HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES-TO BE TRUE.
HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES-TO BE TRUE.
Between 1972 and 1975, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released a quartet of albums that saw one of the most successful artists in the history of Philly Soul. During that period, commercial success and critical acclaim were constant companions for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. They were no overnight success story, having struggled for success on the supper club circuit. Then when they added former drummer, and charismatic baritone, Teddy Pendergrass as lead singer. Soon, their fortunes changed and by their third album To Be True, they were about to enter the most successful year of their career. However, not all was well behind the scenes of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, even when To Be True was recorded.
Suddenly, after adding Teddy Pendergrass as their lead singer, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were one of Philadelphia International Records most successful acts. This started with their 1972 debut album I Miss You, which was originally released as Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. It reached number fifty-three in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. I Miss You featured three singles, If You Don’t Know Me By Now, I Miss You and Yesterday I Had the Blues. If You Don’t Know Me By Now gave Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes their first number one US R&B number one single and proved to be a timeless Philly Soul classic. After the success and critical acclaim of I Miss You, the success kept coming for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes.
The followup album to I Miss You was Black and Blue, released in 1973, which saw the commercial success and critical acclaim continue. Black and Blue reached number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Three singles were released from Black and Blue, including two stonewall classics The Love I Lost (Part 1) and Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Money Back). I’m Weak For You was the third single, but failed to replicate the success of the two previous singles. Like I Miss You, Black and Blue featured a number one single in the US R&B Charts, The Love I Lost (Part 1) and had reached number seven in the US Billboard 100. With the critical acclaim and commercial success continuing, surely things couldn’t get better for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes?
After all, two critically acclaimed and commercially successful album and two number one singles in the US R&B Charts meant that Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were now going toe-to-toe with The O’Jays to be crowned Philadelphia International Records most successful group. Sadly, after just two albums cracks were appearing within Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. They threatened to derail the success Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were enjoying.
Teddy Pendergrass was the lead singer, and the man who’d done so much to bring success to the previously struggling Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. He wanted equal billing with Harold Melvin, or even better, to be recognized as the star of the group. Frantically, behind the scenes a compromise was sought? What about Teddy Pendergrass and Harold Melvin’s Blue Notes? That wasn’t going to happen. Harold Melvin was a proud man and had founded the group. As a temporary compromise, their third album, To Be True, this would see the group billed as Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass. At least this solved the problem, albeit temporarily. Thankfully, the warring factions put aside their differences. Having done so, they released what would prove to be Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes most successful album, To Be True. Success it seemed kept on coming Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ way.
With Philadelphia International Records’ finest songwriters working on Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ third album, there was every chance that the success would keep on coming. Gamble and Huff cowrote four tracks, including To Be True, Hope That We Can Be Together Soon, Nobody Could Take Your Place and Somewhere Down the Line. McFadden and Whitehead also contributed four tracks. They cowrote Where Are All My Friends, Pretty Flower and Bad Luck With Victor Carsterphen. Their other composition was It’s All Because of A Woman, which they penned with Leon Huff. Bobby Martin arranged the eight tracks and Gamble and Huff produced To Be True.
Recording of To Be True took place at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios, owned by Joe Tarsia. Accompanying Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were the original and classic lineup of M.F.S.B. This included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and guitarists guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Roland Chambers T.J. and Tindall. Vince Montana Jr, played vibes, Larry Washington congas and bongos, Lenny Pakula played organ, Leon Huff electric piano and alto-saxophonist Zach Zachary. Strings and horns came courtesy of Don Renaldo and His String and Horn Section, while the Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Evette Benton added backing vocals. Once To Be True was completed, it was ready for release in 1975.
Where Are All My Friends was chosen as the lead single, and released in 1974, reaching number eighty in the US Billboard 100 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. Bad Luck (Part 1) fared even better, reaching number fifteen in the US Billboard 100 and number four in the US R&B Charts. On the release of the third and final single, Hope That We Can Be Together Soon, it reached number forty-two in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. This gave Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes their third US R&B number one single in three albums. When To Be True was released in 1974, it surpassed the success of both I Miss You and Black and Blue. Not only did it reach number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts, but saw Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes receive their first gold disc. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes had now reached the most successful period of their career, as you’ll realize when I tell you about To Be True.
Opening To Be True is Where Are All My Friends, penned by McFadden and Whitehead with Victor Castarphen. It’s an uptempo opener, layers of lush strings, punchy growling horns and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, who provide a powerful heartbeat as The Blue Notes add tender harmonies. When Teddy’s troubled vocal enters, his vocal is full of loneliness and hurt. He grabs the song, injecting emotion and passion into the lyrics, laying bare his soul. Cascading, heartfelt harmonies from The Blue Notes and the Sweethearts of Sigma sweep in and out. They join swirling strings as Teddy delivers one of his most impassioned vamps. It’s classic Teddy Pendergrass, helped no end by The Blue Notes and M.F.S.B. at their very best. Ironically, a year later, neither The Blue Notes, nor the original lineup of M.F.S.B. would be on Philadelphia International. Their fortunes would vary drastically.
Even after a few bars of the Gamble and Huff penned To Be True, you realise something special is about to unfold. A dramatic burst of Earl Young’s drums, washes of Lenny Pakula’s Hammond organ and Norman Harris’ jazzy guitar join the lushest of strings. Then when Teddy’s vocal enters, it’s a combination of tenderness, emotion and sadness. Elegant harmonies from The Blue Notes and the Sweethearts of Sigma soar above the arrangement. Horns rasp, strings sweep and Norman Harris’ sparse guitar playing are key to the beautiful arrangement. So are bursts of drums that add drama. Teddy’s vocal is delivered with feeling, and later, his half-spoken vocal is the clincher. That’s the icing on this deliciously, beautiful bedroom ballad, with the tender harmonies the cherry on the top.
Pretty Flower sees Larry Washington’s bongos open the understated arrangement. A piano adds to the melancholy sound of Teddy’s vocal. Slowly, the arrangement builds. Norman Harris’ subtle guitar, tight harmonies and strings that add to the wistful sound join the arrangement. In many ways, this is not unlike a Teddy Pendergrass solo. Later, horns growl, before the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and piano build up the drama. The harmonies remain wistful, as Teddy’s vocal grows in power and passion, as this slow burner of a song heads to its dramatic conclusion.
On Hope We Can Be Together Soon, which close Side One of To Be True, Sharon Paige’s vocal features. The arrangement has an understated sound, with Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Larry Washington’s bongos and Norman Harris’ guitar in creating a pensive arrangement. Eventually, Sharon’s needy vocal enters, providing the perfect foil for Teddy. It’s tenderness personified. So to is M.F.S.B’s jazzy backdrop. They mix subtlety with occasional bursts of drama. Wistful woodwind, wah-wah guitars, Vince’s vibes and percussion provide an understated backdrop. Meanwhile, Ron Baker’s confident bass and bursts of growling horns provide a contrast. In Sharon Paige, Teddy has the perfect foil. Her vocal seems to spur Teddy to greater heights of heartfelt soulfulness, as he delivers one of his tenderest vocals on To Be True.
Side Two of To Be True Nobody Could Take Your Place, which sees dramatic waves of strings and moody horns combine with Earl Young’s urgent, driving drums.They’re joined by Lenny Pakula pensive keyboards and provide the perfect backdrop for Teddy’s vocal. It’s tinged with emotion and heartache. Soon, its grows in power and drama, as Teddy vamps, complete with harmonies from The Blue Notes and the Sweethearts of Sigma. As the drama grows, strings sweep and swirl frantically, horns blaze. They join Baker, Harris, Young in providing a dramatic, powerful backdrop that reflects and magnifies the sheer heartache and regret in Teddy’s desperate vocal. This is Teddy at his best, helped no end by The Blue Notes, the Sweethearts of Sigma and M.F.S.B. at their very best.
Somewhere Down the Line sees the tempo slow, but the emotion and heartache continues. Swathes of slow strings, rasping horns and a wistful, pensive Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section set the scene for Teddy’s vocal. It’s filled with regret and resignation, at the realisation that at last, his relationship is over. Still, there’s hope he believes, but you sense he’s not fooling himself. The tenderest harmonies from The Blue Notes sweep in, before Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, a piano and strings that reflect Teddy’s heartache join. This is a classic Gamble and Huff song that tells a story, something that they were so good at. In Teddy, they’ve a singer that can bring meaning and emotion into the lyrics. Of all the songs on To Be True, this is one of Teddy’s most emotive, heartfelt deliveries and is a vocal tour de force.
Of all the singles Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released, Bad Luck is one of the best. It’s a Philly classic, with Teddy vamping his way through the song, with swooning harmonies from The Blue Notes. M.F.S.B. play their part, from the opening notes. Baker, Harris, Young provide a pulsating heartbeat, a driving piano, rasping horns and cascading strings provide the backdrop for Teddy’s sassy, feisty masterclass. Vince Montana Jr. sprinkles vibes as the harmonies soar. Then Teddy and M.F.S.B. join forces. They drive each other to previously unreached heights. What follows is an explosion of powerful, hook-laden, dance-floor friendly Philly soul. This would prove to be one of the high-points of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and is a totally timeless track.
Closing To Be True is It’s All Because of A Woman. Just Ron Baker’s bass and Earl Young’s drums combine with a lone piano to create a slow, moody and bluesy backdrop. Teddy’s vocal is filled with pain and sadness, as a wailing Hammond organ and Norman Harris’ sparse piano enter. Soon, the arrangement grows in power and emotion. Horns growl, strings cascade furiously and a powerhouse of rhythm section courtesy of Baker, Harris, Young join forces. The Blue Notes add soaring, emotive vocals. Then, as if spent, Teddy’s vocal becomes thoughtful, introspective and heartfelt. With each bar, the emotion and drama builds, as Teddy lays bare his weary soul, questioning, thinking aloud and wondering what’s become of his. For over five music, it’s like a Philly Soul opera, with Teddy Pendergrass as the star. What a way to close To Be True.
To Be True was the third of four albums to feature the classic lineup of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Much was going on behind the scenes at Philadelphia International Records. Given how successful Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ first two album had been, Teddy Pendergrass felt he deserved at least equal billing. By To Be True the group were now billed as Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass. Given how good To Be True is, it’s no wonder Teddy wanted equal billing. Quite simply, he was the star of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. While the Blue Notes harmonies played an important part, Teddy was irreplaceable. He could take a song by the scruff of the neck, breathing life, meaning and emotion into lyrics. Sadly, the rest of the group, including founder Harold Melvin didn’t see or realise how important Teddy was.
Later in 1975, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released their fourth album Wake Up Everybody. Still Teddy and Harold Melvin couldn’t come to a compromise. When the dispute between Teddy and Harold Melvin couldn’t be resolved, Teddy left the Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes after the fourth album Wake Up Everybody, which ironically, proved to be their most successful album, being certified platinum. Teddy signed a solo deal with Philadelphia International Records. He went on to become one of the label’s biggest stars. Out of the seven albums Teddy released on Philadelphia International Records, four were certified platinum and one gold. Life was never the same for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes after Teddy Pendergrass.
Teddy’s shoes proved too big to fill. Replacement lead singers joined and left. Never again did Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes enjoy the commercial success and critical acclaim they’d enjoyed between 1972 and 1975. During this period, they released four albums, including To Be True, which is a masterclass in Philly Soul starring Teddy Pendergrass at his finest. He struts his way through To Be True, stopping only to deliver some heartachingly beautiful vocals. In doing so, he proved to be the star of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. It’s just a pity other people didn’t realize this, then maybe we could’ve enjoyed more than just four albums from Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, more of the success that proved to good To Be True. Standout Tracks: Where Are All My Friends, Somewhere Down the Line, Bad Luck and It’s All Because of A Woman.
HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES-TO BE TRUE.