TEDDY PENDERGRASS-TEDDY PENDERGRASS.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS-TEDDY PENDERGRASS.

Before becoming a hugely successful solo artist, Teddy Pendergrass had been lead singer with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. However, in 1976, Teddy quit the group, deciding to pursue a solo career. While this worked out well for Teddy,  resulting in four platinum discs and three gold discs, things didn’t work out quite as well for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. After replacing Teddy, and changing record labels, they never replicated the success they had on Philadelphia International Records. Teddy meanwhile, recorded one successful album after another. Between 1977 and 1983, Teddy released seven albums on Philadelphia International, with four certified platinum and one gold. The first of these albums, was Teddy Pendergrass released in June 19777.

Teddy Pendergrass was recorded during 1976 and the early part of 1977. On it’s release, the album reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Produced by Gamble and Huff, with Gene Mc Fadden and John Whitehead. Together with arrangements by Bobby Martin and Jack Faith, and Philadelphia International’s legendary house band M.F.S.B., providing the musical backdrop for Teddy, everything was set for a successful debut solo album. 

There were eight tracks on the album including a song that would become synonymous with Teddy, The Whole Towns Laughing At Me. It was the second single released from the album, reaching number sixteen in the US R&B Charts. The other two singles were I Don’t Love You Anymore, which reached number five in the US R&B Charts and forty-one in the US Billboard 100. You Can’t Hide From Yourself the third single taken from the album reached number seven on the US Dance Charts. Having told you about Teddy’s debut album, i’ll now tell you what it sounds like.

Teddy’s debut solo album Teddy Pendergrass opens with You Can’t Hide From Yourself, a Gamble and Huff penned song. It’s one of the quicker dance-floor friendly tracks on the album, which reached number seven in the US Dance Charts. It opens with a combination of blazing horns and rhythm and string section before Teddy’s strong, powerful and quite joyous vocal enters. Accompanying Teddy are backing vocalists whose voices soar in unison joyously, while guitars, sweeping, swirling strings, brazing horns and the rhythm section punctuate the track. When the drums interject firmly and loudly, this is a signal for the arrangement to rise dramatically, with horns adding to this dramatic sound. Meanwhile, Teddy’s voice has grown, to almost a roar, as he gives everything he has on this opening track. A combination of his powerful, joyous vocal, made all the better by the backing vocalists and an arrangement with a quick tempo and dramatic, sweeping sound perfect for any dance-floor make this the perfect track to open any album, never mind a debut album.

Somebody Told Me sees Teddy drop the tempo, on a track that has a dramatic sound, augmented by some lovely, lush strings. Teddy meanwhile, throws himself into the track, giving a hugely emotional vocal. A combination of chiming guitars, percussion and piano combine before Teddy’s emotive vocal enters. As he sings some deeply spiritual lyrics, lush strings sweep, while guitars chime, as the rhythm section and piano inject drama into the track. Backing vocalists subtly sing, a contrast to Teddy’s strong, powerful vocal full of emotion. Waves of quite beautiful, music rise and fall, thanks to an arrangement that veers between a dramatic, stirring sound and a gentler, lush, sound when the strings, guitars and backing vocalists combine perfectly. This is fitting given the spiritual nature of Teddy’s “message,” which he delivers passionately, and with sincerity. By the end of the track, you can’t help but be impressed by both the arrangement, and Teddy’s passion and sincerity, which together, make this one of the album’s highlights.

When Be Sure opens, the tempo is slow and arrangement has a lovely understated sound, with just percussion, rhythm section, piano and guitars combining with Teddy’s gentle, thoughtful vocal. There’s no indication of what’s about to unfold. Just after Teddy’s voice grows in strength and passion, the arrangement grows, with strings entering, and as if on cue, drums interject loudly, before a quite joyous much fuller sound enters. It’s a combination of joyful, backing vocalists, the lushest of strings, which sweep quickly, while guitars chime and shimmer, and the rhythm section drives the track along. Quickly the tempo drops, only to regroup and head back towards that joyous sound. This is the pattern for the rest of the track, waves of music, rising and falling quite beautifully, interrupted only by a breakdown where Teddy half-speaks the vocal. Like the two previous tracks, part of its success is down to the arrangement by Jack Faith. Together with the production by Gamble and Huff with Gene Mc Fadden and John Whitehead, they provide the perfect backdrop for Teddy. He in turn produces a an excellent performance laden with enthusiasm, emotion and energy on a track that’s long been one of my favorite tracks on Teddy Pendergrass. 

Another of the songs written by Gamble and Huff is And If I Had. It’s a track that opens with a bass playing, before guitars chime, Teddy’s voice soars gently, accompanied by subtle horns and an organ atmospherically playing. All the musicians and Teddy, produce a performance that’s an exercise in subtlety. After that, his voice is soft and gentle, as he pleads for someone to love him, and someone to care for him. Adding to an already thoughtful sounding, almost sad arrangement, are strings, which lushly enter. They’re joined by horns which subtly interject, rasping, while chiming guitars join in. Meanwhile, Teddy’s voice is drenched in sadness and regret, when backing vocalists enter. Just at the right time, horns strings and drums combine adding drama to this emotive, sad song. As the track ends, you can’t help but be caught up in the emotion of the song, thanks to Teddy’s heartfelt performance and Bobby Martin’s sad and dramatic arrangement. Together, they produce an outstanding track, one that demonstrates perfectly, just how hugely talented a singer Teddy was.

The first single released from the album I Don’t Love You Anymore, is a quite different sounding track from the previous three tracks. Like the opening track You Can’t Hide From Yourself and The More I Get, the More I Want, these three dance-floor friendly tracks played an important part in the evolution of house music in the eighties. Back then, Gamble and Huff knew exactly what was required to fill any dance-floor. Having discovered the secret, they produced tracks with a sound designed and guaranteed to fill any dance-floor. This track was one which succeeded in doing so. It opens with percussion providing a Latin sound and feel, before blazing horns and swirling strings combine to provide a backdrop for Teddy’s quicker, passion laden vocal. Adding to an already joyful upbeat sound are piano, and backing vocalists whose voices unite soulfully and joyously. Later shimmering guitars interject, combining with a piano during a mini-breakdown, when Teddy’s vocal drops way down, before quickly returning to it’s previous joyful, passion drenched sound. When the track ends, the similarity with the house music of the eighties is plain to see. This is down to the choice of instruments, how and when they combine, and the way the song is structured, not forgetting the passion ridden, joyful testifying, vocal from Teddy. Like the best of house music, this track is uplifting, catchy and hook laden, perfect for lifting your spirits and giving you a joyful feeling. In a word, brilliant.

Probably the best known track on the album is The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me, which was the second song released from the album. I was quite surprised that the track only reached number sixteen in the USS R&B Charts, and didn’t even enter the US Billboard 100. Such a great song deserved to do much better, considering just how brilliantly Teddy sings it. A dramatic burst of drums signals the lushest of strings to enter, while guitars to chime and shimmer and backing vocals unite subtly while horns interject. Together, they keep the tempo slow, and when Teddy sings, his voice is full of sadness and regret as he sings about his partner leaving me. Behind him, the arrangement has grown fuller, a combination of swirling strings, rhythm section, guitars and horns, who produce an arrangement full of emotion and drama, perfect for Teddy’s regrets and sadness. Adding the finishing touches are the backing vocalists who sweep in, singing soulfully and gently in unison, reminding Teddy of the love he’s lost. Overall, it’s a hugely moving song, one of the best and most memorable Teddy recorded as a solo artists. To me, this is what Teddy does so well, sing slow ballads about love and love gone wrong. He brings the lyrics to life, telling the story in such a way that it’s as if he’d lived it a thousand times over. 

Easy, Easy, Got To Take It Easy is another of the slow songs on the album. It has a lovely spacious introduction with bass, piano, percussion and guitar combining before Teddy gently sings. Drums, rasping horns and swooning backing vocalists enter, as the track starts to build, with drums signaling drama is just around the corner. The longer the track progresses, the better both Teddy’s now sensual sounding vocal and the joyful arrangement gets. Much of this is due to backing vocalists joyously supplementing Teddy’s vocal, and arrangement and production. For example, strings lush and beautiful sweep in at just the perfect moment, ensuring they’e maximum impact, adding emotion and a touch of drama. As usual, the choice of what combination of instruments to use and just when, is perfect. Like all the records on Philadelphia International, both the arrangements and production are of the highest standard. This quite beautiful and deeply emotional, sensual and joyous track represents all that’s good about the music on Philadelphia international.

Teddy Pendergrass closes with The More I Get, The More I Want, another of the dance-floor orientated tracks. From the opening bars when guitars chime, accompanied by a fast funk laden bass, percussion and drums the tempo is quick, the sound upbeat and catchy. Atop the arrangement sits Teddy’s charismatic and powerful vocal, which is accompanied by blazing horns, joyous backing vocalists, the rhythm section, sweeping strings, guitars and percussion. Together, they combine to produce a fast paced, joyous sounding dance-floor classic, one that thirty-four years later, sounds just as good, with a timeless quality. Listening to it, it’s hard to comprehend that this is a track from the late seventies. It’s like a template for what a good dance track should sound like. Any house music producer wanting to hear what it takes to fill a floor, should listen to this. Similarly, anyone interested in the history of dance music, should listen to this track and they’ll see how tracks like this were hugely important in the development of house music in the eighties. Such a upbeat, joyous and catchy track is the perfect way to close the album, demonstrating that whether it was ballads or the faster tracks designed to fill the dance-floor, he could deliver them brilliantly.

As someone who loves the music on Philadelphia International, and who loved Teddy’s previous group Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, I was saddened when he split from the group and became a solo artists. My sadness was replaced by happiness when I heard his debut album Teddy Pendergrass, one of the best debut albums you could wish to hear. It’s a combination of beautiful ballads and dance-floor friendly tracks, each one of the highest standard. Together with M.F.S.B. as his backing band, Bobby Martin and Jack Faith arranging the tracks and Gamble and Huff, with Gene Mc Fadden and John Whitehead producing, Teddy produced a million selling album. This was the first of a series of hugely successful albums Teddy released on Philadelphia International between 1977 and 1981. Tragedy struck in 1982, when Teddy was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Showing immense determination and bravery, Teddy made a hugely emotional comeback at Live Aid in 1985. It was his first live performance since his accident. After that, Teddy continued to release albums, with his 1988 album Joy reaching number two in the US R&B Charts, fifty-four in the US Billboard 200 and forty-five in the UK. Teddy received his third gold disc for Joy, which was his debut album for his new label Elektra. Following the success of Joy, Teddy released four further albums, his last in 1998. On 5th June 2009, Teddy Pendergrass died aged just fifty-nine. His loss was mourned by his many fans, who to this day, continue to love his music, including his outstanding debut album Teddy Pendergrass. Standout Tracks: Somebody Told Me, Be Sure, The Whole Town’s Laughing At Me and Easy, Easy, Got To Take It Easy.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS-TEDDY PENDERGRASS.

 

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