GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-ABOUT LOVE.
GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-ABOUT LOVE.
By 1980 when Gladys Knight and The Pips released About Love, their career had stalled, with the group at a crossroads in their long and distinguished career. This run of hugely commercially successful albums began with their final album on Motown Neither One of Us and Lasted until 2nd Anniversary, her third album for Buddah Records. After this Gladys Knight and The Pips career seemed to stall, until they were reunited with Ashford and Simpson for About Love. Before I tell you about that album, I’ll tell you about the highs and lows of Gladys Knight and The Pips career before that.
Having been almost a permanent fixture at Motown, Gladys Knight and The Pips decided to change labels, heading for Buddah Records. Before leaving Motown, their final album Neither One of Us, reaching numbers one in the US R&B Charts and number nine in the US Billboard 200 Charts. This was their most successful album, and allowed them to leave their old label on a high. Little did they know, that they were entering the most successful period of their career.
Now at Buddah Records, this successful period began, with three critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums following one after another, all being certified gold. The first was 1973s Imagination, which reached numbers one in the US R&B Charts and number nine in the US Billboard 200 Charts. Following this was 1974s I Feel A Song reaching number numbers one in the US R&B Charts and number seventeen in the US Billboard 200 Charts. This run ended with 2nd Anniversary, which reached number twenty-four in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Little did they know it then, but this was the end of this hugely commercially successful period for Gladys Knight and The Pips.
Their next three albums would fail to match the success of their first three albums on Buddah. Bless This house released later in 1975 failed to chart, while 1977s Still Together reached number fifty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number eighteen in the US R&B Charts. Gladys Knight and The Pips final album for Buddah was The One and Only, released in 1978. It only reached number 145 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts. After six albums, Gladys Knight and The Pips left Buddah Records for a new label Columbia, where they’d hook-up with familiar faces Ashford and Simpson.
Previously, Gladys Knight and The Pips had worked with Ashford and Simpson during their Motown days. With Ashford and Simpson onboard, Gladys Knight and The Pips set about reviving their career. By now disco was the most popular genre of music, with many of the group’s peers recording disco hits, this was one avenue open to them. However, when Ashford and Simpson headed to the New York’s Sigma Sound Studio it was to record an album that featured a mixture of music. With ballads and disco music sitting side by side, it was a new direction for Gladys Knight and The Pips. With guest musicians Michael Brecker of Steely Dan and Ralph McDonald who previously, had worked with everyone from Donny Hathaway, Burt Bacharach and David Bowie, an all-star band was assembled. Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson cowrote all the songs on About Love and produced the album as well. With a total of eight tracks recorded, About Love was completed. Could About Love revive the fortune of Gladys Knight and The Pips?
Before About Love was released, Landlord was released in April 1980 as the first single from the album, reaching number forty-six in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. About Love was then released in May 1980, reaching number forty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. It seemed that the collaboration with Ashford and Simpson revived the career of Gladys Knight and The Pips, giving them their most successful album since 1975s 2nd Anniversary. Two other singles were released from About Love, with Taste of Bitter Love proving popular in both the US and UK. While the single reached number thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts, it reached number thirty-five in the UK. The final single released from About Love was the brilliant Bourgie Bourgie, which saw Gladys transformed to disco diva. Strangely, this great track only reached number forty-five in the US R&B Charts and number thirty-two in the UK. Since then, the track has become a disco classic, remixed by a variety of remixers. Overall, About Love proved to be the perfect fillip for the career of Gladys Knight and The Pips, reviving their career, but what does the album sound like?
About Love opens with the first single released from the album, Landlord, a beautiful love song. Like the other tracks on About Love, it’s written by Ashford and Simpson. The tempo is slow, while the arrangement gradually builds up, the anticipation rising all the time. Here, the rhythm section, keyboards and lush strings combine with horns before Gladys’ vocal enters. Straight away, when you hear Gladys’ beautiful vocal you realize the wait was worthwhile. Her voice is tinged with sadness and regret, while behind her the arrangement intersperses drama with a lovely, lush sound. The Pips contribute backing vocals, while Gladys’ heartfelt vocal soars, a mixture of emotion and passion. With rasping horns, sweeping strings and a punchy rhythm section accompanying her vocal it’s a beautiful and emotive track. No wonder it gave the group their biggest hit single since Part Time Love in 1975.
Taste of Bitter Love was another of the trio of singles released from About Love. It has a very different sound and style to the previous track. The tempo is quicker, with an uptempo and uplifting sound that combines funk and disco. With blazing horns, swirling, sweeping strings, handclaps and a funky rhythm section, Gladys’ is transform to disco diva. While strings quiver and shiver, Gladys’ voice is strong, impassioned and perfectly suited to this track. As the arrangement is driven along by the rhythm section, horns and strings, The Pips sing harmonies, while Gladys’ vocal veers from tender and sweet, to powerful and passionate. Although it’s a long way from Midnight Train To Georgia, this hugely catchy and hook laden track demonstrates another side to Gladys Knight and The Pips, one that’s very different, but quite brilliant.
After the diversion into disco territory, Gladys returns to a much more familiar style of music on Still Such A Thing. It’s a slow ballad, something Gladys Knight can handle with aplomb. The tempo is slow, the arrangement dramatic and Gladys’ vocal full of emotion and drama. A combination of the lushest strings, piano, rhythm section and chiming guitars give way to Gladys’ emotive vocal. With the piano and strings accompanying her, her voice soars high full of drama. Here, the slow tempo and arrangement combine perfectly with Gladys’ vocal. Behind her, The Pips and backing vocalists accompany Gladys as the song builds and builds. By now, her voice is a combination of power and frustration, as the heads to its dramatic and emotive conclusion. If ever proof was required that Gladys Knight could still deliver like she could during her Motown and Buddah Records heyday, this is it. A combination of power, emotion and drama proves this perfectly on this Ashford and Simpson penned track.
Closing Side One of About Love is Get the Love, a quite different song from the balladry of Still Such A Thing. Again, the tempo quickens, with rasping horns, swirling strings and the rhythm section opening the track, before a much more gentle and softer vocal from Gladys. As this quick disco track reveals itself, the rhythm section drive the track along, reaching 128 beats per minute, just above the perfect tempo for a disco record, Disco Heaven 127. While horns punctuate that track, the strings sweep and swirl and a funky bass line is ever-present. With The Pips adding subtle backing vocals, Gladys’ vocal grows in power as this hugely catchy song heads to a close. Like Taste of Bitter Love this is another disco tinged track from Gladys Knight and The Pips delivered with aplomb.
Side Two of About Love opens with another ballad, Add It Up. This mid-tempo track with one of the best arrangements on the album, allows Gladys to do what she does best, sing ballads. While lush strings, punchy horns and rhythm section combine with searing guitars, Gladys gives an emotive and impassioned delivery of Ashford and Simpson’s lyrics. Similar to Still Such A Thing Gladys’ heartfelt delivery of the lyrics sees her combine drama, emotion and passion to her delivery, while The Pips and backing vocalists accompany her. Of the two styles of music that feature during About Love, much as I enjoy Gladys the disco diva, I prefer Gladys impassioned delivery of the ballads. To me, it’s classic Gladys Knight and The Pips.
The track that Gladys Knight’s disco era will be remembered best for is Bourgie Bourgie, one of the trio of singles. Although it only reached number forty-five in the US R&B Charts and number thirty-two in the UK, it’s gone on to become a disco classic. However, this is disco music with a message, with Ashford and Simpson’s lyrics about people who forget their roots. While a piano plays, guitars chime, strings swirl and the rhythm section drive the track along until it reaches 120 beats per minute. Gladys’ vocal does the biting lyrics justice, as she sings the song in a call and response style with The Pips. Later, backing vocalists augment The Pips, while chiming guitars, a funky rhythm section and swirling strings combine with rasping horns. Together, they provide the perfect backdrop to allow Gladys to be transformed into a sassy, strutting disco diva, a role she pulls of perfectly, on this classic track.
Friendly Persuasion is another of the slower ballads on About Love. With grand swirling, sweeping strings combining with a piano and subtle rhythm section, Gladys delivers the lyrics with a tenderness. Behind her, The Pips contribute gentle, subtle backing vocals. Here, the arrangement has a lovely understated sound that allows Gladys’ vocal to shine and take centre-stage. There’s a sense of sadness and regret in her voice about getting involved in a relationship, almost against her better judgement. Later, when her vocal drops out, a horns solo combines with strings and the rhythm section to give the track a much bolder, dramatic sound. This contrast to the earlier understated sound works well, as the track heads to its dynamic and dramatic ending. Like the other ballads on the album, Gladys demonstrates just what made her famous, her stunning delivery of heartfelt and beautiful ballads.
About Love closes with We Need Hearts, which sees a return to the disco side of teh album. Crisp drumbeats, funky bass, blazing horns and piano combine before Gladys’ soaring divaesque vocal enters, accompanied by The Pips and backing vocalists. The track has an anthemic quality, with a real feel-good sound. There’s a sense of togetherness in the lyrics if you listen to them carefully. Later, percussion enters, accompanying the funk drenched rhythm section, blazing horns and piano. During the track, there’s some good interplay between Gladys and The Pips, while backing vocalists augment their sound. Partly, this is what gives the track its anthemic quality. Together, with the stomping beat and an excellent arrangement from Ashford and Simpson this is a great track with a real feel-good sound, perfect to close About Love with.
After a disappointing run of albums, Gladys Knight and The Pips have their career reinvigorated by Ashford and Simpson. About Love gave them their most successful album since 1975s 2nd Anniversary. Collaborating with familiar faces Ashford and Simpson, who they’d know since their Motown days, was the perfect fillip for their career. The album was a combination of beautiful ballads and disco music. With Ashford and Simpson’s help, Gladys Knight was transformed into a disco diva extraordinaire. On the four disco tracks, Gladys is transformed into a sassy, strutting disco diva, while on the four ballads, Gladys turns back the clock to her Motown and Buddah Records heyday. This is what makes this such a compelling and interesting album, the mixture of two very different styles of music. Although I love the ballads best of all, I really enjoyed hearing Gladys’ transformation into a disco diva. Listening to About Love, the album has aged well, and hasn’t dated at all. Much of the music has a timeless quality, the ballads especially. Even the disco music still sounds fresh and contemporary, unlike many other early eighties albums. Thankfully, About Love has been rereleased and remastered by BBR Records back in April 2010. So if you want to hear Gladys Knight transformed into a disco diva, then you should buy About Love. Not only will you hear Gladys Knight disco diva, but you’ll hear what Gladys Knight does best, singing beautiful ballads. Standout Tracks: Landlord, Still Such A Thing, Add It Up and Bourgie Bourgie.
GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS-ABOUT LOVE.