Recently, I’ve reviewed two albums which were originally released on Philly World Records. These were Terri Wells’ Dreamin’ and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ Talk It Up (Tell Everybody), remastered and rereleased by BBR Records. Founded by Peter Pellullo, a businessman who’d owned the Alpha Recording Studios since 1977, Philly World Records became an important label, releasing albums by artists like Cashmere, Eugene Wells and Search, whose remastered album Search I will be rereleased on 12 March 2012, by BBR Records. Search played an important role in the story of Philly World Records, with the release of their single Like the Way You Funk With Me, the new label’s very first ever release. Philly World Records was founded ten years after the label that put Philadelphia on the musical map, Philadelphia International Records. Peter Pellullo must have hoped for even a fraction of the success Philadelphia International Records had had. On the release of Like the Way You Funk With Me, things look good for both Search and Philly World Records. DJs that included Philly based Bob Pantano wrote in Billboard that Search’s debut single was an “up and coming record” in the magazine’s Disco Mix feature. After the praise in Billboard, the Search shot promotional videos and readied themselves for the released of their debut album, Search I, a memorable fusion of soul, funk and jazz later in 1982. Would Search I give Search and Philly World the success the album deserved?
Search were Philly World Records first signing, made up of Philly based musicians and singers. This included Jeff Dudley, who was the lead vocalist, guitarist and backing vocalist. Les Paul Roque, played keyboards, synths and contributed backing vocals, while Mike Jude was the bassist. The trio hadn’t met drummer James Campbell until the recording of Search I began at Alpha Recording Studios. Under the supervision of producer Buddy Turner, who’d previously produced The Trammps, Four Tops and Eddie Hendricks recording got underway, with T.G. Conway co-producing the album. Seven tracks were recorded, including the two singles Like the Way You Funk With Me and Peanut Butter and Jam. With seven tracks recorded that mixed funk and soul, Search’s debut album was recorded. How would it fare in its release in spring 1982?
Before the release of Search I, Peanut Butter and Jam was released as a single. It wasn’t just released in the US, but throughout Europe and the UK, after a licensing deal with PRT, which was then Pye Records was reached. This allowed Search’s music to be heard by an appreciative audience in the UK, who enjoyed music like Atlantic Starr, Shalamar and Skyy. Sadly, like its predecessor Like the Way You Funk With Me, the single made no impact on the US charts, but proved more popular in the UK and Europe. This must have come as a blow not just to Search, but everyone at Philly World Records. When Search released their debut album Search I, it wasn’t a commercial success, failing to chart in the US. Given the standard of music on Search I, and the group’s potential. This was a huge disappointment. Worse was to come though, when Search weren’t offered another contract. Thus there would be no Search II, and Search never got the chance to realize their potential, the potential which can quite clearly be heard on Search I, and which I’ll now tell you about.
Search’s debut and only album Search I opens with the first single released from the album Like the Way You Funk With Me. A loping, funky bass and drums open the track, settling into the funkiest of grooves, before percussion, blazing horns and synths enter. Even before the vocal enters, there’s only one way the track is heading, funkwards. When the vocal enters, I’m reminded of KC and The Sunshine Band and Kool and The Gang. Searing, chiming guitars and a vocoder join keyboards as the song reveals its beauty and hidden charms. They join the funk drenched combination of rhythm section, braying horns and guitars, resulting in an infectiously catchy track, one that belies the fact that this is a debut album. Instead, it sounds like a track from an experienced group of musicians. It’s no wonder this track quickly, became a dance classic.
Is It Love (For Now) sees the quality continue, with the song reminding me like many early eighties soul artists that became popular. This track however, has a much more timeless sound. Written by Jeff Dudley, the vocal is accompanied by the rhythm section, synths, guitars and understated percussion the provides the track’s gentle heartbeat. When the vocal enters, it’s heartfelt and soulful, but laden in emotion and passion, as he wonders whether this time it’s love? As Les Paul Roque delivers his vocal, the rest of the band contribute impressively, dramatic backing vocals. Meanwhile stabs of synths and keyboards drift in and out of the arrangement, while the subtle percussion is ever-present, fluttering and floating throughout the track. Of the seven tracks on Search I, this is one of the most soulful, beautiful and impassioned, thanks to Les Paul Roque’s vocal.
Peanut Butter and Jam was the second single released from Search I. During the track, Jeff Dudley indulges himself with some clever wordplay, pondering the meaning of the word jam, in the traditional and musical sense. Here, each of the band members get their opportunity to show-case their talents in a improvisational jazz style, while Jeff lays down some clever couplets. This is the type of thing hip-hoppers were doing later on in the eighties. From the opening bars the emphasis is on funk and jazz, with sizzling guitars, a funky rhythm section and keyboards combining. This gives way to the punchy backing vocals, before the lead vocal enters. Against a funk laden backdrop the interplay between the lead and back vocalists is clever and catchy. Each of the group gets the chance to display their considerable talents during a frenzied, energetic six minute funk track, which is tinged with a jazz influence. Although quite different from previous tracks, it’s just as good, demonstrating Search’s versatility and talent with aplomb.
Get Up Off Your Assets has a title that reminds me of something you’d expect on a Funkadelic album. That’s where the similarities end though. With rocky sounding guitars, rhythm section and keyboards, the track sees Search combine rock, funk and soul. Punchy, dramatic, rocky backing vocals accompany a much more soulful and thoughtful, lead vocal. There’s a similar clever play on words during this track, much like Peanut Butter and Jam, when Search list various goods that count as “assets” to them. Much like any young men, this includes trainers, designer jeans and Mercedes cars are their choices, during a track that welds rock, funk and soul. This is quite different to many other soul groups were doing during this time, and was quite a brave choice of track. While it works well here, in less talented hands this could’ve been a disaster. Thankfully, Search had the talent to pull this track off, mixing rock, soul and funk seamlessly.
Quite different from the previous two tracks is Do You Love Me Still is a lovely melodic track, with some of the best lyrics on Search I. After a combination rumbling bass, drums and percussion, keyboards give way to soulful, emotive backing vocals. Then, enters a tender, beautiful lead vocal. Quickly, it grows in emotion and power, while the backing vocalists contribute harmonies. Here, the lyrics are a paean to love, asking whether his partner still loves him. Things get even even better when the sultriest of saxophone solo drifts above the arrangement, accompanying the sadness and emotion of the lead vocal. This is a track with a real Philly Soul sound, and is one of the best tracks on Search I, a timeless paean about love and love lost.
Missing You sees the tempo increase, with the rest of the group contributing punchy, backing vocals. Meanwhile the lead vocal is a combination of sadness, regret and emotion. Sung against an arrangement that sees the rhythm section, guitars, keyboards and percussion combine with sizzling, searing guitars. Throughout the track, there’s a real doo wop influence in the backing vocals, as they cascade above the arrangement, providing a vocal hook. The arrangement sees jazz and funk combining with a subtlety, allowing the vocals to take centre-stage. This they do, resulting in a track that draws it vocal influence from doo wop, while jazz and funk influence the arrangement. This is an irresistible combination, that demonstrates just how versatile Search were musically.
Search I closes with A Song For Carrie, an instrumental track, written by Les Paul Rogue for his wife. Joining Search is Jasper Bradley on guitar. It’s just guitar, rhythm section and keyboards that open this meandering, jazz influenced track. Here, Les Paul Rogue’s keyboards and Jasper Bradley’s guitar playing are key to the sound, which almost has a smooth jazz sound. Les Paul Roque’s keyboard playing is of the highest quality, augment his sound with brief bursts of synths, while the guitar is subtle and beautiful. Together Search produce a beautiful Valentine’s Day present for Mrs Roque, much better and more beautiful than anything you’d find in your local Hallmark shop.
Overall Search’s debut, and sadly, only album Search I was an album full of some wonderful music, music which demonstrated the group’s versatility and considerable talent. With talent like Search had, Search I deserved to do so much better. That Search I wasn’t a commercial success seems strange, given the success similar groups had. Maybe this was partly due to being on a new label, Philly World Records, who maybe hadn’t forged alliances and made the connections required for a new record company. Regardless of the reason for Search I’s commercial failure, it’s an album of quality music. During Search I, the group fuse soul, jazz and funk over seven tracks, with the album also including two bonus tracks of the singles. With in-depth sleeve notes from Christian John Wikane and interviews with some of the personnel involved on Search I, BBR Records remastered rerelease is an album to treasure. It’s an album that anyone who loves soul, jazz and funk will enjoy, especially people who cherish the early eighties soul sound of groups like Shalamar, Atlantic Starr and Skyy, then you should seek out this album when it’s released on 12 March 2012 on BBR Records. It’ll allow you to hear some amazing music from Search on Search I, the group who released the first single for Philly World Records. Standout Tracks: Like the Way (You Funk With Me), Is It Love (For Now), Do You Love Me Still and Missing You.