THE DELFONICS-TELL ME THIS IS A DREAM.

THE DELFONICS-TELL ME THIS IS A DREAM.

Of all the groups that walked through the doors of the Sigma Sound Studio in Philadelphia, The Delfonics were one of the pioneers of the Philly Sound. Under the watchful eye of Thom Bell, one of the triumvirate of producers that  included Gamble and Huff, Thom helped define the smooth as silk Philly Sound,  that would conquer the world in the seventies. By Tell Me This Is A Dream released in 1972, The Delfonics had honed their sound, on their three previous albums. Album number four, which Tell Me This Is A Dream was, saw The Delfonics’ music not only refined and smooth, but hugely sophisticated. However, by 1972, when Tell Me This Is A Dream was recorded and released, there had been big changes in The Delfonics line-up

In 1971, Randy Cain had left The Delfonics, after which he helped set up the group Blue Magic, who are best known for their classic track Sideshow. Randy Cain’s replacement was Major Harris, who previously, had been a member of groups that included The Charmers, The Teenagers, The Jarmels and Nat Turner’s Rebellion. He also formed a songwriting partnership with Joseph B. Jefferson, and recorded a number of their compositions on the Okeh and Laurie labels. After leaving The Delfonics in 1974, Major Harris recorded a number of solo albums, before rejoining one of the two versions of The Delfonics that was then touring. However, the inclusion of Major Harris in The Delfonics divided opinion of the group’s fans when they released their fourth album.

It was the trio of the Hart brothers William and Wilbert and Major Harris that headed for Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studio to record what would become Tell Me This Is A Dream. Ten songs were recorded by The Delfonics with Tell Me This Is A Dream being released in 1972. Although Tell Me This Is A Dream reached number fifteen in the US R&B Charts, it only reached number 123 in the US Billboard 200. The album wasn’t as successful as its predecessor, The Delfonics which I’ve previously written about. Not only was the album not as successful, but it wasn’t as well received by critics or fans. Whereas The Delfonics is perceived as the group’s best album, featuring their best music and the group at its creative peak, Tell Me This Is A Dream divided opinion. People either loved the album, or disliked it. There seemed to be no middle ground. 

One song that united everyone’s opinion was the first single released from Tell Me This Is A Dream, Hey Love. Of the ten songs on the album, Hey Love is the best of all. When it was released as a single, it reached number seventeen in the US R&B Charts and number fifty-two in the US Billboard 100. This was the most successful single released from Tell Me This Is A Dream. Walk Right Up To the Sun reached number thirteen in the US R&B Charts and and number eighty-one in the US Billboard 100. The final single Tell Me This Is A Dream reached number fifteen in the US R&B Charts and and number eighty-six in the US Billboard 100. Although these singles weren’t as successful as their earlier singles, after this The Delfonics singles never reached the same heights. Neither did their final album on Philly Groove, Alive and Kicking, which reached just number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts and number 205 in the US Billboard 200. Just as the Philly Sound was conquering the world, The Delfonics were about to spilt up. Two years before that, in 1972, the album that divided opinion Tell Me This Is A Dream was released. It’s that album I’ll now tell you about, deciding who was right those who loved it, or those who loathed it.

Tell Me This Is A Dream opens with Hey Love a track that sees The Delfonics use harmonies in a totally pioneering and ingenious way. Of all the songs on the album, it was one that united the opinion of critics and fans alike, they all loved the song. Against a slow, gentle backdrop of the rhythm section, flute and lovely, lush strings, William Hart’s lead vocal enters, with tight harmonies accompanying it. A dramatic rumbling arrangement briefly reveals itself, giving way to percussion and rasping horns. As the arrangement meanders along, the tender lead vocal sings about how he loves his partner, and how they need each other. Complimenting the tenderness of the lead vocal are the harmonies and the arrangement, which veers between a lush and slightly dramatic sound. This works beautifully, the result being easily, the best track on the album.

Waves of drama open I’m A Man, with grand, swirling strings, rhythm sections, chiming guitars and blazing horns providing the backdrop for a punchy, dramatic lead vocal. It’s augmented by tight soaring backing vocals and harmonies, while pulsating strings, braying horns and the rhythm section combine to produce a powerful sound. The arrangement is fuller, with thunderous drums making their presence felt, while waves of strings reverberate. When this is combined with the vocal and harmonies the result is a dramatic, energetic track, that promises much and although it doesn’t fully deliver, doesn’t disappoint either. 

Bursts of rasping horns and drums, give way to a gentle, William’s thoughtful vocal accompanied by an acoustic guitar as Too Late begins. This gives way to further bursts of drama drenched, horns and drums, while sad, sounding strings sweep in accompanying an equally despondent vocal. The sadness is caused by the end of relationship, which is too late to save, they’re through talking. Punchy, bursts of drums and horns add drama, while the strings combine beautifully with the melancholy vocal. It’s accompanied by sympathetic backing vocals and harmonies, which empathize with the despair of the lyrics. This is a much better track than the previous one, one that has a sad, melancholy vocal and a great arrangement from Thom Bell.

When Love You Till I Die opens, straight away, you realize that this sounds like a lovely track. An emotive soaring near-falsetto lead vocal is accompanied by tight harmonies, while the arrangement has drums dominating the sound throughout. A mid-tempo arrangement that’s punctuated by bursts of horns, sweet strings, rhythm section and chiming, quivering guitars accompanies the vocal during this love song. Throughout the track, William Hart’s lead vocal is laden with sincerity, emotion and passion as he swears always to love his girlfriend. Behind him, Wilbert and Major combine to provide tight harmonies, that compliment his lead vocal. Add all this together, and what you have is a beautiful love song, sung with emotion and sincerity.

The final track on side one of Tell Me This Is A Dream is I’m Looking For A Dream. Immediately, the track has a classic Delfonic sound when it opens. William’s soaring ,lead vocal is accompanied by a rasping horn and punchy, dramatic rhythm section, percussion and lush strings. Behind him, Wilbert and Major combine to provide flourishes of harmonies. Later, the strings sweep in, with rasping horns, bass and percussion all playing important roles in the outstanding arrangement. The longer the track progresses, the better the arrangement gets, gradually revealing more of its beauty. Add to this the heartfelt, soaring lead vocal from William and the result is one of the best tracks on side one. Along with Hey Love, they’re the two outstanding tracks from side one.

Side two starts off where side one finished, with another outstanding track Walk Right Up To the Sun. It has a grandiose, orchestral sound as it begins, with a combination of rumbling drums, blazing horns and swirling, grand strings. After this  impressive opening, the three Delfonics combine to sing beautiful, harmonies before William’s lead vocal takes centre-stage. He delivers the lyrics thoughtfully, with a tenderness and emotion against a backdrop of chiming, shivering guitars, lush sweeping strings, bursts of rasping horns and the rhythm section. This combination works perfectly, resulting in an emotive, lush sounding track. Producers Thom Bell and Stan Watson surpass themselves here, producing an outstanding track, one that deserved to do much better than it did, when released as a single. 

Round and Round has a very different sounding track from its predecessor. It’s faster as the track opens, but slows down, before swinging, dramatically along. The sound is darker, interrupted by the harmonies of The Delfonics, before William takes the lead. Guitars quiver, horns blaze, strings sweep and the rhythm section drive the track along. As the arrangement rises and falls, like waves on the ocean, the united vocals reenter, only to disappear and be replaced by the powerful arrangement. Here, there’s an almost avant-garde sound compared to other tracks. It’s a difficult track, much more abrupt than others, lacking the smoothness of many of the other tracks. Although not a bad track, it’s very different and not typical of the trademark Delfonics sound. 

Baby I Miss You is much more typical of The Delfonics music, with a fuller, sweeping arrangement and some great interplay between William and the tight, sweet harmonies of William and Wilbert. This is sung against an arrangement that’s slow and dramatic. Strings sweep in, joined by a thoughtful, rhythm section, chiming, shimmering guitars and bursts of rasping horns. As the song progresses, both William’s vocal and the arrangement becomes louder and fuller, full of energy and drama. Later, drums dramatically punctuate the track, as a half-spoken vocal sits atop the arrangement with harmonies soaring sweetly and emotively. By the end of this track, it’s a very welcome return to form from The Delfonics on this fantastic track.

A Piano opens The Delfonics Theme (How Could You), before giving way to a harpsichord, a burst of blazing horns and a slow, spacious rhythm sections. Drums slowly play, while The Delfonics unite, singing heartfelt harmonies, before William briefly takes the lead. Overall, the sound is dramatic, drums and horns punctuating the track, while strings sweep slowly along in the background. Later a guitar chimes, quivers and shivers, followed by an atmospheric organ. They play against a backdrop of dramatic drums, with the vocals sitting at the front on this hugely, dramatic soundscape, drenched in drama and atmosphere.

Tell Me This Is A Dream closes with the title track Tell Me This Is A Dream. Often, artists seem to keep one of the best tracks on an album until last. Again, this is the case here. Sweet, lush strings, chiming guitars and rhythm section accompany William’s lead vocal, before behind him, the group harmonize. Mostly, the track flows along, but sometimes, for dramatic purpose, Thom Bell slows things way down. This works well, especially when the harmonies dominate the sound. Later, William gives a half-spoken vocal, before returning to describe the hurt he’s feeling, having lost the love of the one he’s always loved. He hopes this is just a dream, the hurt’s so bad. Behind him, the anguish and pain he’s feeling is reflecting by the arrangement. A combination of strings and guitars add to the emotion, while the drums add drama. When Thom Bell and Stan Watson combine the arrangement and vocal, the result is a stunning track, and a great way to end the album.

Earlier in this review of Tell Me This Is A Dream, I said that it had divided the opinion of fans and critics alike, with some people loving the album, others loathing it. There seemed to be no middle ground. Having listened to the album a number of times while writing this review, I’ve not changed my mind, I still love the album. Granted it’s not as good as The Delfonics previous album The Delfonics. That to me, was their best album, their most complete album, and the album that saw them at their creative peak. It was always going to be difficult introducing a new member to The Delfonics. It can’t have been easy getting someone whose voice would work as well as Randy Cain’s worked with William and Wilbert Hart. However, on Tell Me This Is A Dream, their voices combined well, and of the ten songs on the album, there are just two that I wasn’t particularly taken with. I’m A Man, was the first of these tracks. It promised a lot, but ultimately, didn’t quite deliver fully. The other disappointment was Round and Round, which didn’t have the usual smooth sound you’d expect from The Delfonics. It’s quite jagged and dramatic sound was almost avant-garde in comparison to their usual sound and style, Apart from that, Tell Me This Is A Dream is a quality album full of some smooth and sophisticated Philly Soul from The Delfonics, designed to tug on your heartstrings and take your emotions on a roller coaster ride. Standout Tracks: Hey Love, I’m Looking For A Dream, Walk Right Up To the Sun and Tell Me This Is A Dream.

THE DELFONICS-TELL ME THIS IS A DREAM.

2 Comments

  1. Craig Harris Jones

    At age sixty having grown up in the Ghetto, Soul music is the one thing we have left and The Delfonics,The Stylistics, Blue Magic, Heatwave etc.. will the our Legacy of our true loving nature in this Loveless nation that never loved us…

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  1. The Delfonics : Tell Me This Is A Dream (1972) | Mr. Moo's What Da Funk

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