TEDDY PENDERGRASS-T.P.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS-T.P.

By 1980, Teddy Pendergrass was at the height of his commercial success. Teddy has released three studio albums since leaving Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. This trio of albums, 1977s Teddy Pendergrass, 1978s Life Is A Song Worth Singing and 1979s Teddy had all been certified platinum. Such was Teddy’s popularity, that even his 1979 live album Live! Coast To Coast was certified gold. When Teddy Pendergrass headed to Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, it would be a very different album he’d record. The big difference was that on T.P., Gamble and Huff neither nor produced any of the tracks on T.P. Previously, Gamble and Huff had played a huge part in Teddy’s career, way back to his days with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Indeed, Philadelphia International Records’ staffers didn’t play as important a role in T.P. For many of the tracks, outside songwriting and production teams were used. This included Ashford and Simpson and Cecil Womack. How would this affect the success of T.P. when it was released?

With Gamble and Huff not contributing any tracks for T.P., only the songwriting and production teams of Cynthia Biggs and Dexter Wansel and Jerry Cohen, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead cowrote tracks for T.P. They contributed Take Me In Your Arms Tonight and Let Me Love You. Ashford and Simpson cowrote and produced Is It Good To Ya? and Girl You Know. Cecil Womack wrote I Just Called To Say, plus cowrote Love TKO with Linda Womack and Gip Noble. Feel the Fire saw Teddy cover a Peabo Bryson penned track. Teddy co-produced the track with Dexter Wansel. The other tracks on T.P. Can’t We Try?, which Ken Hirsch and Ron Miller cowrote. With the material chosen for Teddy’s fourth studio album, the album would be recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia.

Joining Teddy at Sigma Sound Studios were M.F.S.B. Mk 2, including bassist James Williams, Quinton Joseph and guitarists Dennis Harris and Roland Chambers. Cynthia Biggs played keyboards, while Don Ronaldo’s String and Horns feature on several tracks. Among the backing vocalists were the legendary backing vocalists the Sweethearts of Sigma and The Jones Girls. These were some of the familiar Philly faces who played on T.P. Some unfamiliar faces can be hear on T.P., including guitarist Cecil Womack, percussionist Valerie Simpson and Nicholas Ashford adding backing vocals. Once the eight tracks on T.P. were recorded, the album was released in July 1980.

Can’t We Try was the first of two singles released from T.P. reaching number fifty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number three in the US R&B Charts. When T.P. was released in July 1980, it reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number three in the US R&B Charts. T.P. gave Teddy his fourth platinum album. Then in 1981, Love T.K.O. was released as a single, reaching number forty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number two in the US R&B Charts. It seems that although different songwriting and production teams worked on T.P., that Teddy Pendergrass’ career was going from strength to strength. However, does the music on T.P. sound different from previous Teddy Pendergrass’ albums?

Is It Still Good To Ya? is the first of two Ashford and Simpson penned tracks. It’s a bedroom ballad, something Teddy was the best at. He had no equal, no ifs no buts. No-one came close. This proves this. A blazing horns, lush strings and rhythm section give way to Teddy’s heartfelt, sensuous vocal accompanied by a piano. His delivery is slow and full of emotion. Soulful backing vocalists, including the Sweethearts of Sigma accompany him, as the arrangement grows in power and drama. Lush strings cascade, while bursts of horns, percussion and drums combine to create a dramatic and beautiful backdrop for Teddy’s impassioned pleas. Truly his vocal is irresistible, totally heartfelt, as he mixes passion and power, against Ashford and Simpson’s arrangement.

Take Me In Your Arms Tonight sees Teddy joined by Stephanie Mills, who he duets with. It’s a very different track, produced by Dexter Wansel. He deploys keyboards, percussion and a funky rhythm section before Stephanie’s strutting vocal enters. Strings sweep and swirl, accompanying Stephanie, before Teddy takes charge of the vocal. His vocal is strong and sassy, matching Stephanie stride for stride. Percussion is a constant companion, while a pounding bass makes its presence felt. It plays a part in the track’s dance-floor friendly sound, as do the cascading strings and percussion, while Stephanie Mills proves to be a perfect foil for Teddy Pendergrass.

I Just Called To Say was written and produced by Cecil Womack. This was a new idea, bringing outside personnel in to write and produce tracks. Having said that, Cecil’s songwriting, production and guitar playing are key to the track’s success. Strings dance, while horns rasp and the rhythm section provide the track’s pounding heartbeat. With a flourish of a piano, Teddy’s emotive vocal enters. It’s full of sadness and regret, while Cecil’s guitar chimes in the background. Don Renaldo’s Strings and Horns add to, and reflect the emotion and heartache in Teddy’s vocal. The strings and horns are really effective and play a vital part in the track’s sound and success. However, the most important part is played by Teddy Pendergrass, delivering an emotion full of heartache, emotion and regret.

Can’t We Try? was chosen as the lead single from T.P. Written by Ken Hirsch and Ron Miller it’s a quite beautiful ballad, with an understated arrangement. Lush strings, keyboards, percussion and a rhythm section that’s plays subtly provide the backdrop for Teddy’s heartfelt, impassioned vocal. Later, the arrangement grows. What seems like a choir of backing vocalists accompany Teddy. This includes The Jones Girls and the Sweethearts of Sigma. With swathes of strings, bursts of horns and dramatic flourishes of piano, Teddy unleashes a pleading vocal, laden with feeling and hope, while this celestial, ethereal choir accompany him. The result is an emotional and beautiful musical journey, where either heartbreak and despair, or joy and happiness are only one word away.

Melodic keyboards, strings and guitars combine as Feel The Fire, written by Peabo Bryson opens. Again, Stephanie Mills duets with Teddy. Their vocals are softer and subtler than on Take Me In Your Arms Tonight.  Neither the vocal nor arrangement certainly lack drama. Producers Dexter Wansel and Teddy Pendergrass ensure that. Punchy, dramatic drums, percussion and chiming guitars accompany Teddy’s vocal, before a sensual, soaring saxophone solo enters. It gives way to backing vocalists that sweep in soulfully and elegantly. The backing vocalists and saxophone provide the finishing touches, before Teddy vamps his way through the rest of the track, with Stephanie left to play a supporting role. What makes this such a dramatic, beautiful and emotive track are the arrangement and vocals.

Girl You Know is the second Ashford and Simpson penned tracks. It has a quite different sound to their previous track. Drama is built up straight from the get go. Growling horns, a driving rhythm section and cascading strings combine, before Teddy’s confident, powerful vocal enters. He’s accompanied by soaring, dramatic backing vocalists, bursts of horns and a pounding rhythm section. They all play an important part in the success and sound of the track.

Probably the best known track from T.P. is Love T.K.O., one of Teddy’s best known tracks. Written by Cecil and Linda Womack with Gip Noble, while Cecil co-produced the track with Dexter Wansel, Philadelphia International’s own Party Time Men, The Futures add backing vocals. The track meanders into being Cecil’s guitar, keyboards and the lushest of strings combining with rasping horns and the rhythm section. Then comes a pensive, reflective Teddy, is voice veering between tenderness and power. With lush strings, subtle, soulful backing vocalists, keyboards and James Williams’ pounding bass accompanying Teddy, the track reveals its enchanting secrets and beauty, becoming one of his most successful and memorable songs.

Closing T.P. is Let Me Love You penned and produced by Jerry Cohen, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead. Keyboards, sizzling guitars and rhythm section combine, creating a bold dramatic sound. Teddy’s vocal is laden with drama and emotion, while the Sweethearts of Sigma add their inimitable backing vocalists. They add to the drama and emotion of the track, as Teddy struts his way through the track. His vocal is heartfelt, sincere and dramatic, sometimes, becoming an emotive vamp. With only keyboards and guitars for company, Teddy goes into overdrive, determined to close T.P. with a hugely memorable track. This he does, with aplomb and the help of three of Philly’s finest sons Jerry Cohen, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead.

Although T.P. saw various outside songwriting and production teams joining Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs and Jerry Cohen, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, the album works. Whereas it could’ve sounded like a disparate collection of tracks, this wasn’t the case. The only thing is, some tracks don’t have the Philly Sound you’d expect. Producers like Ashford and Simpson have their own style, and aren’t going to copy someone else’s sound and style. Cecil Womack as you can hear on T.P., has his own style, right down to the way the guitar sounds. This style works on I Just Called To Say, while on Love T.K.O. Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs stamp their sound over the track. Having mentioned the guest producers, Stephanie Mills is a guest artist on T.P. She joins Teddy on two tracks, and was the perfect foil for him on Take Me In Your Arms. On Feel The Fire, Stephanie is left playing a supporting role to Teddy, as he takes charge of the vocal, strutting his way through the track. While songwriters and producers changed, one things stayed the same, Teddy’s vocal. He was at his best on the bedroom ballads, delivering them with emotion, passion and power. One thing that was different on T.P. was the lack of Gamble and Huff. 

Although Gamble and Huff were executive producers on T.P., their talent and influence is missed. Back in 1980, Gamble and Huff were among the best songwriters and producers worldwide. So their influence would be missed. To me, T.P. was a great album, but not quite as good as Teddy’s previous three albums Teddy Pendergrass, Life Is A Song Worth Singing and Teddy. Some of the tracks don’t quite grab you like tracks on Teddy’s three previous albums do. Instead, T.P. is an album you grow into. The more you listen to T.P. the more you come to enjoy it. To me, the best tracks on T.P. are the beautiful, bedroom ballads, where Teddy Pendergrass was at his very best. Standout Tracks: Is It Still Good To Ya?, I Just Called To Say,  Love T.K.O. and Let Me Love You.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS-T.P.

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