GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-NEITHER ONE OF US.

GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-NEITHER ONE OF US.

I’ve always though that Gladys Knight and the Pips were one of the most underrated acts on Motown. During their time on Motown, it seemed much of the focus was on Diana Ross, and as a result, Gladys Knight’s music was somewhat overlooked. That to me is a huge shame, because during this period, Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded some wonderful music. Ironically, their most successful album on Motown was their final album for the label Neither One of US.

During the six years that Gladys Knight and the Pips spent on Motown, they released eight albums. Of these eight albums, not only did Neither One of Us prove to be their most successful, but it featured one of their most successful singles Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye). Neither One of Us had been recorded during 1972 and 1973, and was released in March 1973. When it was released, it reached number nine in the US R&B Charts and number one in the US R&B Charts. Two singles were released from the album in 1973. The first was Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye) which reached number two in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. It was followed by Daddy Could Swear, I Declare which reached number nineteen in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Such a successful album and two singles must have proved satisfying for Gladys Knight as she signed for her new label Buddah Records where she would have two number one US R&B albums and receive three gold discs. Not only that, but she’d record classic tracks like Midnight Train To Georgia, I’ve Got To Use My Imagination and Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me, all of which reached number one in the US R&B Charts. All of this was still to come for Gladys Knight and the Pips, who’d just released Neither One of Us which I’ll now tell you about.

Neither One of Us opens with Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye), which gave Gladys Knight and the Pips one of their biggest hits at that stage of her career. It has a lovely understated sound as the track opens, keyboards, piano, guitars and rhythm section combining before Gladys’ tender and heartfelt vocal enters. Behind her, the lushest of strings sweep in as The Pips sing subtle backing vocals. As the song progresses, the slow tempo and beautiful understated string drenched arrangement provide the perfect backdrop for a stunning vocal from Gladys. It’s laden in emotion, sadness and regret as she sings about a relationship ending and neither person wanting to be the person that ends it. Gladys delivers the song beautifully, while The Pips subtle backing vocal and the arrangement compliment her vocal perfectly. No wonder this track was such a huge success when released as a single, as it’s a stunning track.

A piano and rhythm section accompany an emotive vocal from Gladys as It’s Gotta Be That Way opens. Slow strings enter, accompanied by guitars combining to provide an arrangement that’s both full of sadness and drama. As Gladys’ vocal grows in strength and emotion, The Pips sing gentle backing vocals before horns gently rasp. Drums and piano punctuate the track with short, sharp bursts of drama, while the strings add to the sense of sadness in Gladys’ voice. While the strings swirl, guitars chime and horns rasp, providing a dramatic, backdrop laden in sadness and regret that reflects the pain and turmoil Gladys vocal. Like the previous track, Gladys gets across the heartache and emotion beautifully, and producer Johnny Bristol provides the perfect backdrop for her vocal.

For Once In My Life is a cover of a song made famous by Stevie Wonder, Whereas Stevie’s version was a quick, joyous version of the song, Gladys’ version is really slow, hugely emotional and dramatic version. A fuller arrangement with strings at its heart opens the track, while the rhythm section and chiming guitars complete the sound. When Gladys sings, she delivers the lyrics slowly and thoughtfully, adding emotion and drama to song, While she sings, strings envelop her, adding to the lovely melancholy string lead sound. The longer the song progresses, the stronger Gladys’ voice gets, and she turns the song into a statement of pride, proud that now she’s found someone who needs her. Compared to the Stevie Wonder version of the song, I much prefer Gladys’ almost overblown, drama laden version, which is swathed in the lushest of strings.

As This Child Needs Its Father opens, swirling strings punctuate the sound, while the rhythm section and guitars combine to provide a slow, moody sound. Atop the arrangement sits a very different vocal from Gladys. Here her vocal is much more considered and deliberate, but still full of drama and emotion. When she sings about her child needing its father, and being unwilling to share her bed with another man, it almost seems real, so strong and heartfelt is her delivery of the lyrics. Behind her, The Pips add punchy backing vocals, while a guitar solo combines with the swirling, shimmering strings and punchy rhythm section to provide an arrangement that reflects the emotion and drama in the song. What makes this such a great song is a combination of three things, great lyrics, a sweeping, dramatic arrangement and Gladys’ heartfelt, emotive delivery of the song. 

When Who Is She (and What Is She To You) opens, the change in sound is immediately noticeable. There’s a funk influence in the track, with the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards combining to produce a repetitive, funky backdrop for Gladys slow moody vocal. Meanwhile, The Pips contribute backing vocals, as brief bursts of horns accompany the funk laden rhythm section. A rubbery bass line, pounding drums and chiming guitars are key to the sound, on top of which sits Gladys powerful, frustrated vocal. However, good as Gladys vocal and arrangement are, the song doesn’t quite work. For me, it was the wrong type of song for Gladys. She’s much more suited to ballads, and songs with a stronger narrative, not funky tracks like this.

A combination of sweeping, swirling strings, punchy rhythm section and chiming guitars combine with Gladys’ emotive vocal as And This Is Love begins. It’s a much better track, a sweeping, dramatic song that builds and builds. Horns rasp, while the lush strings sweep and the rhythm section inject brief bursts of drama. Gladys voice soars powerfully and joyfully, as she reflects on her love affair and everything she and her partner have endured. This is a much more suitable song for Gladys, it’s a sweeping and dramatic, allowing Gladys to demonstrate not only how her talent as a vocalist, but how she can bring a song to life, almost as if she’s lived and experienced the story behind the lyrics.

The second single from Neither One of Us was Daddy Could Swear, I Declare, a track that briefly reminds me of Papa Was A Rolling Stone when you listen to the track carefully. However, it’s neither as good a track as that classic song, nor as good as the first single released from the album Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye). Having said that, it isn’t a bad song, just slightly derivative. When the track opens, it’s just Gladys and an acoustic guitar, before the rhythm section and percussion enter. Like the arrangement, Gladys’ vocal is quick, with The Pips contributing soaring backing vocals. Later, blazing horns enter, as percussion, a lightning fast bass and searing guitars combine. By the end of the track, the song has grown on me slightly, but sadly, although it isn’t a bad track, it isn’t one of the best ones either.

Can’t Give It Up No More opens with gentle piano slowly playing before a powerful and emotive vocal from Gladys enters. Quickly, the track changes, with a punchy rhythm section and chiming guitars joining, while The Pips almost sing call and response with Gladys. She sings about how she doesn’t need her man now, even though he needs and wants her, because she’s too strong. As the song progresses, the arrangement fills out, becoming as emotionally charged as Gladys’ vocal. Although soaring guitars, the rhythm section and keyboards all play an important part in the success of this track, it’s Gladys who steals the show, with a powerful, ballsy vocal full of pride.

Neither One of Us closes with Don’t It Make You Feel Good opens with keyboards, rhythm section and chiming guitars accompanying a half-spoken vocal from Gladys. When her vocal proper enters, it’s a much more restrained and considered vocal from Gladys, while The Pips sing subtle backing vocals. As the arrangement shuffles beautifully along, Gladys’ vocal grows in strength and passion, while The Pips provide the perfect accompaniment. Meanwhile, the arrangement features just guitars, the rhythm section and keyboards, who combine to produce a sound that’s deeply soulful, but has a slight funk influence. When this merges with Gladys’ vocal, the result is a winning combination, resulting in a great fantastic, and a great way to end the album.

Listening to Neither One of Us closely, it seems that Gladys Knight and The Pips had matured into one of the best groups on Motown at this time. However, they wouldn’t be on Motown much longer, leaving the label to join Buddah Records, where there talent was much more appreciated, and they didn’t have to play second fiddle to any other acts. In some ways, Motown missed an opportunity with Gladys Knight and The Pips, because their transformation into such a great group seemed to pass by many of the people on the label. While they were giving all of their attention and support to other acts, Gladys Knight and The Pips were on the verge of becoming one of the biggest soul groups of the seventies. After leaving Motown, they released some of the biggest tracks of their career in Midnight Train To Georgia, I’ve Got To Use My Imagination and Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me. It seemed that whilst they maybe weren’t as appreciated as their talent warranted on Motown, Buddah Records recognized their potential and treated them in such a way that their potential was allowed to flourish, the result being worldwide success. If you listen to Neither One of Us carefully, you can hear a group that’s matured, and are ready to take the next step in their career. On Neither One of Us, there are some great tracks including the outstanding Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye), It’s Gotta Be That Way, Gladys’ brilliant version of For Once In Your Life and the heartbreaking This Child Needs Its Father. Apart from these four tracks, And This Is Love and Don’t It Make You Feel Good are both great tracks. There aren’t any bad tracks on the album, although I wasn’t hugely taken by either the funky Who Is She (and What Is She To You) nor the slightly derivative sounding Daddy Could Swear, I Declare. That’s just a matter of opinion and other people may enjoy these tracks. Of all the the albums Gladys Knight and The Pips released on Motown, this is by far the best. It demonstrates just how hugely talented a vocalist Gladys Knight was, and how she could transform a song totally. The best example of this is her brilliant version of For Once In Your Life. What’s all the more remarkable about the story of Gladys Knight and The Pips, is that the best was still to come. Once they signed for Buddah Records, they released some of the best music in their career. I’m sure once that happened, someone, somewhere at Motown was wishing that they’d paid more attention to Gladys Knight and The Pips, rather than focusing all their attention in the direction of just a few artists. Standout Tracks: Neither One of Us (Wants To Be the First To Say Goodbye), It’s Gotta Be That Way, For Once In Your Life and This Child Needs Its Father. 

GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-NEITHER ONE OF US.

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