Recently, I mentioned how I was going to review a few of my favorite albums on the Philadelphia International Records label, with my first review being The O’Jays album Ship Ahoy. This got me thinking about which of the many great albums released on that label would be next. Rooting through me record collection, I came across another of the great albums released on that label, again by one of the groups synonymous with the Philadelphia Sound Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. This was their fourth and final album for Philadelphia International, and provided the group with their most successful ever album. Released in November 1975, it reached number nine in the US Billboard 100, and gave the group their second number one R&B album. Featuring the voice of the late, great Teddy Pendergrass, this to me, is one of the groups greatest albums, coming close to rivaling their second album the brilliant, Black and Blue.

Wake Up Everybody, features one of the group’s best known songs, Don’t Leave Me This Way, which remarkably, when it was released in 1976, failed to chart in the US, but reached number five in the UK singles’ charts. It was the third of three singles released from the album, with Wake Up Everybody (Part 1) giving the group a number one single in the R&B Singles’ Charts and Tell the World How I Feel About Cha Baby reaching number seven in the R&B Singles’ Charts. With the group at the height of their success, the group changed labels, joining ABC Records. After that, they never seemed to hit the same heights. On ABC, they didn’t have access to Gamble and Huff, the two men behind the success of Philadelphia International Records, who not only produced but cowrote much of their material. Together with changes in the group’s personnel, it seemed that the four albums Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes recorded for Philadelphia International were the greatest years of the group’s career. However, since then, this music has continued to be hugely popular, with many of the groups songs being covered by numerous other artists. Having told you the background to Wake Up Everybody, I’ll now tell you just why this is such a great album.

The title track, Wake Up Everybody opens the album. It’s a song with a positive message, in the face of troubled times, with the message being that if teachers and doctors change the way they tell people things, then maybe the young people, the next generation, will listen and respond positively. Like the songs on The O’Jays album Ship Ahoy, this is music with a message, music as a force for good, music that can change and shape opinions. Waves of melodic keyboards and gentle percussion combine, before Teddy’s husky voice enters, singing the lyrics. Strings sweep, lushly in enveloping his voice, as the tempo quickens, with the music melodic, and beautiful. Behind Teddy, the rest of the band sing tight vocal harmonies, while the rhythm, brass and string sections combine with guitars and keyboards. Teddy’s charismatic and soulful voice, later strengthens, with him almost shouting, instructing the people to wake up and listen. He’s almost preaching, his voice a force for good and change. A combination of an outstanding vocal, and an arrangement that sweeps along, beautifully, melodically and lushly, make this a great track to open the album.

It’s a dramatic and powerful combination of rhythm, string and brass section, combining with guitars and keyboards that open Keep On Loving You, and greet the arrival of Teddy. When he sings, this love song, his voice is powerful, full of emotion and passion, accompanied by the rest of the group who sing the sweetest, tight vocal harmonies. Helping make this track even better, is another great arrangement form Bobby Martin. Lush strings sweep grandly, chiming guitars, and bright blazing horns accompany The Blue Notes, while drums, dramatically punctuate the track. It’s an arrangement that’s grand and powerful, but at the same time, hugely melodic and soulful. Like the previous track, Teddy’s vocal combines power and passion, with him using his full vocal range to deliver some beautiful lyrics. Overall, it’s a fantastic track, melodic, catchy, laden with passion and hooks.

Gamble and Huff cowrote You Know How To Make Me Feel So Good, one of the singles from the album. It’s a much slower track, which opens with the rhythm and string sections combining, while gentle, backing vocals soar gracefully heavenwards in unison. The track is just meandering melodically along, with the arrangement’s beauty gradually revealing itself. When Teddy’s vocal enters, it’s much more tender, and here, he’s accompanied by Sharon Paige who had joined the group. Her voice is equally, gentle and tender, and with the addition of the backing vocals, a gorgeous track is unfolding. Like previous tracks, strings play a large part in the arrangement. They drop in and out of the track, their sound sweet and even tender. There is a subtlety in the playing during the track, with chiming guitars and keyboards making their presence felt gently, while the rhythm section give an understated performance. This allows the vocal to take centre-stage, during what’s another song about love and loving. Both Teddy and Sharon Paige’s voices combine well, and are a perfect match for each other, as they deliver the lyrics. Although quite different in style to the preceding tracks, it’s a beautiful track, thanks to Teddy and Sharon’s vocal, and a lovely arrangement.

Probably the best known track on the album, and by far, my favorite track, is Don’t Leave Me This Way. This, is among the best songs the group ever recorded, and thirty-seven years later, it’s a timeless classic. Those familiar drums and keyboards opens the track, before bright, chiming guitars and sweeping strings combine with Teddy’s voice, harmonizing, before he sings the lyrics. The arrangement, is bright, grand with waves of music unfolding. Quickly, the track takes a dramatic turn, with the arrangement and Teddy’s voice building, accompanied by the rhythm, string and brass section. The Blue Notes supplement his lead vocal, which is laden with sadness and regret, as he pleads with his girlfriend not to go. There’s a desperation in his voice as he sings some of the best lyrics on the album. When it’s combined with an arrangement that’s powerful, and drenched in drama, it’s an irresistible combination. Here Teddy demonstrates just why, after leaving the group, he became a huge superstar in his own right. With a voice that’s capable of delivering a song so emotively and passionately, he was bound to succeed. However, as this classic track demonstrates, the group needed the magic touch of Gamble and Huff, to produce such brilliant music.

Another of the singles from the album was Tell the World How I Feel About Cha Baby which reached number seven in the R&B Singles’ Charts. When the track opens, it’s obvious why this track was such a huge hit. Loud pounding drums, and quick, short bursts of horns are joined by lush, sweeping strings, before Teddy becomes soul man number one, instructing everyone to join in. Quickly a joyous, feel-good track unfolds. It’s a hugely melodic, drama laden track which features a fulsome and uptempo arrangement. Strings lush and sweet sweep quickly, horns blaze in short burst, while the rhythm section drive the track along. A quick, neo-funk bass line, and those loud pounding drums sit at the front of the track, while Teddy give’s a joyful, emotive and passionate rendition of lyrics about being in love and wanting to tell the world about it, accompanied by some sweet and uplifting backing vocals. Here, Teddy surpasses himself, as do the rest of the group. They put aside their differences, and for nearly sing minutes, demonstrate just what made the Philadelphia Sound so great. This is a combination of a great performance from the Teddy and the group, Bobby Martin’s joyous yet dramatic string and rhythm section lead arrangement and of course Gamble and Huff’s magic touch when producing the track.

Like the opening track, Wake Up Everybody, To Be Free To Be What We Are, is another track with a positive message. Here the message is that, who you are and wherever you are, you can achieve anything, and be who and what you want to. For me, that was part of the attraction of the music on Philadelphia International. Not only did the music include stunning, beautiful love songs, but music with a social conscience and music with a message. A slow dark bass line opens the track, before chiming guitars, piano and strings combine, producing a bright, melodic sound that matches Teddy’s message. When Teddy’s vocal enters, it’s half-spoken, half-sung before he goes on to produce yet another vocal masterclass. His voice, has a huskiness, and when he delivers the lyrics powerfully, his voice is full of emotion, as if he really believes the message. Behind him, tight, bright and deeply soulful backing vocals accompany him. Matching both their and Teddy’s performance is a joyous and melodic, yet dramatic and almost grandiose arrangement. That’s quite acceptable, given Teddy’s brilliant performance and the important message he was delivering. 

Wake Up Everybody closes with I’m Searching For A Love, which opens with drums, percussion, flute and strings combining brightly and melodically, before the brass section help the track take a dramatic turn. After that, Sharon Paige makes her second appearance on the album. Her voice is gentle, and has a sweetness, as she thoughtfully sings the lyrics. As if recognizing this, the arrangement returns to its earlier bright and melodic sound. Guitars chime, while percussion strings, keyboards and the rhythm section provide a lovely subtle backdrop for her vocal. The rest of the group sing some of the best backing vocals on the album. Their tight vocal harmonies are the perfect accompaniment for Sharon’s vocal. Later in the song, she demonstrates that her voice is strong and that like Teddy, she can deliver a song with emotion and passion. By now the arrangement has grown, with the brass section dramatically interjecting. However, still it has a lovely lush sound, beautiful and melodic. Sharon’s vocal is perfect for the lyrics about trying to find someone to love. She seem to put everything she has into her delivery. This makes this the perfect track to close what has been a great album. Like so many of the tracks on the album, it’s a combination of a great vocal delivering good lyrics and backed by an equally good arrangement, that make this such a good track.

When I listen to Wake Up Everybody, I’m immediately struck by the sheer quality of music on the album. So good are the seven songs, that any one of them could’ve been released from the album. This is easily, one of the best albums that Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released, and having spent some time listening to the album, I can honestly say that album is as good as Black and Blue. On the album, Teddy’s voice is outstanding, and his delivery of the songs laden in passion, emotion and drama. Let’s not forget, however, that Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes wasn’t just Teddy Pendergrass. Without the other members of the group, this wouldn’t have been the same album. Yes, Teddy sung lead vocal and his contribution was huge, but the tight, vocal harmonies were part of what made the group famous and hugely popular. Sadly, after this album, they left Philadelphia International Records, and there career was never the same. Their albums weren’t as popular, and eventually, Teddy left the group, becoming a hugely successful solo artist. However, we still have the four albums they recorded between 1972 and 1975 for Philadelphia International to remember them by. Thanks to Gamble and Huff, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes recorded some brilliant music, including what is an outstanding album Wake Up Everybody. 



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