BLUE MAGIC-BLUE MAGIC.

BLUE MAGIC-BLUE MAGIC.

Having left The Delfonics, Randy Cain started working with Ted Mills, a Philadelphia-based songwriter. The pair would cowrite songs for the Philly-based WMOT production company. Not long after they started collaborating, Randy and Ted met  Shades of Love, a Philly vocal group yet to make their commercial breakthrough. Featuring Keith Beaton, Richard Pratt and brothers Wendell and Vernon Sawyer, the WMOT production team realized they lacked one thing, a charismatic lead singer. This is where Ted Mills came in. Ted was added to the quartet previously known as Shades of Love and the group was renamed as Blue Magic. Little did they realise, that another in a long line of Philly’s commercially successful and critically acclaimed vocal groups had just been born. For Blue Magic’s debut album Blue Magic, what they needed was a talented producer. One of Philly’s greatest ever musicians, Norman Harris was starting to establish a reputation as one of the hottest up-and-coming producers. Norman would produce Blue Magic. With some of the Philly’s most talented songwriters, arrangers, musicians and backing singers working with Blue Magic on their debut album Blue Magic, surely the album was guaranteed to a commercial success? 

For Blue Magic’s debut album Blue Magic, Philly’s most talented and creative minds got to work. New lead singer Ted Mills wrote two tracks, What’s Come Over Me and Spell, and with Al Felder cowrote Tear It Down. Alan Felder cowrote four other tracks, Stop To Start with Jimmy Grant and three tracks with Norman Harris. They were Look Me Up, Welcome To the Club and Answer To My Prayer. Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett cowrote Sideshow and with John Freeman, cowrote Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely. These nine tracks were recorded at Philly’s greatest recording studio, Sigma Sound Studios.

At Sigma Sound Studios, work began in early 1973. Blue Magic were joined by many members of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. So, this meant the Baker, Harris, Young provided the rhythm section, guitarists included Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Roland Chambers Ted Cohen. The were joined by bassists Jimmy Grant, Lee Smith and Jimmy DeJulio, and drummer Larry James. Vince Montana Jr, played vibes Larry Washington percussion and Carlton Kent and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey piano were joined by Don Renaldo and His Horns and Strings. With Norman Harris producing Blue Magic, the album was ready for release in January 1974.

Blue Magic had released their debut single Spell in 1972, which had reached number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Look Me Up was then released in 1973, reaching number thirty-six in the US R&B Charts. Stop To Start was then released later in 1973, enjoying crossover success. It reached number seventy-four in the US Billboard 100 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. When Blue Magic was released in January 9th 1974, it reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Helping sales of Blue Magic was the fourth single Sideshow, which reached number eight in the US Billboard 100 and number in the US R&B Charts, resulting in the single being certified gold. Producer Norman Harris had worked hos magic with Blue Magic. A number one US R&B single that was certified gold and top ten US R&B album was proof of this. However, in terms of Philly Soul classics, is Blue Magic one of them?

Opening Blue Magic is Sideshow, penned by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett. Arranged and produced by Norman Harris, the song tells the story of a circus, where rather than animals, the sideshows are all failed romances. There’s a wistful, dreamy and melancholy sound when a slow, thoughtful rhythm section, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, lush strings and rasping horns give way to a circus barker. Then comes the main attraction, Ted Mills’ heartfelt, tender vocal. His voice is tinged with sadness, heartache and regret . Percussion, emotive strings, a plucked harp and subtle vibes combine to create an understated backdrop for Ted’s vocal. Harmonies sweep in, adding to the dreamy, melancholy sound. Norman Harris’ adds some sparse, jazzy guitar, while Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drums provide the song’s heartbeat. Together they provide a heartbreakingly sad, emotive and melancholy backdrop for Ted’s vocal, that’s also beautiful and timeless. 

Look Me Up sees an about turn from Blue Magic. This is a much more uptempo track. From the get-go when strings dance joyously, joining Earl Young’s thunderous drums, growling horns and Norman Harris’ jazzy guitar. Ted’s vocal is filled with hope, soaring powerfully and joyously. Harmonies and a sprinkling of Vince Montana Jr’s vibes combine, before the band kick loose. Horns blaze, strings cascade and the rhythm section combine Philly Soul, funk and drama. Percussion and vibes join the arrangement, as Ted and the rest of Blue Magic feed off each other. As the vocal drops out, the band showcase their considerable skills, exploring the song’s subtleties and secrets, in a jazzy style. Guitar licks are traded, while keyboards, percussion and the rhythm section improvise, before Blue Magic return. Then Ted’s lead vocal and harmonies trade places, while the Philly made arrangement fuses a tantalizing combination of Philly Soul, funk, jazz and early disco. 

What’s Come Over Me sees the tempo drop, revisiting the dreamy, wistful sound of Sideshow. It’s like a carousel ride, but a melancholy one. A burst of Earl Young’s drums give way to Vince Montana’s thoughtful vibes, flourishes of harp, lush strings and wistful horns. They create a slow, spacious backdrop for Ted’s impassioned vocal. Harmonies reply to his call, his vocal growing in power and emotion. Growling horns, a dramatic rhythm section and vibes combine creating an arrangement that’s a fittingly emotive, moving and heartfelt backdrop for Ted’s soul-baring and beautiful vocal.

Alan Rubens and Steve Bernstein produced Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely, penned by Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Vinnie Barrett and John Freeman. This was the only track Norman Harris didn’t produce. Thunderous, pounding drums, lush strings and blazing horns combine, creating a dramatic crescendo. They set the scene for Ted’s vocal, which is sung with feeling and power. Harmonies and strings sweep in, while horns rasp. Vince Montana Jr, who arranged the track, sprinkles vibes subtly, before Ted’s half-spoken, sultry vocal is accompanied by tender harmonies. When the vocal drops out, the horns, rhythm section and strings unite before Ted’s heartfelt vocal returns, breathing new life, meaning and beauty into a Philly classic.

Stop To Start is arranged and produced by Norman Harris, and is reminiscent of an old show tune when the track begins. Strings, vibes and the rhythm section combine with keyboards, before giving way to Ted’s tender vocal. The vocal changes hands, as the arrangement grows in power, emotion and drama. It veers between drama and tenderness, with the vocal changing hands. Horns with a Thom Bell sound, punctuate the arrangement, which becomes musical roller-coaster. Power and drama plus tenderness and subtlety are constant companions, while emotion and beauty are always ever-present during this captivating musical journey.

Welcome To the Club is another of the uptempo tracks, written by Norman Harris and Alan Felder. Although soulful, it’s funky and dance-floor friendly. It almost explodes into life, with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section creating the arrangement’s heartbeat. Bobby “Electronic” Eli lays down some of his trademark guitar riffs, while funky keyboards and dancing strings provide a backdrop for Ted’s soaring, joyful vocal. Tight, punchy and often, urgent harmonies accompany him, while Earl Young’s drums reflect this urgency. Ted takes the lyrics, making them his own, while the band match his urgency and enthusiasm matching him every step of the way. Later, the band take centre-stage, improvising and magically mixing funk, Philly Soul and jazz, providing the finishing touch to this uplifting, hook-laden dance-floor friendly track.

Spell was Blue Magic’s debut single, written by Ted Mills. Here, there’s more than a hint of The Delfonics and The Stylistics. It’s a slow, spacious ballad, where Ted’s lead vocal is emotive and heartfelt, while the rest of Blue Magic add some of their most impassioned harmonies. Bobby “electronic” Eli’s guitar is shrouded in filters, while the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section add drama and lush strings add an emotive backdrop. This is perfect for Ted’s vocal and the tight, sweeping harmonies. Vince Montana Jr, sprinkles vibes across the arrangement, while Earl’s drums reinforce the drama and emotion in Ted Mills lyrics and vocal. For a debut single, it’s a highly accomplished track, that’s a tantalising taste of what was to come.

Answer To My Prayer was third track written by Norman Harris and Alan Felder. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes join swirling strings, percussion and the rhythm section before Ted’s gentle, hopeful vocal enters. He delivers his vocal with feeling, thankfil that he’s found the Answer To My Prayer. Horns punctuate the arrangement, as if in celebration. Punchy harmonies enter, and with the lush strings, dramatic drums and vines add to this joyous, sometimes melancholy sounding love song. 

Closing Blue Magic is Tear It Down, another understated song, interspersed with bursts of drama. Quivering strings, vibes and percussion combine with bursts of chiming guitars and pounding drums. They build up the tension and drama, before Ted’s vocal enters. His vocal is laden with sadness and despair, at the loss of the one he loves. Harmonies reflect the sadness in his vocal, their tender melancholy sound a perfect accompaniment to the arrangement. He pleads and begs, his vocal filled with equal amounts of heartache and hope, as Blue Magic reaches an emotive, melancholy and dramatic ending.

Less than two years after Blue Magic were first formed, their debut album Blue Magic saw the group join the ranks of Philly’s soul elite, with an album that’s undoubtedly a Philly Soul classic. Whether ballads like Sideshow and What’s Come Over Me, or uptempo tracks like Look Me Up and Welcome To the Club, Blue Magic are equally at home, working their soulful magic. For a debut album, Blue Magic was critically acclaimed and commercially successful.  Blue Magic reached the top ten in the US R&B Charts, plus featured four hit singles, including Sideshow, which reached number one in the US R&B Charts and was certified gold. By adding Ted Mills as lead vocalist to the old lineup of Shades of Blue, a new Philly soul group was born. Add to the equation, Norman Harris, one of the top up-and-coming producers who produced Blue Magic. Norman worked his magic, producing an album of beautiful ballads and uptempo, dance-floor friendly tracks. Key to the success of the nine tracks that became Blue Magic, were the personnel that wrote, arranged and played on them.

Norman Harris put together an all-star band, including many of M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band, including Baker, Harris, Young, Bobby “Electronic” Eli and  Vince Montana Jr, who arranged three of the tracks. Of course, the success of Blue Magic was helped along by the number one single, Sideshow. This timelss dreamy, melancholy ballad was penned by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett and brought Blue Magic to the public’s attention. Since then, Blue Magic have become members of Philly’s soul elite. The album that started this journey, was Blue Magic, their timeless classic 1974 debut album. Standout Tracks: Sideshow, Look Me Up, Stop To Start and Answer To My Prayer.

BLUE MAGIC-BLUE MAGIC.

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