THE CHI-LITES -THE CHI-LITES.

THE CHI-LITES -THE CHI-LITES.

The early seventies were a great time for anyone who loved soul music. It seemed that during that period, labels throughout America were consistently producing some fantastic music. Several cities had successful labels, all of which were releasing both critically acclaimed and commercially successful music. This seemed to be the case throughout America. Philadelphia had Philadelphia International Records, home of The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and Billy Paul and Philly Groove home to The Delfonics and First Choice, Memphis was home to Hi Records who had Al Green, Ann Peebles and Otis Clay on their roster, while Stax had artists like Booker T and The MGs’, Johnnie Taylor, Shirley Brown and Isaac Hayes and Fame had Candi Staton. Detroit had Motown, home to Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder, before the label moved to Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Chicago had Cadet home to Terry Callier and Rotary Connection, while Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label had Donnie Hathaway, The impressions and Leroy Hutson. Another of Chicago’s hugely successful and important labels was Brunswick, which was home to Jackie Wilson and The Chi-Lites. 

From the release of their debut album in 1969, The Chi-Lites had been one of Brunswick’s most popular and successful groups. Their debut album was Give It Away in 1969 was a combination of cover versions and original material, and although it only reached number 180 in the US Billboard 200, it reached number sixteen in the US R&B Charts.

When they released their second album 1070s’ I Like Your Lovin’ (Do You Like Mine?) was a somewhat controversial release, featuring just three new songs, with the remaining tracks have been on their debut album Give It Away. The album failed to chart, although the single Are You My Woman (Tell Me So?) reached number seventy-two in the US Billboard 100 and eight in the US R&B Charts.

By the time their third album (For God Sake) Give More Power To the People was released in 1971, The Chi-Lites made their breakthrough, twelve years after first being formed in 1959. The album reached number twelve in the US Billboard 200 and three in the US R&B Charts. On the album was Have You Seen Her, one of the group’s best loved and most successful songs. It reached number three in both the US Billboard 100 and the UK.

Surpassing the success of For God Sake) Give More Power To the People was 1972s’ A Lonely Man, which reached number five in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. The album featured Oh Girl which reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. Also on the album was a cover of Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). 

A Letter To Myself was The  next album, released in 1972. It wasn’t as successful as their two previous albums, reaching number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Looking back, this was the start of the fall in The  albums. After this, their albums didn’t sell in such huge amounts.

The Chi-Lites, the album this article is about, was released in 1973. Although it only reached eighty-nine in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts, it featured some wonderful music. Songs like Homely Girl, Stoned Out of My Mind and Too Good To Be Forgotten were on this album, and considering the quality of the music on the album, it’s lowly chart placing in surprising.

After this, The Chi-Lites only released two further albums on Brunswick. These were Toby in 1974 which only reached number 181 in the US Billboard 200 and twelve in the US R&B Charts. Their final album for Brunswick 1975s’ Half A Love only reached number forty-one in the US R&B Charts. Following the release of Half A Love, The Chi-Lites signed to Mercury Records. Sadly, the two albums they released on Mercury failed to chart, and after that, they changed labels several times, but failed to replicate their earlier success on Brunswick. However, the music they released on Brunswick was some of the best soul music of the early seventies. One of these albums was 1973s’ The Chi-Lites, which features some great music, which I’ll now tell you about.

The  Chi-Lites opens with Homely Girl, the musical equivalent of the children’s tale The Ugly Duckling, where a plain girl grows up and is transformed into a beautiful woman. The song is sung from the perspective of the only guy who spotted the inner beauty of the Homely Girl. When the track was released as the third of four singles from the album, it reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 100 and three in the US R&B Charts. In the UK, the single reached number five. It’s that familiar piano solo that opens the track, before the rhythm section, guitars and bursts of horns combine before Eugene Record’s heartfelt vocal enters. He’s accompanied by the rest of the group singing sweet, soulful backing vocals, while a flute floats above the rest of the arrangement. As the song progresses, horns interject, while strings sweep lushly accompanying the lead and backing vocals. By now, Eugene has told the story brilliantly, against a quite beautiful arrangement, and made all the better by the addition of strings, horns and backing vocals. The end result is a masterful and hugely memorable slice of soul music, the perfect way to open the album. However, why wasn’t it a much bigger hit in the US Billboard Charts, because it was a huge hit here in the UK?

After such a memorable opening track, The Chi-Lites  follow this up with Go Away Dream. The rhythm section, chiming guitars, swirling strings and horns open the track, with an introduction that although slow, has bursts of brief drama thanks to the horns and drums combining. After that, Eugene sings the lead, singing about dreaming about how he keeps dreaming about a woman, but never gets to meet her. His vocal gets across the frustration and unfairness he feels, while gentle backing vocals briefly accompany him. Meanwhile understated lush strings, gentle piano and slow rhythm section provide the mainstay of the arrangement and occasional braying horns add bursts of drama. When these two “parts” of the arrangement combine, they provide the perfect backdrop for Eugene’s tale of frustration and disappointment. Like the previous track, this is a song with a story behind it, and although not in the class of Homely Girl, it’s still an excellent song.

Too Good To Be Forgotten is a slightly quicker track, with a fuller, more dynamic arrangement. This track was another of the singles released from the album. It was the fourth single and for some reason, wasn’t released in the US, but reached number ten in the UK. When the track opens, the tempo is quicker, with a catchy, feel-good sound apparent when a combination of rhythm section, guitars, flute and backing vocals accompany Eugene’s lead vocal which has a joyous sound. Horns blaze in, serenading his vocal adding to the already catchy, joyful track that’s unfolding. Meanwhile, Eugene, accompanied by similarly joyous backing vocalists, tells a tale of being distracted by a beautiful woman on his way home, and he can’t get her out of his mind. By now, a catchy hook laden track has revealed itself, one with an infectious, feel-good sound, thanks to a combination of an a faster, fuller sounding arrangement and Eugene’s joyous vocal. Together, they create one the catchiest songs on the album, and one that deserved to be released as a single in the US.

I Found Sunshine, has similarities to the previous track. The tempo is quicker, the sound fuller and there is a joyful, feel-good sound apparent from the opening bars. A combination of clavinet, rhythm section and sweet, bright horns play before Eugene’s faster, melodic vocal enters, with the rest of The  contributing backing vocals. At times, the arrangement has similarities with some of Stevie Wonder’s early seventies music, thanks to the use of the clavinet. Throughout, the track the tempo is quick, the sound fuller and totally joyous. Much of the credit must go to Eugene Record who wrote the track, and produced the album. He seemed able to combine the right instruments at just the right time. During the track, the addition of clavinet and horns, and the way they drop in and out of the track, is a masterstroke, especially the way they combine with the vocals. When the song was released as the second single from the album it reached forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and seventeen in the US R&B Charts, In the UK, the track only reached number thirty-five. For such a catchy, uplifting slice of soul, this was a disappointment. Surely this brilliant track deserved to do much better.

The final track on side one of the original album was I Never Had It So Good (And Felt So Bad) a slow, hugely sad track about a man whose just been divorced. When the track opens, swirling, dramatic strings are accompanied by a bass and equally dramatic horns before a half-spoken vocal enters. It’s accompanied by the strings, bass and horns before a sad, rueful vocal from Eugene enters, with the rest of the group providing sympathetic backing vocals. As the track progresses, the arrangement veers between an understated, sad sound to a much fuller drama laden sound. Both help bring the sadness and emotion of the lyrics to life and get over the sense of regret and loss felt. Although quite different from the previous tracks, it’s a hugely moving, track full of sadness, regret and sorrow.

Side two of the album opens with Marriage License, a somewhat tongue in cheek song that compares the Marriage License with a driving license. The track was co-written by Eugene and Alonnzo Tucker, who regularly wrote songs for Jackie Wilson. When the track opens, the tempo is slow, with keyboards, backing vocals, horns and bass accompanying Eugene’s vocal. Behind him, string sweep, a flute floats above the arrangement while drums and braying horns inject brief, bursts of drama. Eugene sings the song thoughtfully, his voice tender, with the backing vocals subtly accompanying him. Although both the vocal and arrangement are really good, the lyrics aren’t the best on the album. They lack depth and aren’t of the standard of Homely Girl, Too Good To Be Forgotten or I Found Sunshine. 

I Forgot To Say I Love You Till I’m Gone is a much better track, after the somewhat disappointing previous track. From the opening bars the tempo is quicker, the sound uplifting with the rhythm section and guitars driving the track along, before punchy horns and swirling strings enter, accompanying a quicker, joyful vocal from Eugene. Adding to an already good arrangement is a piano, and swooping backing vocals. However, my only criticism is the occasional fat sound from the horns, which seems out of place. Apart from that, everything comes together to create another catchy, upbeat tale about being in love, beautifully sung by Eugene with another good arrangement.

It’s a grand, dramatic sound that opens One Man Band (Plays Alone), a song co-written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed. Thom Bell had produced The Delfonics for Philly Groove Records and later, The Stylistics. Drums, sweeping, swirling strings and bursts of drama laden horns combine before Eugene sings about being alone, having being hurt and let down by people. He’s content to spend time alone, living in his own world. Behind the arrangement combines beauty and drama, with grand sweeping strings, a gentle country influenced piano and subtle bursts of horns creating the beauty, while rasping horns create drama. They combine with one of the best vocals on the album. Both Eugene and the other  combine perfectly. Their vocals are thoughtful, full of emotion and sympathetic to the lyrics, getting across both the contentment and disappointment. Although this is cover of a track originally recorded by Ronnie Dyson, it works really well for The Chi-Lites , and is one of the best songs on the second side of the album.

Bet You’ll Never Be Sorry is best described as a catchy track that swings along. It features an arrangement that veers between bursts of brief, musical drama and a lovely understated sound. When the track opens, when drums, blazing horns, guitars, bass and sweeping strings combine to produce a stirring, dramatic sound to before Eugene’s vocal enters, During the track his vocal ranges from a gentle, thoughtful style to one that matches the bursts of drama of the arrangement. One of the things I’ve always like about the track is the slightly old fashioned swinging arrangement. This sees the rhythm guitar sitting atop the arrangement, while around it, lush, strings sweep, horns provide bursts of drama and the rhythm section provide the track’s heartbeat. Matching the quality of the arrangement is the vocal, with Eugene seemingly reserving one of his best and most joyous vocals for this track, which was originally recorded by Gerald Sims, who wrote the song.

The Chi-Lites closes with the first of the singles released from the album, Stoned Out of My Mind, which reached number thirty in the US Billboard 100 and three in the US R&B Charts. It’s an uptempo track with rhythm section, braying horns, guitars and keyboards before Eugene’s gentle vocal about infidelity enters. He’s accompanied by the other Chi-Lites, whose soulful accompaniments are sympathetic to Eugene’s moving keyboards and guitars combine to produce a fast moving, fulsome arrangement that provides a contrast to Eugene’s sad, gentle vocal, which is laden with frustration and worry. Together they combine to produce a to produce one of the album’s best tracks and the perfect track to close the album with.

I’ve always thought that The Chi-Lites was one of the group’s most underrated albums. It failed to recapture the commercial success of their earlier albums, but featured some brilliant music. There is a wide variety of songs on the music from ballads to faster, much more uptempo songs. However, each track features some great vocals from Eugene and tight, harmonies from the rest of The Chi-Lites. Similarly, the arrangements on the album are each of the highest quality, thanks to Eugene Record’s slick production. On the album he uses the lushest of strings and blazing horns to good effect, creating the perfect backdrop for his lead vocal. Although lacking the militancy of their earlier albums, it’s crammed full of ten slices of the finest and sweetest soul music. Great songs, sung beautifully with emotion and feeling, together with arrangements featuring a cast of some of the finest musicians around, all helped to make this the beautiful and brilliant album it is. Even though the album is thirty-seven years old, it has a timeless quality, similar to the music released on labels like Philadelphia International, Fame, Stax and Hi. Like the music released by these labels, albums like The Chi-Lites are like bottles of fine wine, they mature with age. Standout Tracks: Homely Girl, I Found Sunshine, One Man Band (Plays Alone) and Stoned Out of My Mind. 

THE CHI-LITES -THE CHI-LITES.

Chi-Lites

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