MEL AND TIM-MEL AND TIM.
MEL AND TIM-MEL AND TIM.
Every artist dreams about having a hugely successful hit single, selling so many copies that they get a gold disc to hang on their wall. This happened twice to cousins Mel Hardin and Tim McPherson. Recording as Mel and Tim, their demo tape had so impressed soul singer, Gene Chandler that he’d immediately signed them to his Bamboo label. Their debut single Backfield In Motion reached number ten in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts in 1969. This lead to an album entitled Good Guys Only Win In Movies being released to build on the success of the single. The album title turned out to be an accurate forecast for Mel and Tim’s future, with the Bamboo label experiencing financial problems, and the duo having to sit out the remaining years of their contract.
Three years later, in 1972, Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins of Muscle Shoals Sounds were given a demo tape by a deejay friend. On the tape were Mel and Tim. Liking what they heard, the two former members of Rick Hall’s legendary rhythm section, realized that they’d the perfect song for Mel and Tim. Starting All Over Again was a Phillip Mitchell penned track, that had originally, meant for Sam and Dave. They had never recorded the track, so instead, Mel and Tim were given the track. Using The Chi-Lites sound as their template, Barry and Roger recorded the song with Mel and Tim. This resulted in another gold disc for Mel and Tim, when the song reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 100 and number four in the US R&B Charts. An album also entitled Starting All Over Again was released, but it didn’t fare as well as the single. Neither were there any other big hit singles on the album. However, this didn’t put of Barry and Roger, they decided to record another album with Mel and Tim.
This was the album this article is about Mel and Tim. It was recorded in Muscle Shoals with overdubbing taking place in the Criteria Studios in Miami. Like before, Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins produced the album. Of the ten songs on the album, Phillip Mitchell wrote or cowrote eight of them. When the album was released on Stax in 1972, the album sold really badly. So few copies were originally sold, that the album is now a rare record. However, poor sales don’t always equate to a poor album. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite, with an album that sold badly being one of these hidden gems that you’re delighted to discover. That was the case when I first heard Mel and Tim, which I’ll now tell you about.
Mel and Tim opens with Keep the Faith one of the two songs not written by Phillip Mitchell. Instead it was penned by Mark James. This is a beautiful track to open any album, possessing one of the best string arrangements you’ll ever hear. Add to that a smattering of subtle horns and it’s a potent combination. Those lush, grand strings sweep and swirl in the background, with bursts of horns making occasional, subtle contributions, while the vocal is strong, emotive and thoughtful. Behind the vocal, backing vocals combine with the strings, creating a heavenly almost transcendental groove, that grabs your attention, transfixing you, transporting you to somewhere serene and beautiful. Although the vocal is really good, what really transforms the track is an outstandingly beautiful arrangement. After this, can it get any better?
When The Same Folk opens, there’s a noticeable similarity between the guitar sound on Starting All Over Again and this track. After that, the track starts to sound a bit like Starting All Over Again’s younger cousin. The tempo and arrangement are similar, with the same instruments used. Although this could be seen as a lack of originality, other people may see it as trying to use a winning formula. Strings lush and slow, accompany the guitar and tight vocal harmonies, before the lead vocal enters. Again the combination of strings and backing vocals combine beautifully, with subtle, rasping horns, piano and a Hammond organ all playing important part in a track that veers between a slow lush sound, to a grand dramatic sound. Newly successful musicians should heed Phillip Mitchell’s lyrics, that the same people who helped them achieve success, can just as easily put them in their place. They’re tenderly sung against another great arrangement, albeit one that’s closely resembles Starting All Over Again.
Oh How I Love You is a track with its own unique sound, one that’s got a joyful, feel-good sound. Against a backdrop of keyboards, rhythm section, sweeping strings and horns, backing vocalists joyously combine, before the vocal enters. It too, has a powerful, joyful sound, which is magnified by the arrangement behind it. Chiming guitars join the blazing horns and sweeping strings, while the vocal is augmented by backing vocals. This results in a hook laden, celebratory sound that can’t fail to lift your spirits.
It’s a very different sound that opens Yes We Can-Can. There’s a rock influence in the guitar sound, while an almost cluttered combination of organ, driving rhythm section and blazing horns accompanies the vocal. Straight away, it’s apparent this track doesn’t quite work. Written by New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint, it’s meant to be paean to positivity, togetherness and acceptance. Instead, it comes across as stilted, giving of the impression he was trying to hard to write a hit record. Even the tempo and arrangement seems out of synch with the rest of the album. In the end, it’s one of these songs that just doesn’t work. Regardless of how hard Mel and Tim try, and how much energy they put into the track, even they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
After the extremely disappointing previous track, Mel and Tim get things back on track with I’d Still Be There. It’s a track that’s about a man who was down on his luck, who meets a woman who transforms his life. Without her, he’d still be there. The song’s sung against a backdrop of slow, lush strings, chiming guitars and backing vocalists. They combine with the vocal to create a track laden with emotion, sadness and joy. The sound is “big,” with the backing vocalists, strings and gently, rasping horns achieving this with aplomb. Following on from Yes We Can-Can, this proves that it was just a blip, with I’d Still Be There a welcome return to their previous best.
A spacious funk tinged combination of rhythm section, percussion and flute open Making Love Is My Thing, another Phillip Mitchell song. As the song opens, it gives no indication of the direction it’s heading. What follows is a funk drenched track with a spacious arrangement, that quickly gets fuller. Strings sweep in, with female backing vocalists sweetly and soulfully unite, as the track heads in a direction marked funk. The track has an early seventies funk sound, and would sit nicely in the soundtrack for a Blaxploitation soundtrack. By now, keyboards have cut in, with blazing horns and a flute accompanying the confident, even boastful lead vocal. When the track ends, you realize that there’s a lot more to Mel and Tim than slow, lush, dramatic ballads. They can get down and get funky with the best of them.
It’s Those Little Things That Count sees Mel and Tim return to a much more familiar sound, after their excursion into planet funk. The tempo is slow, the arrangement string laden, with percussion, rasping horns and backing vocalists key to the tracks lovely, lush sound. Meanwhile, the vocal is restrained, full of emotion, made all the better by the swooning, sweeping backing vocalists. They combine perfectly with the vocal, and when you factor in the slow, lush arrangement, it’s the recipe for another great song.
Like the previous track, Ain’t No Love In My Life has a slow tempo, but a much fuller arrangement. Keyboards and percussion combine before the vocal enters, with backing vocalists and sweeping strings combining with the vocal. As the song progresses, the vocal grows stronger, full of the frustration and sadness of the lyrics. They’re about an unlucky, loveless man who can’t seem to do anything right or meet the woman he longs for. Meanwhile, the arrangement has grown fuller, with the backing vocals and strings partly responsible for this. Atop the arrangement, sits a floaty flute, which provides a contrast to the keyboards and strings. Although the lyrics are sad, with the vocal reflecting this, there’s an almost joyous sound to the arrangement, one with a slight gospel influence. This may seem at odds with the lyrics, but it works well, resulting in a track that’s laden with emotion and frustration, but still allows joy to shine through, proving every cloud has a silver lining.
People Get Ready, that’s what I thought when blazing horns, percussion and slow, sad string combine dramatically, to open That’s the Way I Want To Live My Life, After the introduction, the similarities end. What follows, is one of the most emotive tracks on the album. This is because of hugely emotive, nearly desperate vocal sung against a drama drenched arrangement. At its heart are braying horns, lush sweeping strings and a slow thoughtful rhythm section. As if that’s not enough, backing vocalists and a Hammond organ are added, and together, with rest of the arrangement, they unite with the vocal to produce an outstanding, emotive and dramatic track.
Mel and Tim closes with Forever and A Day, a very different sounding track. It’s a much quicker, prototype disco track, with swirling strings, funky, dramatic rhythm section and chiming guitars at its heart. Above the arrangement sits the vocal, loud and full of feeling, with backing vocalists and blazing horns adding drama and a soulfulness to the track. As the track progresses, it sweeps you along in its hook laden wake. You’re caught up in the joyousness of the sound of this brilliant track, one that’s an absolute hidden gem. I’m sure that this track would fill a dance-floor even today, thirty-nine years after it was recorded. What a way to end any album, never mind this great album.
Before I bought this album last year, when it was rereleased by Ace Records, I’d only heard a few tracks. What I’d heard I loved, and couldn’t wait to get my own copy. When it was rereleased I wondered whether the rest of the album would be as good as the tracks I’d heard, or whether I’d heard the best the album had to offer. Well, from the first play, I realized that this was an outstanding album I’d just bought. It truly is a rare hidden gem, full of nine great songs. The only poor song is Allen Toussaint penned Yes We Can-Can. That is a mere blip, with every other song making up for that. From the opening strains of Keep The Faith to the closing notes of Forever and A Day, Mel and Tim cast a spell over me. Since then, I’ve listened to the album more times than I care to remember. Every time, I ask myself why the album wasn’t a huge success. It was an album that had everything going for it. Two great vocalists in Mel and Tim, experienced and talented producers in Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins and Phillip Mitchell writing eight of the albums songs. Add to that some hugely talented musicians, and you’ve a formula for success you’d think. Sadly that wasn’t the case. However, since the album was rereleased, many people have discovered the magical music on Mel and Tim, and like me, they’ve been swept along by the music and caught in its spell. As usual, Ace have done an excellent job in remastering the album, although the sleeve notes could be better. They’re not as in depth as you find on some albums. At least they do tell you what musicians played on the album. Reading them, it’s like a who’s who of Muscle Shoals sessions players. Barry Beckett on keyboards, Roger Hawkins on percussion, bassist Jerry Masters and Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar, are just some of the musicians who together with Mel and Tim, made Mel and Tim such an excellent album. Standout Tracks: Keep the Faith, Oh How I Love You, That’s the Way I Want To Live My Life and Forever and A Day.
MEL AND TIM-MEL AND TIM.