THE SYLVERS-SHOWCASE AND NEW HORIZONS.
THE SYLVERS-SHOWCASE AND NEW HORIZONS.
In these recessionary times, even the most dedicated music fan is feeling the pinch. With people having less disposable income than ever to spend on life’s essentials like music, it’s always a bonus when a record company releases two albums on one CD. This is what the good people at SoulMusic Records have done with two of The Sylvers’ albums Showcase and New Horizons, which will be rereleased on 23rd July 2012. Showcase released in 1975, was The Sylvers’ first album for Capitol Records. It featured The Sylvers’ biggest hit single, and only number one single Boogie Fever, which reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. New Horizons was released two years later in 1977, and was the followup to 1976s Something Special. This proved to be The Sylvers’ final album for Capitol Records, but was from the most successful period of their career. Before I tell you about the music on Showcase and New Horizons, I’ll tell you about The Sylvers and their career.
Having started their career as The Little Angels, a Los Angeles based family group, appearing on television shows with Ray Charles and Johnny Mathis, The Little Angels started to grow up. This meant a change of name for the group, with The Little Angels becoming The Sylvers. With a new name, The Sylvers would sign the their first record contract and then release their first album in 1972.
With now renamed The Sylvers signed to Pride Records, they released their eponymous debut album in 1972. The Sylvers reached number 180 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. Sales of the album were helped along by two successful singles, Fools Paradise and Wish I Could Talk To You. This was an encouraging start to The Sylvers nascent recording career.
After the success of their debut album The Sylvers, they released the followup a year later in 1973. Entitled The Sylvers II, the album reached number 164 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-seven in the US R&B Charts. While the album didn’t perform as well in the US R&B Charts, the two singles released from the album Stay Away From Me and Through the Love In My Heart failed to match the success of Fools Paradise and Wish I Could Talk To You. After releasing two albums for Pride, The Sylvers signed to a major label MGM.
Now signed to a major label, MGM The Sylvers career stalled. They only released one album for MGM The Sylvers III. Neither the album, nor the single I Aim To Please charted. This meant that The Sylvers time on MGM was brief. However, having left MGM, The Sylvers would sign to another major label Capitol Records.
It was at Capitol Records that The Sylvers would enjoy the most successful period of their career. This commercially successful period started with their first album for Capitol, Showcase. The ten tracks on Showcase included three tracks written by Leon F. Sylvers, the bassist and vocalist, who was the second oldest member of the group. Freddie Perren who’d produce Showcase would cowrite five tracks with Kenneth St. Lewis, three of them with Yarian Perren. With the material for Showcase written, producer Freddie Perren and arranger Wade Marcus headed to Total Experience Recording Studios in Los Angeles with The Sylvers. When Showcase was released, The Sylvers would embark upon the most successful period of their career.
Before the release of Showcase, the first single from the album Boogie Fever was released. Written by Freddie Perren and Kenneth St. Lewis, this proved to be The Sylvers most successful single, selling over one-million copies. Boogie Fever reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. When Showcase was released later in 1975, it surpassed the minor success of their previous albums reaching number fifty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. Cotton Candy was the second single released from Showcase, reaching number fifty-nine in the US Billboard 100 and number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. It seemed that The Sylvers’ career had taken off, but could they continue the momentum they’d built up with the followup to Showcase?
Something Special the followup to Showcase was released in late 1976. Again it had been produced by Freddie Perren, who cowrote six of the tracks on the album. It reached number eighty in the US R&B Charts and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. The two singles released from Something Special would give The Sylvers top ten US R&B hits. Hot Line reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts and like Boogie Fever, solo over one million copies. High School Dance then reached number seventeen in the US Billboard 100 and number six in the US R&B Charts. Although Something Special didn’t fare so well in the US Billboard 200, it proved more popular in the US R&B Charts. However, for their third and final album for Capitol, New Horizons, there would be a change of producer and songwriters. Would this affect sales of New Horizons?
For their third album for Capitol, New Horizons, there wasn’t just a change in producer for the album. Unlike their two previous albums for Capitol, the ten tracks on New Horizons were written by The Sylvers, with various members contributing tracks. Leon F. Sylvers wrote one track and cowrote the other nine tracks. Having written all the songs on New Horizons, the nine members of The Sylvers decided to produce New Horizons. Considering the ages of The Sylvers, some people queried this decision. They thought its was either a brave decision or gamble. For The Sylvers, this wasn’t the case. They’d watched every producer they’d worked with, absorbing what they were doing. So to The Sylvers, producing New Horizons was far from a gamble. Like before, New Horizons was recorded at Total Experience Recording Studios in Los Angeles. How would all these changes affect the success of New Horizon upon its release?
On the release of New Horizons, it reached number 143 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. To some people, it seemed that The Sylvers’ decision to write and produce New Horizons hadn’t paid off. When Any Way You Want Me was released as a single, it reached number seventy-two in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. The title-track New Horizons reached number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. New Horizons would prove to be the last single and album The Sylvers released for Capitol Records.
New Horizons brought an end to The Sylvers time at Capitol Records. It proved to be the most successful period of their career. A number one single and two milion selling singles were proof of this. However, what does the music on Showcase and New Horizons sound like and should New Horizons have been a bigger commercial success? That’s what I’ll tell you, when I pick some of the highlights of Showcase and New Horizons.
Opening Showcase is the second single released from the album Cotton Candy. Straight away, you’re hooked by the track’s uptempo, sweet sound. You’re also struck with similarities with The Jackson 5 and real Philly Sound influence. A pounding rhythm section, sizzling guitars and percussion combine with lush cascading string as the vocal enters. It’s joyous, accompanied by tight dramatic harmonies. Similarly, the arrangement is bold, growing and growing. Stabs of piano, swirling strings, percussion and a powerful rhythm section augment the peerless harmonies and a youthful, but confident vocal. Why this wasn’t a bigger commercial success on its release as a single seems strange, given its hook laden quality.
The Roulette Wheel of Love sees a change of style from The Sylvers. They deliver a heartfelt ballad, with the tempo is dropped way down. Lush strings, a deliberate rhythm section and piano accompanying Olympia’s tender, beautiful vocal. Wade Marcus’ arrangement has a much more understated sound, with chiming guitars, piano and percussion key to this. Meanwhile, the rhythm section add bursts of drama, as the vocal grows in power and emotion. It’s the vocal, laden with emotion and totally impassioned that makes this such a beautiful, track together with some equally heartfelt harmonies.
Boogie Fever was The Sylvers’ most successful single, selling over one-million copies and being certified gold. Pounding drums, percussion and a buzzing bass combine to build up the drama. A searing guitar and flamboyant flourish of piano and then the track explodes. The vocal is powerful, with punchy harmonies augmenting it, while strings sweep and swirl. Again, there are similarities with The Jackson 5. Key to the track’s sound and success is the pounding rhythm section, which drives the track along, providing a pulsating heartbeat, while The Sylvers’ showcase their considerable vocal prowess. This they do with aplomb, resulting in an irresistible sounding disco track.
I Can Be For Real was written by Leon F. Sylvers and demonstrates a talented songwriter developing. It’s another slower track, with another understated arrangement. The tender vocal is accompanied by a suitably subtle arrangement. A piano plays an important part in the arrangement, with slow, strings sweeping and the rhythm section playing with a tenderness. Similarly, the rest of The Sylvers add tender harmonies. This is in keeping with rest of the understated arrangement and the addition of a harpsichord works wells.
The final track from Showcase I’ve chosen to mention is Keep On Keepin’ On (Doin’ What You’re Doin’). Again it’s a slower track, with a lovely floaty, spacious arrangement. Olympia takes charge of the vocal, her beautiful vocal reminding me sometimes of Karen Carpenter. She’s accompanied by swathes of strings, the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards, while the harmonies are some of the best on Showcase.
New Horizons was the first album The Sylvers produced themselves. Opening New Horizons was the title-track and second single released from New Horizons. From the opening bars, there’s a difference in sound. It’s as if The Sylvers were trying to produce a much more grownup sounding album. The track meanders into being, the arrangement spacious, before taking on a tougher sound. Sizzling, rock-tinged guitars and a punchy rhythm section accompany an impassioned vocal. Layers of strings and soaring harmonies are added, as the arrangement grows. There’s a late sixties influence to the lyrics and arrangement. Later, the tougher sound continues, with blazing horns added. Although this is a quite different sounding track, the change in direction shows a group not just maturing and developing, but growing up.
Dressed To Kill is the perfect example of the change in The Sylvers’ sound. Although there’s a much tougher, harder edge to the track, the track isn’t short of hooks as The Sylvers fuse funk and soul. Again the track has a much more grownup sound. A driving rhythm section, sizzling guitars and piano combine with bursts of punchy, rasping horns. The vocal is impassioned and sassy, with tight and soaring harmonies accompanying it. Not only does this new sound from The Sylvers really works, but demonstrates The Sylvers to be accomplished songwriters and producers.
Straight away, you realize why Any Way You Want Me was chosen as the lead single from New Horizons. A pounding, dramatic rhythm section and bursts of blazing horns accompany the powerful and passionate vocal. The tempo is quick, with lush strings and soaring harmonies added, as the catchiest track on the album unfolds. It’s unavoidable, but comparisons must be drawn with The Jacksons, especially their first album for Philadelphia International Records. Any Way You Want Me has a similar quality to several tracks on that album. This hook-laden Magnus Opus isn’t just the best track on New Horizons, but should’ve been a much bigger commercial success.
Another Day To Love is one of the slow tracks on New Horizons. On Showcase, The Syvlers delivered some beautiful ballads. This is just as good, with percussion, chiming guitars and rhythm section creating an understated, melodic arrangement. The vocal is tender and heartfelt, with equally impassioned harmonies accompanying it. Key to the track’s success are some of the lushest strings on the album. They cascade, adding to the beauty and emotion of vocal and arrangement.
My final choice from New Horizons is You Bring the Sunshine (Back Into My Life). When the track opens, the strings, rhythm section and guitars combine to grab your attention. They give way to the joyous vocal, while handclaps, harmonies and growling horns accompany it. The growling horns, toughen up the track’s sound, and is much more representative of The Sylvers’ new sound. Later, a rasping saxophone solo adds to the drama of the vocal and arrangement, as The Sylvers. It gives way to The Sylvers’ vocals as they joyously combine to bring the track to an uplifting end.
Although I’ve only mentioned five tracks from Showcase and New Horizons, I found both albums showing quite different sides of The Sylvers. On Showcase, the album is a slick and polished fusion of soul, R&B and disco. There’s a youthful sound to some of the tracks, with The Sylvers sounding not unlike The Jackson 5. This sound changes when Olympia takes charge of the lead vocal. She’s responsible for two of the best tracks on Showcase, The Roulette Wheel of Love and Keep On Keepin’ On (Doin’ What You’re Doin’) with its floaty, spacious arrangement. Of the two singles released from Showcase, although Boogie Fever gave The Sylvers the biggest single of their career, selling over one-million copies, Cotton Candy is blessed with a much more catchy, hook-laden sound. It was one of three tracks that Freddie and Tayian Perren cowrote with Kenneth St. Lewis. Only two of the ten track on Showcase was written by The Sylvers. One was I Can Be For Real, written by Leon F. Sylvers. It shows Leon maturing and developing as a songwriter. He’d put his songwriting skills to good use on New Horizons. Overall, Showcase was a slick, polished album where The Sylvers flit from soul, disco and R&B, spraying hooks, melodies and harmonies in their wake. From the opening track you realise just why Showcase was so successful. However, The Sylvers couldn’t keep producing albums of similar sounding music. Instead, they were growing up and maturing. After the release of their next album Something Special, The Sylvers decided to change their sound, seeking New Horizons.
New Horizons is a very different album to Showcase, with the group maturing and developing. They were growing up and maybe, had outlived the sound that featured on Showcase and Something Special. While deciding to produce New Horizons was seen perceived as a gamble by some people, helping them find their own sound was writing their own songs. These songs, plus a different approach to production lead to this much more grownup, mature sound with its tougher edge. Their new sound saw The Sylvers fuse funk, soul and disco across ten tracks. With rasping horns and lush strings aplenty, the sound was still polished, but tougher. While The Sylvers revisited the slick sound of Showcase, they didn’t do this often. Instead, they concentrated in creating their own grownup sound. Sadly, this new sound didn’t find favor with The Sylvers’ fans, with the album not selling in the same quantities as Showcase as Something Special. The fans that overlooked New Horizons missed an album of quality music. Although New Horizons is quite different to Showcase, both albums have one thing in common…the quality of music. To me New Horizons is something of a hidden gem, that deserved to fare bettter commercially. After being unavailable for many years, both Showcase and New Horizons which will be rereleased on 23rd July 2012 by SoulMusic Records. These albums feature some of the best music of The Sylvers’ career, during the most successful period of their career. The Sylvers career at Capitol Records, is best describes as a time when they were able to Showcase their considerable vocal talents, before changing their sound seeking New Horizons, and once again, producing Something Special. Standout Tracks: Cotton Candy, Boogie Fever, Any Way You Want Me and You Bring the Sunshine (Back Into My Life).
THE SYLVERS-SHOWCASE AND NEW HORIZONS.