BLUE MAGIC-THE MAGIC OF THE BLUE.

BLUE MAGIC-THE MAGIC OF THE BLUE.

In the history of one of Philly Soul’s most successful groups, Blue Magic, 1974 was by far, the biggest year of their career. In January 1974, Blue Magic released their debut album Blue Magic. It was both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, reaching number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. Then, their fourth single, SIdeshow, proved to be a game-changer. Not only did it reach number eight in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts, selling over one-million copies. Blue Magic’s career was transformed. To build on the momentum of Blue Magic, Philly’s greatest songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians got to work. The result was Blue Magic’s sophomore album The Magic of The Blue, which was released in December 2012. Would The Magic of The Blue replicate the success of Blue Magic?

For recording of The Magic of The Blue, many of the same personnel that worked on Blue Magic got to work. Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett, who’d penned Sideshow tried to recreate the magic of their million-seller. The result was Three Ring Circus. Their other contribution was Talking To Myself, while Bobby cowrote Love Has Found Its Way To Me with Alan Waldman. Vinnie Barrett also cowrote You Don’t Have To Tell Me Goodbye with James Kendricks and Norman Harris. That was one of four songs Norman Harris cowrote. With Pat Cooper and Ronnie Tyson, Norman cowrote Stringin’ Me Along. Alan Felder and Norman cowrote Never Get Over You and with Chuck Brooks cowrote Let Me Be the One. Ted Mills cowrote When Ya Coming Home and Ted Mills penned Looking For A Friend. Together with Morris Bailey Jr, and Edward Green’s Maybe Just Maybe (We Can Fall In Love Again), these tracks became Blue Magic’s sophomore album The Magic of The Blue. Like their debut album Blue Magic, recording took place at Philly’s premier recording studio, and where many Philly Soul classics were recorded, at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios.

At Sigma Sound Studios, work began in 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 and Tony Bell. They were joined by bassists Bob Babbit and Rusty Jackmon and drummers Charles Collins and John Nero. Vince Montana Jr, played vibes Larry Washington congas and Carlton Kent, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and Ted Mills piano. Just like Blue Magic, Don Renaldo and His Horns and Strings and the Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Evette Benton and Barbara Ingram provided a trademark Philly Sound backdrop. Arrangers included Norman Harris, Vince Montana Jr, Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Jack Faith. Norman Harris produced eight songs and Bobby “Electronic” Eli, two tracks. Once The Magic of The Blue was recorded, it was released in December 1974. Could and would The Magic of The Blue replicate the success of Blue Magic?

Three Ring Circus was chosen as the lead single from The Magic of The Blue, reaching number thirty-six in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. While Three Ring Circus didn’t replicate the success of Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett’s million-seller SIdeshow, it gave Blue Magic a top ten US R&B Charts. When The Magic of The Blue was released in December 1974, it reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. While The Magic of The Blue hadn’t replicated the success of Blue Magic, matching the success of their debut album was a big ask. Maybe, The Magic of The Blue was lost in the run up to Christmas and a January release might have worked better. The second single was Love Has Found Its Way To Me, which reached number forty-five in the US R&B Charts. This must have been a disappointment for Blue Magic. However, The Magic of The Blue had cemented Blue Magic as one of Philly Soul’s biggest groups, as you’ll realize, when I tell you about the album.

Opening The Magic of The Blue is Three Ring Circus, penned by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett. This was their sequel to Sideshow. Both have similar introductions. The sound of the circus, the barker encouraging the crowd to gather round. Then a melancholy backdrop of wistful horns, the lushest strings and a slow, thoughtful Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section sets the scene for Ted Mills’ vocal. It’s tender, tinged with sadness and heartache, with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes sprinkled underneath it. Swathes of strings sweep slowly above, before tight, heartfelt and soulful harmonies enter. They’re joined by bursts of rasping horns, added by Norman Harris, who arranged and produced the song. Brief bursts of Earl Young’s drums effectively reinforce the sheer beauty and emotion of the song, as Blue Magic start their second album where they left off on Blue Magic. Ted’s vocal and the harmonies show Blue Magic are back and just as good as before.

Stringin’ Me Along sees the tempo increase and Philly’s finest musicians kick loose. A guitar reverberates, strings are plucked and Earl Young’s thunderous drums help drive Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey’s arrangement along. Ted’s vocal is heartfelt, filled with hurt. Ron Baker’s bass anchors the arrangement, while horns blaze, strings swirl and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide a pulsating heartbeat. Harmonies cascade, hi-hats hiss, Bobby “Electronic” Eli adds his wah-wah guitar and Norman Harris adds some of his jazzy guitar licks. M.F.S.B. provide the perfect backdrop for Ted Mills’ vocal. He realizes he’s been fooled, strung along and lays bare his soul for all to hear.

You Don’t Have To Tell Me Goodbye has a dramatic sound from the opening bars. Growling horns combine with the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, frantic swirling strings, a piano and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar. Ted’s falsetto vocal is filled with emotion, pleading and hoping. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes providing a subtle contrast, as Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s arrangement veers between subtle and understated to urgent. Harmonies sweep in, as if consoling Ted, at the hurt and heartache he’s going through. This is Blue Magic at their finest, bringing life, meaning and emotion to a song, so much so, that you can’t failed to be moved by this song.

Never Get Over You is another of The Magic of The Blue’s uptempo tracks. Strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and kick and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the song’s pulsating heartbeat. Harmonies unite joyously as Ted delivers an impassioned vocal. Rolls of drums punctuate the arrangement, Vince Montana Jr sprinkles his vibes and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar joins dancing strings and soaring harmonies. The interplay between Ted and the harmonies is peerless. They’re swept along, atop the lushest of dancing strings, while M.F.S.B. produce one of their best performances on The Magic of The Blue.

Talking To Myself closes Side One of The Magic of The Blue, with Vince Montana Jr, arranging this Norman Harris produced track. The tempo drops, with the arrangement taking on a wistful sound. Strings and Thom Bell influenced horns combine are key to this. Meanwhile the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the slow heartbeat. Ted unleashes his falsetto, soaring emotively above the arrangement, with cooing harmonies proving the perfect accompaniment as Blue Magic. It’s hearbreakingly sad, laden with emotion and demonstrates just why, Blue Magic were one of the best, and most successful Philly Soul groups of the seventies.

Side Two of The Magic of The Blue opens with Let Me Be the One. AgainVince Montana Jr arranges, and Norman Harris produces this uptempo track. Quivering, shimmering strings cascade, horns blaze as Baker, Harris, Young produce dramatic, urgent backdrop for Ted’s pleading falsetto. Harmonies soar, questioning, begging, seeking favor, as they answer Ted’s call. Vince adds vibes, Bobby “Electronic” Eli a searing guitar and Earl Young bursts of thunderous drums. Norman Harris’ understated chiming, guitar and Vince’s vibes are just the finishing touches. Strings dance, as if appreciating the joyous, hook-laden music unfolding, as Blue Magic, become one, feeding off each other, encouraging each other to greater heights of soulfulness and joyousness.

Maybe Just Maybe (We Can Fall In Love Again) sees the tempo fall, but not the drama. Bursts of growling horns, plucked strings, rhythm section and wah-wah guitars accompany the heartfelt, thoughtful harmonies. They set the scene for Ted’s  hopeful vocal. Swathes of strings are added, horns rasp as the vocal changes hands. It’s deliberate, impassioned and delivered with emotion. It takes its cue from Ted and when the baton passes to him, he takes things further, injecting even more passion to his pleas. Set against a string-drenched backdrop which adds to the emotion, and sense of hope and emotion, maybe, just maybe, happiness was round the corner.

Love Has Found Its Way To Me was another track written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli, this time with Alan Waldman. It’s Bobby’s searing guitar that opens the track, joining punchy, growling horns, swirling strings and the rhythm section. The song has a quite different sound, with Ted taking a back seat. Instead, the lead changes hands. Although quite different in sound and effectiveness, it still works, with the lyrics delivered with real feeling. Harmonies sweep in, and occasionally, Ted’s soaring falsetto, towers above the rest. While quite different from other tracks, it shows another side of Blue Magic. However, it might have been a very different and indeed better track, with Ted taking charge of the lead vocal.

When Ya Coming Home opens with a half-spoken, heartbroken vocal set against an understated arrangement. Just chiming guitars reverberate, while the rhythm section anchored by the bass provide a subtle backdrop. Lush strings take centre-stage, reflecting the heartache and hurt in Ted’s vocal. Bursts of tender harmonies, melancholy horns and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes all play their part in the arrangement. However, it’s the strings and Ted’s vocal that bring to life the sadness and emotion in Ted Mills and Alan Felder’s lyrics, helped no end by Jack Faith arrangement and Norman Harris’ production.

Closing The Magic of The Blue is Looking For A Friend, written by Blue Magic’s lead singer Ted Mills. The tempo slows way down, but the emotion and heartache grows. Just the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with rasping horns, quivering strings and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes. Ted seems to have kept one of his best vocals for last. His vocal starts off tender, growing in power. He combines heartache, hurt and raw emotion. Tight, soulful, harmonies sweep in, providing the perfect accompaniment, along with glistening strings and braying horns. While we already knew how talented Ted Mills was as a singer, he proves just how talented a songwriter he also is. This seems the perfect way to close The Magic of The Blue.

Trying to match the success of their debut album Blue Magic was never going to be easy for Blue Magic. This was something of a tall order, nearly impossible. After all, Blue Magic featured a timeless, Philly Soul classic Sideshow. Songs like Sideshow aren’t everyday occurrences for songwriters. Although Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett tried to write a successful followup Three Ring Circus, it never matched the success of Sideshow. Similarly, The Magic of The Blue didn’t match the success of Blue Magic. Maybe, Blue Magic was always going to set the bar high for future Blue Magic albums? Future albums would always be measured against the success of Blue Magic. Possibly, it would’ve been better if they’d built up to such a successful album. Now every album was compared with Blue Magic. Forever, comparisons would be drawn. By releasing the followup to Blue Magic, they’d gotten over this obstacle. Now they could get on with the rest of their career. 

The Magic of The Blue didn’t disappoint. It may not have featured a single as successful as Sideshow, but cemented Blue Magic as one of Philly’s finest vocal groups of the seventies. WIth Ted Mills at Blue Magic’s helm, Norman Harris and Bobby “Electronic” Eli producing and many of the finest arrangers, songwriters and musicians in Philly working on The Magic of The Blue, it’s no surprise how good an album it is. Of the ten tracks, most of them are vintage Blue Magic. Especially when Ted Mills takes charge of the lead vocal. That’s when Blue Magic are at their very best. Although The Magic of The Blue never matched the success of Blue Magic, it has one thing in common, its quality. Not many groups release two classic albums in one year. Blue Magic did, releasing Blue Magic and The Magic of The Blue back in 1974. Standout Tracks: You Don’t Have To Tell Me Goodbye, Never Get Over You, Let Me Be the One and Maybe Just Maybe (We Can Fall In Love Again).

BLUE MAGIC-THE MAGIC OF THE BLUE.

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