TEDDY PENDERGRASS-LIFE IS A SONG WORTH SINGING.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS-LIFE IS A SONG WORTH SINGING.

In a previous article I reviewed Teddy Pendergrass’ debut solo album, entitled Teddy Pendergrass. This was his first album since leaving Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, where he’d been the lead singer. His debut solo album, Teddy Pendergrass was released in June 1977, reaching number seventeen in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. The album was certified platinum, having sold over a million copies. So, his next album had a lot to live up to. 

During 1977 and 1978, Teddy spent time in the legendary Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where so many Philadelphia International Records recordings were made. During that time, some of the best arrangers and producers were enlisted to help record what would become Life Is A Song Worth Singing. Apart from Gamble and Huff, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, Victor Castarphen and Sherman Marshall all produced tracks. Arrangers like Jack Faith, Thom Bell, John Usry Jr. and Dexter Wansell were called upon by Gamble and Huff. Add to this M.F.S.B. and it was a hugely talented cast of producers, arrangers and musicians that all combined to record Life Is A Song Worth Singing.

When Life Is A Song Worth Singing was finished, there were seven songs on the album, with two of them, Only You and Close the Door released as singles. The first single released from the album was Close the Door. It was a huge hit, reaching number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Similarly, when Life Is A Song Worth Singing was released in June 1978, it gave Teddy a number one US R&B album. The album also reached number eleven in the US Billboard 200. This meant Teddy received his second platinum album of his solo career. 

The second single taken from the album was Only You. Unlike its predecessor, it failed to enter the US Billboard 100, but reached number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. However, it reached number twenty-nine in the US Dance Charts, giving Teddy his first hit single on the Dance Charts. Although Only You never matched the success of Close the Door, 1978 had been a good year for Teddy. Two hit singles, and a platinum selling album, Life Is A Song Worth Singing, which I’ll now tell you about.

Life Is A Song Worth Singing opens with the title track, Life Is A Song Worth Singing, a Thom Bell and Linda Creed penned track. A slow rhythm section, rasping horns, keyboards, lush sweeping strings and guitars combine during the lengthy introduction, The tempo quickens before Teddy, accompanied by soulful backing vocalists enter. His voice is strong and emotive, while behind him a sweeping, swirling and dramatic arrangement unfolds. Lush strings, punchy drums and braying horns are key to the track’s success, providing the perfect dance-floor friendly backdrop for Teddy’s vocal. It demonstrates how Philadelphia International moved with the times, embracing disco, rather than ignoring its growing popularity and importance. However, by 1978, disco was experiencing a backlash, so this album is about more than great dance-floor friendly tracks like this.

When Only You opens, there’s a funk influence apparent from the opening bars. Soaring, chiming guitars combine with a funky rhythm section and percussion, before bursts blazing horns give way to Teddy’s joyful vocal. He sings about how only one woman, is the woman for him. This he against Dexter Wansell’s arrangement that’s fast, funky and dance-floor friendly. The beat pounds, while waves of drama drenched horns and drums combine with a funk laden bass and shimmering guitars. The pace is relentless, horns blazing, while Teddy’s voice is laden with passion and desire. For just over five minutes, M.F.S.B. combine with Teddy to produce a track that combines funk and soul masterfully, thanks to Gamble and Huff’s mastery of mixing desk when producing the track.

It’s a very different sound and style that opens Cold, Cold World a slow, ballad where Teddy passionately sings about not letting things get you down, regardless of how tough times get. He does this against an arrangement that sees lush, slow strings, chiming guitar and thoughtful rhythm section, combine with bursts of rasping horns. Mostly, they produce a backdrop that has an almost understated sound, but sometimes, drums and horns add a sense of drama. This effectively matches the sense of sadness, desperation and even, drama in Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Castarphen’s lyrics. Although this is a very different style of song, this to me, is one of the best songs on the album. Teddy I’ve always thought, is best when he’s singing slower, emotive songs.

Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose, sees Teddy enter James Brown territory on this delicious slice of good time funky music. Blazing horns open the track, before the rhythm section, chiming, shimmering guitars and keyboards drive the song along. Teddy sings how after the Monday to Friday grind, it’s time to party and have a ball. Together with M.F.S.B. he combines to produce an infectious, punchy good time song, catchy and laden with hooks. Much of the track’s success is down to the addition of horns and the backing vocalists whose joyous contributions really lifts the track. They whoop, shriek and holler in response to the energy and enthusiasm Teddy puts into the song. In the hands of another singer and band this wouldn’t be the same track. However, when you combine Teddy Pendergrass with M.F.S.B., add John Usry Jr.’s arrangement and Gamble and Huff’s production you end up five and a half minutes of joyous, uptempo good-time party music.

The standout track from the album is Close the Door, which gave Teddy a number one US R&B single. It’s a beautiful, sensuous and seductive track. It’s one of these tracks that should carry a government health warning, that prolonged exposure to the track can see two become three. A slow, string drenched arrangement sees bursts of braying horns combine with chiming guitars and considered, rhythm section. Later a piano is added to arrangement, combining beautifully with the swirling, sweeping horns and the drama laden, blazing horns. Both Teddy’s irresistible, seductive pleas and Thom Bell’s equally beautiful arrangement unite as one perfectly. Together, they create the best song on the album, and a love song so good that it’s almost peerless. 

After such a brilliant previous track, It Don’t Hurt Now has a hard act to follow, However, It Don’t Hurt Now is another good track, with Teddy singing about the sadness he felt when his relationship ended, having met someone new he loves. This is sung against a slow arrangement with strings, gentle rasping horns and a slow, thoughtful rhythm section. Backing vocalists subtly accompany Teddy, their sweet, soulful voices reminding me of Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, on many of the Hi Records albums. A prolonged piano solo combines beautifully with chiming guitars and subtle, rasping horns. Together with Teddy’s vocal they provide a beautiful, fitting and worthy track to follow the brilliant Close the Door.

Life Is A Song Worth Singing closes with When Somebody Loves You Back, a slower track, but slightly faster track than the previous two tracks. It has a fuller, swirling introduction. Strings are key to this, swirling and sweeping, while chiming guitars, rhythm section and keyboards combine with understated rasping horns. Teddy’s vocal has a joyousness, thankful for the love he’s found. Behind him, the arrangement still has the same swirling, dramatic sound, strings at its heart while horns make subtle, yet important, repeated contributions. Wave after wave of beautiful lush music makes its presence felt, sweeping you along in it wake. Again, backing vocalists accompany Teddy, reflecting the joyousness in his voice. Following on from two great tracks that featured Teddy singing in a slower style, this is the third similar track, proving my earlier point that this is what Teddy did best, singly slow, emotive love songs. This is a fitting end to a second great album from Teddy Pendergrass.

Although Life Is A Song Worth Singing was only Teddy’s second solo album, he was a hugely experienced singer by this time, having previously been lead singer of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. However, his solo career saw his career becoming even more successful, with this the second of four platinum and three gold albums he released. Apart from two gold albums for 1984s’ Love Language and 1988s’ Joy, the rest of this success was when he was on Philadelphia International Records.  Of the seven albums he released on Philadelphia International four were certified platinum and one gold. That was the benefit of  being on Gamble and Huff’s label, working with such talented songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians. Where else could he have worked with such a hugely talented group of people. Together, they helped Teddy harness the huge talent he had as a singer. They provided him with some great songs for Life Is A Song Worth Singing, including the three slow tracks Close the Door, It Don’t Hurt Now and When Somebody Loves You Back. Add to this the joyous Get Up, Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose and the dance-floor friendly Life Is A Song Worth Singing then you can see that this album features just one great song after another. Of the seven tracks on the album, there’s neither a poor track nor any filler. Like its predecessor Teddy Pendergrass, this is an excellent album, one I’d recommend to anyone. If you love soul music this is an album that deserves a place within your collection. After all, does soul get any better, than Teddy Pendergrass at his very best? Standout Tracks: Get Down, Get Funky, Get Loose, Close the Door, It Don’t Hurt Now and When Somebody Loves You Back. 

TEDDY PENDERGRASS-LIFE IS A SONG WORTH SINGING.

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