Anyone who loves the Philly Sound will know the voice of Terri Wells, whose 1984 album Just Like Dreamin’ will be released on February 27 by BBR Records. From an early age, Terri Wells’ life revolved around music, starting with singing in churches in her hometown of Philadelphia, before forging a career as a session singer during the early seventies. This saw Terri singing backing vocals for The Detroit Spinners and The Brockington Singers, before forming City Limits with her friends.

City Limits were Terri Wells, Ron Richardson, Ted Wortham and Vicki Richardson and in 1975, they were signed to Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records. They only released one album for Philadelphia International, Circles in 1975, produced by Bruce Hawkes. Circles saw some of Philadelphia International’s most creative people working on the album, including arrangers Jack Faith and Norman Harris of the legendary Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section that were part of M.F.S.B. and the Salsoul Orchestra. Cynthia Biggs, Charles Simmons, Joseph  Jefferson and Bruce Hawkes all cowrote song for Circles. Sadly, on its release, Circles wasn’t a commercial success and City Limits were dropped by Philadelphia International. However, by 1979, Terri Wells was back at Philadelphia International.

In 1979, Terri returned to Philadelphia International, this time as a backing vocalist. This saw her sing backing vocals on recordings and tours by M.F.S.B., Lou Rawls, Jean Carn, Leon Huff and Dexter Wansel. Terri’s time at Philadelphia International lasted until 1979, when Dexter Wansel retired from performing live. After this, Terri would work with another music legend, vibes player extraordinary Roy Ayers.

Terri sang backing vocals on Roy Ayers’ albums and during his tours. She also cowrote Let’s Stay Together from Roy’s 1982 album Feeling Good and sang lead vocal on Turn Me Loose. Roy Ayers also signed Terri to his Una Melodic label, but no material was ever released. However, after leaving Roy Ayers, Terri Wells was signed to a new label, Philly World Records.

Philly World Records was founded Peter Pellullo, a businessman who’d owned the Alpha Recording Studios since 1977. Peter had hired Nick Martinelli as staff producer for Philly World, and he recommended that the label signed Terri to the new label. Now that Terri Wells was signed to Philly World, work started on her debut solo album, Just Like Dreamin,’ with Nick Martinelli producing the album.

Recorded of Just Like Dreamin,’ took place at Alpha Recording Studios in Philadelphia. Just Like Dreamin’ featured three songs co-written by Terri, while the other five tracks were written by a variety of songwriters. Two high profile guests artists featured on the album, both of whom had worked with Terri before. Norman Harris formerly of M.F.S.B. and the Salsoul Orchestra arranged the strings on the title track Just Like Dreamin’ and Falling Leaves, while Roy Ayers played vibes on Who’s That Stranger. When Just Like Dreamin’ was completed, the album would be released in 1984.

Before Just Like Dreamin’ was released, You Make It Heaven was released as a single in June 1983, proving popular in the UK where it reached number fifty-three. Sadly, when Just Like Dreamin’ Terri’s debut solo album was released, it failed to chart. Given the quality of the music on Just Like Dreamin,’ this seems strange. When the second single from the album was released, it was a cover of The Detroit Spinners’ classic I’ll Be Around. It reached number eighty-one in the US R&B Charts and number forty-six in the US Dance Charts in May 1984, and proved popular in the UK, reaching number seventeen. Two further singles were released, I’m Givin’ All My Love in August 1984, which reached sixty-six in the US R&B Charts and number twenty-five in the US Dance Charts, while, Just Like Dreamin’ failed to chart. Overall, Terri’s career with her new label Philly World had been a relative success, with a trio of hit singles. However, her album Just Like Dreamin’ deserved to have a been a bigger commercial success, and I’ll tell you why that’s the case.

Opening Just Like Dreamin’ was the third of four singles released from the album, I’m Givin’ All My Love. It was written by Terri and her husband John King and Kae Williams. The track has a bright, bouncy and slightly funky sound with electric piano, rhythm section and guitars accompanied by synths and percussion combining. After a lengthy introduction, an impassioned and emotive vocal from Terri enters. She’s accompanied by gospel tinged backing vocalists, as Terri’s voice grows in power and confidence. There’s some clever interplay between Terri and her backing vocalists, with the backing vocalists adding to the soulfulness of Terri’s vocal. Later, bursts of rasping horns and a piano solo add the finishing touches to this sassy slice of soul. Add to this Nick Martinelli’s fantastic arrangement, and the result is a fantastic track to open the album. 

The fourth and final single from Just Like Dreamin’ was the title track Just Like Dreamin.’ This is a mid-tempo track with a funk drenched bass, sultry saxophone, synths and cascading strings joining the punchy drums. When Terri’s vocal enters, it’s swathed in lush strings, while the saxophone drifts in and out the arrangement. Backing vocalists, including Cynthia Biggs, Dexter Wansel’s songwriting partner, accompany Terri. Her voice veers between tender and thoughtful towards a more powerful style. Here, the arrangement is quite different, combining lush strings and some sultry saxophone playing, with an eighties combination of synth and drums. Together this combination works, providing the a hook laden, catchy backdrop for Terri’s vocal.

There’s a very different sound and style to Falling Leaves, which allows Terri to demonstrate that she’s just as comfortable singing ballads. With bursts of rasping horns, a meandering piano line and sad sounding strings at the heart of arrangement, Terri delivers some great lyrics with a thoughtful, emotive and heartfelt style. While the horns punctuate the track synths and drums augment the arrangement. Although very different in style and sound, it’s a very beautiful, sad song delivered with feeling and sadness by Terri.

Can’t Stop combines the eighties electronic sound of synths and drum machines with a funk drenched bass and guitar to horns and strings arranged by Norman Harris. This track marries an eighties electronics sound with traditional instruments. The track is quicker, the tempo 120 beats per minutes, with Terri proving whether ballads or dance tracks, she can deliver each with style and aplomb. During the track, Terri gets the opportunity to demonstrate her full vocal range. Her voice is powerful, soaring high with a ballsy delivery, before returning to a much more gentle style. Like other tracks on Just Like Dreamin,’ the track has a really catchy sound, and with the quicker tempo and Terri’s sassy delivery, is perfect for the dance-floor.

On I Already Know, the tempo rises again, reaching 128 beats per minute. A sizzling, searing guitar solo opens the track, against an arrangement that features synths and drum machines. Then, when Terri’s vocal enters, she sings of her love for her man, even when he’s not about. She knows him and trusts him, delivering her lyrics with a softer, emotive style that grows in power to a controlled roar. With backing vocalists accompanying her, and that sizzling, rocky guitar augmented by synths. The arrangement becomes quick and busy, when Terri’s vocal drops out and towards the end of the track, the arrangement is driven along. It  grows in power and emotion as the song heads to a dramatic and impassioned climax.

For me, the best track on Just Like Dreamin’ is I’ll Be Around, originally recorded by The Detroit Spinners. Here, the track is transformed from a three minute track into a six minute epic. Although I love the original, this is an excellent cover version.  I remember the song being released as a single and absolutely loving the song. Since then, it’s become a classic post-disco track. It’s a track that combines a great arrangement with a stunning delivery of the lyrics from Terri. After a chiming guitar opens the track, things get even better, with the electronic combination of synths and drums combining with the Fender Rhodes. However, what makes the track is Terri’s vocal which she delivers with a swing, in a sassy, confident style. Not only does Terri sing lead vocal, but she sings backing vocals that echo around, while crisp drums and synths combine as her vocal grows in power and passion as the track heads to its brilliant ending. For me, this track is the highlight of the album, and is the best track Terri Wells ever recorded. 

When Who’s That Stranger begins, the unmistakable sound of Roy Ayers can be heard playing vibes. He joins punchy rasping horns, rhythm section and Fender Rhodes on a track with a real jazzy sound. Terri handles the change of style perfectly, her vocal more restrained and suiting the jazz tinged arrangement. With bursts of horns punctuating the track, the vibes and a tight rhythm section combining the track has a very different sound. Personally, Terri’s voice was well suited to this track, which allows her to demonstrate her versatility as a vocalists on another of the highlights of Just Like Dreamin.’

Closing Just Like Dreamin’ is You Make It Heaven. Cascading strings open the track, before drums, synths, keyboards and guitar give way to a thoughtful, subtle vocal from Terri. Guitars, strings, keyboards and drums are a constant companion to Terri’s vocal, which quickly, grows in power and emotion. Adding to the beauty and emotion of the lyrics about love, are swathes of the lushest, most beautiful strings and subtle, soulful backing vocalists. Together with Terri’s gorgeous vocal and Nick Martinelli’s arrangement, this is a fantastic track and the perfect way to close Just Like Dreamin’

Having spend some time listening to Just Like Dreamin,’ I find it hard to believe that the album wasn’t a much bigger success. There’s a real variety of influences and styles of music on Just Like Dreamin.’ With everything from Philly Soul, disco, funk and jazz music it’s on the album it demonstrates the versatility of Terri Wells. I’m Givin’ All My Love, Just Like Dreamin’ and You Make It Heaven all demonstrate the soulful side of Terri’s music, with I’ll Be Around a delicious slice of disco. Who’s That Stranger sees another change in style, with its jazz tinged sound. On Can’t Stop, Terri marries an eighties electronic sound with lush strings and rasping horns, to excellent effect. On Falling Leaves, an understated and thoughtful arrangement is perfect for this lovely ballad. However, the best track on Just Like Dreamin’ is a cover version of The Detroit Spinners’ classic I’ll Be Around. Since its release as a single in 1984, it’s become a post-disco classic. On BBR Records’ remastered rerelease of Just Like Dreamin’ there are two other versions of I’ll Be Around included in the eight bonus tracks. There’s also instrumental, single and twelve inch versions of the other three singles included in the bonus tracks. So with some wonderful music on Just Like Dreamin,’ eight bonus tracks and detailed sleeve-notes from Marcus Spehr, BBR Records’ have done a wonderful job with their remastered, rerelease of the album. For anyone who either loves Philly Soul, disco funk and jazz music, then Just Like Dreamin’ is an album that deserves a place in your music collection. Why Just Like Dreamin’ wasn’t a much bigger commercial success on it’s release seems strange, given the high quality of the music on the album. Just Like Dreamin’ is a hugely underrated, hidden gem of an album, that thankfully, once again is available for everyone to hear, thanks to everyone at BBR Records. Standout Tracks: I’m Givin’ All My Love, Just Like Dreamin,’ I’ll Be Around and Who’s That Stranger.


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