In a recent article on Deniece William’s album My Melody, I explained how sometime, I bought an album because of who’d either produced or played on an album. With Deniece William’s album My Melody, Thom Bell had produced the album, and I’ve always been a fan of Thom’s work on the many Philly Sound albums he produced during the seventies. Along with Gamble and Huff, Thom Bell produced some of the most memorable Philly Soul albums ever, working with among others, The Delfonics and The Stylistics.
Another important partnership had been formed back in the seventies in Philadelphia, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, one of the most prolific songwriting and production partnerships on the Philadelphia International label. Apart from arranging and production, Gene and John were successful recording artists, best known for the seminal hit single Ain’t No Stopping Us Now. This was but one of many great songs the duo recorded during the seventies, when the Philly Sound was at its most popular. During that time, they worked with the biggest names on the Philadelphia International label including The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, The Three Degrees and MFSB. However, it’s not just Philadelphia International acts that McFadden and Whitehead worked with, with roll call of recording artists reading like a who’s who of soul music including, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, James Brown, Gloria Gaynor and The Jackson 5. One other artist they worked with was Melba Moore, on her first album for Epic Records Melba, released in 1978.
By the time Melba Moore signed for Epic Records and met with McFadden and Whitehead, she had released seven previous albums, none of which had reached higher than number 145 in the US Billboard 200 or number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. Melba had some success with singles, with 1972s This Is It reaching number two in the US Dance Charts and Make Me Believe In You reaching number six in the US Dance Charts. Now it seemed that Melba’s career needed a boost.
Melba’s career had started well, when her 1970 debut album on Mercury Records I Got Love, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1971, for best new artist. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success, failing to chart. Her second studio album 1971s Look What Your Doing To the Man fared better, reaching number 157 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. The final album Melba released for Mercury Records was Melba Moore Live! released in 1972. Like her debut album, it too, failed to chart. After leaving Mercury Records, Melba signed to Buddah Records where she’d release four albums.
The first of the four albums for Buddah Records was the highly regarded Peach Melba, released in June 1975. It reached number 176 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts and featured the minor hit I Am His Lady, which reached number eighty-two in the US R&B Charts.
This Is It was Melba’s second album for Buddah, released in April 1976, reaching number 145 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-two in the US R&B Charts. On the album was the Van McCoy penned track This Is it, which gave Melba her biggest hit single, reaching number eighteen in the US R&B Charts and ninety-one in the US Billboard 100.
Melba ’76 was released in December 1976 and reached number 177 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts.
The final album Melba released on Buddah was A Portrait of Melba, produced by McFadden and Whitehead. It was released in November 1977, but like her final album for Mercury, this album failed to chart. After four albums, Melba decided to move labels, to Epic Records, but not before recording one of her best known hit records Standing Right Here with McFadden and Whitehead. This single reached number sixty-two in the US R&B Charts and number fifty-three in the US Dance Charts. Since then, Standing Right Here is regarded as a disco classic, and still fills dance-floors even today. When Melba left Buddah, she she was accompanied by McFadden and Whitehead, who’d produce her next album.
Having signed with Epic, McFadden and Whitehead headed to familiar territory with Melba, the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where so many great Philadelphia International albums had been recorded. In total, eight tracks were recorded, including You Stepped Into My Life, which would give Melba the biggest hit single of her career. When You Stepped Into My Life was released as a single, it reached number forty-seven in the US Billboard 100, number seventeen in the US R&B Charts and number five in the US Dance Charts. Not only was the song a hit single, but it was also a staple on Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage playlist. Like another four tracks on the album, it had been co-written by McFadden and Whitehead.
With a variety of writing partners, McFadden and Whitehead contributed a total of five songs to the album. Melba Moore wrote one of the tracks on Melba Together Forever. On the album, were two cover versions. One of them was a cover of The Bee Gees song You Stepped Into My Life, from their 1975b album Main Course. There were other cover versions on the album. Two of these were tracks There’s No Other Like You and It’s Hard Not To Like You which McFadden and Whitehead had recorded with Archie Bell and The Drells on their 1977 album Hard Not To Like.
Dexter Wansel who like McFadden and Whitehead, played an important role in the success of Philadelphia International Records wrote one of the tracks on Melba, Where Did You Ever Go. He wasn’t the last person from Philadelphia International to collaborate on the album. Barbara Ingram who sung backing vocals on many Philadelphia International record, was one of a trio of female backing vocalists, that also included Carla Benson and Yvette Benton. Also singing backing vocals were another Philadelphia International group, The Futures. With such a proliferation of talent working on the album, everyone hoped that this would prove to be the album that transformed Melba Moore’s career.
When Melba was released in 1978, it gave Melba her highest chart placing in the US Billboard 200, reaching number 114. On the US R&B Charts, the album reached number thirty-five. Although the album wasn’t a huge commercial success, it was well received by critics. Of the two singles released from the album You Stepped Into My Life was the most successful, reaching number forty-seven in the US Billboard 100, number seventeen in the US R&B Charts and number five in the US Dance Charts. The second single Pick Me Up and Dance only reached number eighty-five in the US R&B Charts and number twenty-two in the US Dance Charts. Overall, Melba’s first album for her new label had been a relative success. Since then the album is considered one of Melba’s best albums, which I’ll now tell you about.
Melba opens with You Stepped Into My Life which opens with a killer bass line, fast and funky, with the drums and percussion accompanying it, before guitars enter. It’s only then that the track starts to unfold, with strings joining the mix, sweeping and swirling, followed by rasping horns. By now, it’s an arrangement that’s made in Philadelphia, perfect for Melba’s joyous, sweet vocal. It’s enveloped by swathes of swirling, strings, rasping horns and chiming guitars and a crack rhythm section that help drive the dramatically and joyfully track along. During the track there are a number of breakdowns where the rhythm section get the chance to shine, showcasing their considerable talents with a series of funk drenched masterclasses. After nearly eighty hook-laden and catchy minutes, the transformation of Melba to disco diva is complete on this masterful mid-tempo track. However, credit must go to producers McFadden and Whitehead, and co-producer Jerry Cohen, as well as John Luongo who also helped produce this track. Without their talents, this track wouldn’t sound half as good.
After such a strong opening track, Melba covers a song written by the McFadden and Whitehead co-wrote with Victor Castarphen, There’s No Other Like You. This is one of two tracks previously recorded by Archie Bell and The Drells. The track has a big, dramatic introduction with chiming guitars, rhythm section, braying horns and lush strings combining before Melba’s emotive and beautiful vocal enters. She’s accompanied by backing vocalists, who contribute equally beautiful and subtle backing vocals. As the song slowly progresses, lush strings, chiming guitars and rasping horns add to the emotion and beauty of the song, as Melba sings about how nobody can make her feel like her new lover makes her feel. Later in the track, flourishes of piano add to the stunning sounding arrangement, adding to the Philly Sound influence of the track. Combined with a heartfelt and emotive vocal from Melba, this is a beautiful track, one that benefits from a stunning arrangement from McFadden and Whitehead.
The second song from Archie Bell and The Drells 1977 album Hard Not To Like, covered by Melba is It’s Hard Not To Like You. Like the previous track, it was co-written by McFadden and Whitehead, but with Frankie Smith and Harold Preston. Straight away, a funky combination of guitars and the rhythm section are joined by blazing horns and swirling strings, before Melba’s powerful, sassy vocal enters. Quickly, the arrangement speeds up, horns, rhythm section and guitars punctuating the sound, giving it a catchy, hooky sound, that swings along. Backing vocalists sweetly and soulfully accompany and assist Melba, as she uses her full vocal range on the track, as the strings swirl and sweep above. After just under four swinging minutes, where Melba and her band majestically combine soul, jazz and disco, the song is over, leaving a smile on your face at another hook laden, catchy track that sounds just fantastic.
After songs from the Gibb Brothers and McFadden and Whitehead, Melba sings the one song she wrote on the album Together Forever, which closes side one of Melba. A combination of rhythm section, guitars and lush, sweeping strings precede Melba’s slow, dramatic and thoughtful vocal. Behind her, a piano enters, while what sounds like a choir of backing vocalists accompany Melba. This is a big, dramatic ballad, with Melba using a combination of drama and power, as she swears to be together forever with her lover. Her delivery is impressive, displaying a hugely powerful voice that soars high above the arrangement, with her emphasising notes, holding them for impact and effect. As the songs ends in a dramatic crescendo with Melba’s voice soaring and her holding the note for what seems an age, you can’t help but be impressed by her talent and versatility as a vocalist, and songwriter.
Side two of Melba opens with the best known track on the album Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance co-written by McFadden and Whitehead with Ronald Rose. It’s a classic disco track, with everything you could want in this type of track. It has a fantastic arrangement from McFadden and Whitehead, the tempo is perfect, 127 disco heaven the speed of all great disco tracks. With a combination of pulsating drumbeats, chiming guitars and swirling disco strings, accompanied by bursts of rasping horns, Melba gives a joyous delivery of the lyrics. She seems to have taken to her role as disco diva beautifully, delivering the vocal with a mixture joy, emotion and just a little drama. Meanwhile behind her guitars, horns and strings are key to this great sounding track, as are backing vocalists who accompany Melba, their voices the perfect accompaniment. Later, as if adding just the finishing touch, a piano cuts in, joining the disco strings and blazing horns to complete what is an all-time disco classic from Melba, one that’s timeless sound, and sounds just as good today as in 1978.
It’s a hard act to follow such an outstanding track, so Melba decides to change the style on Happy, another of the McFadden and Whitehead penned tracks. This time, they collaborated with co-producer Jerry Cohen, on what’s a lovely, uplifting and quite joyful sounding track. When it opens there’s no indication of what’s to come. However, quickly, the keyboards and rhythm section give way to swirling strings, and then Melba’s beautiful, joyous vocal. Behind her a punchy rhythm section, slow lush strings and shimmering guitars are augmented by subtle backing vocalists, while Melba’s vocal combines drama and joy, as she promises to make her lover happy. During a breakdown, horns gently rasp, backing vocalists and swirling strings combine beautifully. Once all this is combined with Melba’s vocal the result is a gorgeous track, the latest in a long of similar tracks.
The tempo increases on I Promise To Love You another McFadden, Whitehead and Cohen penned track. Although it doesn’t quite reach 127 disco heaven, it’s not far away. Here the track has a similar warm, beautiful, joyous sound to its predecessor, thanks to another classy vocal from Melba. She’s accompanied by another arrangement that has it’s roots in Philadelphia, with swirling, sweeping disco strings, rasping horns and a driving rhythm section. As she sings, guitars chime and sweet sounding, soulful backing vocalists accompany her, as waves of the dramatic arrangement unfolds. Again, it’s another track that’s perfect for the dance-floor, and one that thirty-three years later still sounds just as good.
Melba closes with the Dexter Wansel penned ballad, Where Did You Ever Go. It’s quite different from the rest of the album, but is the perfect song to close the album. It has a big, dramatic arrangement with piano, slow sad strings, keyboards and the rhythm section combining before a thoughtful, sad vocal from Melba enters. This is the slowest song on the album, with the arrangement growing and becoming dramatic, strings and piano playing an important role in the arrangement. Here she Melba can again,demonstrate the power in her vocal, which is transformed into raw emotion. She sings the song thoughtfully and emotively, with a lovely arrangement from McFadden and Whitehead accompanying her, making this a perfect way to end what has been an outstanding album.
Having spent some time listening to Melba Moore’s eighth album Melba, it seems my decision to buy the album because of McFadden and Whitehead producing the album was a good decision. Before this, I’d never really heard a whole Melba Moore album, so didn’t quite know what to expect. I’d previously heard a number of her disco hits, but that was all. However, I knew that anything McFadden and Whitehead produced was bound to be good quality. I wasn’t wrong, and Melba is an outstanding album, with each of the eight tracks of the highest quality. From ballads, jazz, soul and disco, there’s everything here. Not only does the album feature a variety of material and styles, but it allows Melba to demonstrate her versatility and talent as a vocalist. She was blessed with a powerful and wide vocal range, that was perfect when delivering several of the songs on the album. What really helped make this album so good, was three things. Each of the eight songs were good quality, written by talented songwriters. WIth writers like McFadden and Whitehead, Victor Castarphen, Jerry Cohen, Dexter Wansel and the brothers Gibb, the standard of music was of the the highest standard. These songs were played by a crack team of hugely talented musicians, with some equally talented backing vocalists accompanying Melba. Finally, with McFadden and Whitehead producing the album with Jerry Cohen, you’d some of the most experienced and talented producers working on the album. Add to this John Luongo who helped with additional production on You Stepped Into My Life and Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance and the stage was set for an album that should’ve transformed Melba Moore into a bigger star. Sadly, that didn’t happen, and the album only reached number 114 on the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-five in the US R&B Charts. However, since then, the album is seen as one of Melba Moore’s finest albums. Recently, Melba has been remastered and rereleased by BBR Records. The sound quality is excellent and the album features three bonus tracks, and extensive sleeve notes where Melba Moore is interviewed. This is a welcome return for what is an outstanding album Melba, from Melba Moore, one of the original disco divas. Standout Tracks: You Stepped Into My Life, There’s No Other Like You, It’s Hard Not To Like You and Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance.