DEE DEE SHARP-WHAT COLOR IS LOVE.

DEE DEE SHARP-WHAT COLOR IS LOVE.

There are two reasons that I’ve chosen to write about Dee Dee Sharp’s 1977 album What Color Is Love. The first is quite straightforward, and is because during the time Dee Dee spent on her then husband Kenny Gamble’s label Philadelphia International Records, she recorded three really good albums. Sadly, these albums never found the commercial success they deserved. Instead, neither the album nor the three singles released from it, Trying To Get the Feeling Again, What Color Is Love and Just As Long As I Know You’re Mine, made any impact on the charts. Since then, the album has remained a hidden gem among soul fans, known to the cognoscenti only. 

My other reason for writing about What Color of Love is that the title track is a Terry Callier track, which Dee Dee interprets beautifully. Regular readers to this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Terry’s music, and previously, have written three articles on his albums. This isn’t the only cover version on the album, with Tryin’ To Get the Feeling Again, written by David Pomeranz, having previously been covered by Barry Manilow. On What Color Is Love, Dee Dee’s interpretation of the song is much better than Manilow’s version, full of power, emotion and feeling. Unfortunately, like her version of What Color Is Love, it failed to garner either the radio play or sales it deserved. This seemed to the story of her time on Philadelphia International Records, which saw here release just three albums over a ten year period.

What Color Is Love was the second album Dee Dee’s had released on Philadelphia International. Her first album was Happy ‘Bout the Whole Thing, released in 1975. This album featured a new version of the label house band M.F.S.B., assembled when the original band quit to become the Salsoul Orchestra. Happy ‘Bout the Whole Thing was Dee Dee’s first album in twelve years, since 1963s’ Down Memory Lane. The album featured three songs co-written by Dee Dee and featured a cover of 10CC’s hit I’m Not In Love, which was released as a single. It reached number sixty-two i the US R&B Charts in late May of 1976, giving Dee Dee her first chart hit in over a decade. Sadly, this success didn’t help the album, which failed to replicate the success of her earlier music, when she received gold discs for million selling singles. 

Two years later, in 1977, What Color Is Love was released, and it too failed commercially. Maybe her third album on Philadelphia International, Dee Dee, released in 1980 would be more successful. Unfortunately, the album that was released the year Dee Dee and Kenneth Gamble divorced, failed commercially. However, one of the tracks on the album Easy Money, reached number one in 1981, on the Hot Dance Club Play chart, where it spent four weeks. By then, Dee Dee had decided to take another break from music, enrolling in a course in psychology at Columbia University where she gained an MSc in psychology. After that, she took a PhD in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, eventually becoming a clinical psychologist. Since the 1990s’, she’s made a part time return to music, allowing those who loved her music, including albums like What Color Is Love, to roll back the years. 

What Color Is Love opens with I Believe In Love a song the Dexter Wansell cowrote with Cynthia Biggs, his writing partner. At the time, many people thought the track was good enough to be a single, but eventually, was only released as a b-side. Like many people, I wonder whether this was a missed opportunity. The track opens slowly, with a lush sound, thanks to a combination of keyboards, rhythm section, guitars and strings, before Dee Dee sings. Her voice is gentle and considered, accompanied by some hugely soulful backing vocalists. Horns interject briefly and occasionally as the arrangement unfolds, getting even better as the track progresses. Strings sweep, accompanied by short burst of horns, while a piano plays and the rhythm section and chiming guitars combine. Meanwhile, Dee Dee’s voice has grown in strength, getting louder, laden in passion and emotion, as she delivers some great lyrics about love and how it feels to be in love. A combination of a lovely vocal, full of power, passion and energy, and a lush, atmospheric and fulsome arrangement from M.F.S.B. Mk. 2, make this an excellent track to open the album.

Just As Long As I Know You’re Mine was co-written by Mary Wells and Cecil Womack, Bobby’s brother in conjunction with Gamble and Huff. This was the third single released from the album. Sadly, like its predecessors, it failed to be a commercial success. Considering it was such a good track, this seems strange. The track has an upbeat, uptempo style, with keyboards, rhythm section, percussion and guitars combining before a louder, but slightly husky sounding vocal from Dee Dee begins. Quickly, a really catchy, arrangement that combines elements of soul and funk unfolds. A myriad of keyboards, quick funky bass line, shimmery guitars combine, while braying horns and bouncy drums inject drama. Like the arrangement, Dee Dee’s vocal gets stronger and funkier. It’s a mixture of power and raw emotion, she delivers the lyrics with. Dramatic waves of driving, powerful music, accompany Dee Dee’s vocal, matching her passion and energy every step of the way. By the end, it’s a very different sound and style from the opening track, but demonstrates Dee Dee’s versatility as a vocalist, and her ability to deliver a variety of styles of music just as well. Why this dynamic, driving combination of soul and funk didn’t fare better as a single seems a pity, instead remaining a well kept secret to all but soul connoisseurs and the music cognoscenti.

On this album, Dee Dee covers two well know songs, the first being Tryin’ To Get the Feeling Again, written by David Pomeranz, and having been covered by Barry Manilow. This version is much better, thanks to Jack Faith’s arrangement, which transforms the track into a lush, and deeply emotional, string led song bathed in pathos and drama. Immediately, when the song begins, you’re aware of a foreboding, dramatic sound, which quickly, gives way to a much gentler, melodic sound. Lush strings, dark, slow pass, gentle piano, subtle drums and horns accompany a deeply moving vocal from Dee Dee, whose voice is strong, full of emotion, sadness and regret. By now, the arrangement slow, full of pathos, is meandering along, with dramatic peaks and flourishes, thanks to a combination of drums, strings and proud horns that are almost grandstanding. The longer the track goes on, the stronger Dee Dee’s voice gets, ending up a hugely dramatic, nearly angry and frustrated roar. This is so powerful that you can almost sense emotion and sadness. When combined with Jack Faith’s potent and equally dramatic arrangement, it’s a winning combination, resulting in one of the album’s highlights.

I Wanna Be Your Woman is a very different track to the previous one. It has a lovely bright, melodic sound, and features a very different style of vocal from Dee Dee. The rhythm and string sections, percussion, chiming guitars and keyboards combine to produce a slow, lush and melodic arrangement. Meanwhile, Dee Dee’s vocal combines understated sensuousness with emotion and power. Together with the arrangement, Dee Dee brings the lyrics co-written by Don Convay, Dexter Wamsell and Carl Gamble to life. During the track, the tempo is slow, with strings, rising and falling in waves, at the heart of everything that’s good about the arrangement. So too is the bass, which along with the drums, gives cues to the strings when to inject another sweeping wave of their lush lovely-ness. Another important factor during the track are the swooning, backing vocals which unite soulfully to accompany Dee Dee. When all this is combined by arranger Roland Chambers and producers Don Convay and Dexter Wamsell, the result is a fantastic track that’s lush, melodic and hook laden, and laden with passion, promise and power.   

Anyone familiar with Destiny’s Child 2004 album Survivor, will have heard a sample of Dee Dee’s song Flashback during one of the bonus tracks on Survivor, Game Over. This was just one of several samples used on this album. However, anyone wanting to hear the full song, needs to buy this album. Should they do so, they won’t be disappointed. Chiming guitars, followed by keyboards and drums, playing slowly and thoughtfully, open the track, before Dee Dee’s vocal enters. It’s gentle and considered, as she sings about love and how good it’s to be in love, and the familiarity of the relationship. As the song progresses, sweeping, grand strings enter, and when combined with the rhythm section, keyboards and guitar, provides an arrangement that’s slow, and full of emotion and beauty. This is the perfect backdrop for an equally beautiful vocal from Dee Dee, which is quite joyous and drenched in emotion. When the track ends, Dee Dee has delivered a vocal masterclass. One can only hope was studied by the next generation of singers and music fans when released as part of Destiny’s Child track Game Over. 

Nobody Should Take Your Place is the only track on What Color of Love written by Gamble and Huff, the two musical masterminds responsible for The Sound of Philadelphia. Straight away, when the bass plays the introduction, I’m reminded of the introduction to My Girl by The Temptations, a Motown classic. That however, is where the similarities end. Thereafter, strings sweep in, drums and horns combine with piano and percussion, while Dee Dee’s vocal enters. It’s quick, loud and joyful, accompanied by equally joyful backing vocalists. Suddenly, the song is transformed into a fast paced, fuller arrangement, a combination of strings, rhythm section, guitars and keyboards. However, Dee Dee’s powerful, joyous vocal, along with the strings, are at the heart of everything good about the track. When the backing vocalists enter, their contributions have its roots in gospel. During the track, there are several breakdowns, where the arrangement slows down, and the arrangement is pared down. Afterwards, it builds back up, reaching a breakneck tempo, perfect for any dance-floor. When Dee Dee’s joyous vocal is combined Gamble and Huff’s lyrics, arranged by Jack Faith and featuring the new lineup of M.F.S.B., you’ve the recipe for a tremendous track, fit to grace any dance-floor.  

Terry Callier wrote What Color Is Love, the title track to his 1973 album on Cadet. That to me is the definitive version of the track, but Dee Dee interprets the track beautifully, doing so with feeling and emotion, her vocal considered and thoughtful. Strings, piano and drums dramatically accompany Dee Dee, who sings the song faster than Terry’s original, but does so with feeling, her vocal considered. Behind her, backing vocalists unite, their vocals rising almost spiritually, while the string and rhythm sections combine with piano and guitars. Like the vocal, the arrangement is quicker, and is also fuller. Strings sweep and shimmer, while the piano and rhythm section up the tempo, as horns interject. Dee Dee’s vocal is a mixture of soul and jazz, the arrangement much more dramatic and has elements of soul and jazz throughout. The addition of the backing vocalists really suits the song, as does the quicker tempo and fuller arrangement. It’s a really good cover version of Terry’s song. Good as it is, Terry’s version is still the definitive version. 

The third cover version on the album is I’d Really Love To See You Tonight, which was originally sung Dan Seals and John Ford Coley. As good as that version is, i much prefer Dee Dee’s version arranged by Jack Faith, and produced by Jack Faith and Phil Terry. When the track opens with chiming guitars, dark, slow bass, female subtle, gentle female backing vocalists and drums combining before a restrained and sweet vocal from Dee Dee. At this time, there’s no hint of what’s to come. Quickly though, her voice starts to grow in power, as does the arrangement which, later, sees horns interjecting. By then, the arrangement is lush, melodic and full of hooks. Likewise, Dee Dee seems to transform the lyrics, singing them with a heartfelt passion. Backing vocalists sweep in, as do strings, lush and grand. Later, male backing vocalists sing subtly, as a saxophone solo plays, while string and the rhythm section combine with Dee Dee to add drama. This they do brilliantly, with Dee Dee really giving a powerful, passionate deliver of lyrics, her voice roaring, really letting herself go. When the track ends, it’s immediately apparent that this brilliant track is easily one of the best songs on the album.

What Color Is Love closes with Hang Your Portrait, a track that opens with a combination of driving rhythm section, sweeping strings and braying horns, before Dee Dee sings some old fashioned lyrics, which bring to mind the roaring twenties, thanks to references to The Great Gatsby and Al Capin. Her voice is powerful, full of emotion and passion, as rasping horns, lush strings and the rhythm section and guitars combine. Although the lyrics are descriptive and paint a picture, they’re not the strongest on the album. They’re slightly weak, maybe even a bit contrived. However, Dee Dee does her best, throwing herself into the song, singing the lyrics passionately. Meanwhile, the arrangement is fast paced, fulsome and catchy, with a slightly old fashioned sound, that suits the lyrics. Sadly, when the track ends, I feel somewhat disappointed, with this being the song that closes the album. It was a song that promised much, but ultimately, because of weak lyrics, failed to deliver.

Looking back on What Color Is Love it seems strange that an album full of so many great songs, failed to make an impact on the charts in either the US or UK. The album features three great cover versions in Tryin’ To Get the Feeling Again, What Color Is Love and the outstanding I’d Really Love To See You Tonight. Apart from that, tracks like I Believe In Love, I Wanna Be Your Woman and the Gamble and Huff penned Nobody Should Take Your Place are all great tracks. The only disappointment is the closing track Hang Your Portrait, which I feel has slightly weak lyrics. So, of the album’s nine tracks, eight are of the highest standard, and feature some fantastic vocals from Dee Dee. She’s a hugely talented vocalists, who delivers songs with passion, emotion and power, and is hugely versatile as a vocalist, able to deliver a variety of styles of song. As usual on any Philadelphia International album, the arrangements and production are of the highest standard. On this album, various arrangers and producers were used. All of them played their part in making this such a great album, as did the second incarnation of M.F.S.B. who played brilliantly on each track. Together with Dee Dee, they produced a fantastic album that has much to commend it. If after reading this article, you decide to buy this album, it’s now available as part of a two disc set that includes the three albums Dee Dee recorded for Philadelphia International. So why not introduce yourself to Dee Dee Sharp, and her music, after all, why should her music remain a well kept secret to all but soul connoisseurs and the music cognoscenti? Standout Tracks: Tryin’ To Get the Feeling Again, What Color Is Love, I’d Really Love To See You Tonight and Nobody Should Take Your Place.

DEE DEE SHARP-WHAT COLOR IS LOVE.

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