and Talking Heads,the popularity of funky soul grooves seemed to be in a strange holding pattern on this end of the pond. In the mid 1990’s onward through the post 9/11 world? This pattern came back in play-with 2006-08 being the height of this ethic. Years after his debut in 1991,English soul/funk artist Kenny Thomas emerged in 2006 with a song that showcased this impulse entitled “I Will”.
Starting off with a fan faring drum roll and a plast of joyful,gospel inspired horns the song gets started with thickly grooving mix of high stepping drums,highly melodic electric piano chords and the fantastically vital horn section providing the life force that keeps the entire song alive. With a chunky bass/guitar interactive holding the keyboard riffs all together, Kenny himself sings lyrics with the same level of joy expressed in the horn parts and melody revolving around the most optimistic outlook on newfound romance that one could possibly ask. On the refrains,the melody changes to include a few minor chords but when going back into the main theme of the song,the melody rises up into the major chord as Kenny declares “I WILL” on the chorus. His voice-a passionate cross between Teddy Pendergrass,Michael McDonald and Heatwave’s Keith Wilder,provides an almost ideal reflection of the songs overall joyousness.
From my own personal observations, the era in which this song was recorded was not among the happiest or secure time for the planet Earth, A never ending war on terror was going on,people were divided even more than they were in the 1960’s and that 90’s era cynicism prevented a great deal of action from occurring to counter this. Music was in a great need for empathy over apathy,release instead of tension. And for those who followed the music of Kenny Thomas (which I unfortunately wasn’t at the time),this song in particular provided just what a proverbial Dr. Funkenstein might want. Its another one of those songs defined by a hybrid sound-in this case a mixture of the Chi-town funk of Earth Wind & Fire and the sleek West Coast style of late 70’s Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Also there’s a strong element of Phil Collins’ early 80’s Brit-funk approach as well. This song is a perfect example of,on a purely musical level of what Mick Jagger sang in 1969: you can’t always get what you want,but sometimes you just might find that you get what you need.