BLUE MAGIC-THIRTEEN BLUE MAGIC LANE.
BLUE MAGIC-THIRTEEN BLUE MAGIC LANE.
Blue Magic’s first two album had seen their fortunes vary. Their 1973 eponymous debut album Blue Magic, had been certified gold, and featured the million-selling, Philly Soul classic, Sideshow. Written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett, Sideshow was also certified gold, after selling over one-million copies. It seemed that Blue Magic were about to rival The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes and The Stylistics as Philly Soul’s leading vocal group. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the case.
When Blue Magic released their sophomore album Magic of The Blue in 1974, it stalled at number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. For Blue Magic, their third album, 1975s Thirteen Blue Magic Lane was crucial. Would Blue Magic’s third album Thirteen Blue Magic Lane revive their career and see them rival The O’Jays, The Stylistics and The Detroit Spinners as Philly Soul’s leading vocal group.
In many ways, Blue Magic were at a crossroads in their career. Taking a wrong turn could be fatal for their career. Thirteen Blue Magic Lane had to improve on the success of Magic of The Blue. Ideally, Blue Magic wanted to replicate the success of their eponymous debut album. Granted Blue Magic was helped no end by the success of Sideshow. Songs like Sideshow are timeless, classics, can make or rescue a career. Three Ring Circus, written by Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett tried to replicate Sideshow on Magic of The Blue. Lightning didn’t strike twice for Blue Magic. So, Thirteen Blue Magic Lane was crucial for Blue Magic. To help revive Blue Magic’s career, some of Philly’s finest songwriters got to work.
For Thirteen Blue Magic Lane, many of the same songwriters got to work. They came up with nine tracks. Norman Harris and Alan Felder contributed four tracks. They cowrote The Loneliest House In The Block and We’re On The Right Track. Alan and Norman penned Born On Halloween with Tanya Jones, while Alan, Norman and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey cowrote the Magic of The Blue. The other track Alan Felder cowrote was Haunted (By Your Love) by Bruce Hawkes and Ron Tyson. Pat Cooper and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey contributed Stop and Get Hold of Me. Blue Magic lead singer Ted Mills wrote three tracks, Chasing Rainbows, I Like You and What’s Come Over Me. These nine tracks became Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. Recording took place at the same place as Blue Magic’s first two albums, Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia.
Accompanying Blue Magic were the original lineup of M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ house bamd. Baker, Harris, Young provided the rhythm section, guitarists included Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers They were joined by bassists Michael “Sugarbear” Forman and Larry LaBes and drummers Charles Collins. Vince Montana Jr, played vibes Larry Washington, Bunny Harris and Robert Cupit percussion. Carlton Kent, Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Dexter Wansell and Ted Mills played keyboards. 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 Richard Rome, plus Norman Harris and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey who produced Thirteen Blue Magic Lane.
On the release of Thirteen Blue Magic Lane in 1975, Blue Magic’s Fortunes improved. Thirteen Blue Magic Lane reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. Three singles were released from Thirteen Blue Magic Lane during 1975. Chasing Rainbows reached number seventeen in the US R&B Charts, then What’s Come Over Me reached number eleven in the US R&B Charts. Only Magic of The Blue failed to chart. Two top twenty US R&B singles and a top ten US R&B album meant Blue Magic, having been at a crossroads in their career, had taken the right turn. You’ll realize this when I tell you about the music on Thirteen Blue Magic Lane.
Opening Thirteen Blue Magic Lane, is The Loneliest House On The Block, arranged and produced by Norman Harris. Just braying horns, quivering strings, stabs of keyboards and deliberate, sometimes dramatic Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine. With piano and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes providing an understated backdrop, a wistful vocal enters. Soon, the baton passes to Ted Mills’ falsetto. His vocal is melancholy, filled with sadness and regret. Wendell Sawyer and Ted feed off each other. They bringing to life and meaning to some heartbreaking lyrics. Heartfelt harmonies, growling horns, thunderous drums and guitars all accompany Ted. The finishing touch are pizzicato string, that tug at your heartstrings. As if spurred on, he unleashes a soaring, soul-baring and wrenching vocal.
Chasing Rainbows was the first of a trio of tracks written by Ted Mills. The tempo drops, with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, keyboards, sound-effects and the rhythm section combining. Lush strings shiver and horns rasp as Ted’s tender, heartbroken vocal enters. Quickly, his vocal grows in power and emotion. Harmonies and strings reflect the heartache in his vocal. Later, as Ted vocal soars, high and powerfully above the arrangement, it’s as if the hurt and pain is being released. Grizzled horns and the rhythm section reflect this. What Chasing Rainbows demonstrates not just how talented Ted Mills was a singer, but how talented a lyricist he was. He becomes a storyteller, powerfully, emotively and realistically narrating this heartbreaking song about love and loss.
Born On Halloween is a very different track to anything else on Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. It was a spooky, haunting introduction, then gives way to an understated arrangement. Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat, Vince Montana Jr’s sprinkles vibes and searing guitars combine. Then when Ted’s impassioned vocal enters, it’s tenderness personified. Subtle harmonies from the rest of Blue Magic and The Sweethearts of Sigma answer Ted. Meanwhile the arrangement flows along. Bursts of dramatic drums, searing guitars and quivering string reflect the sheer emotion in Ted’s vocal, allowing him to showcase his considerable vocal prowess.
Just a subtle sprinkling of Vince Montana Jr’s vibes opens Haunted (By Your Love). They’re joined by rasping horns, Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s guitar and sweeping strings. Then the tenderest of harmonies from Blue Magic and The Sweetheart of Sigma join. Having set the scene, Wendell’s emotive, needy vocal enters. While Baker, Harris, Young provide the arrangement’s heartbeat, the harmonies and Wendell drive each other to greater heights. Emotion, fervor and sincerity combine with power and pain, against a slow, moody and dramatic backdrop.
I Like You closes Side One of Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. This is the second Ted Mills’ composition. After a burst of a brief breathy vocal, keyboards, rhythm section and harmonies combine with Vince Montana Jr’s vibes. Together, they produce an understated backdrop that sweeps along. Here, Blue Magic take turns delivering the vocal, showing there was more to Blue Magic than Ted Mills. Keyboards give the arrangement an electronic sound. That doesn’t overshadow Blue Magic’s tender, heartfelt and sometimes sensual harmonies.
Side Two of Thirteen Blue Magic Lane opens with Magic of The Blue. Straight away, the tempo rises, with a track that has Philly Sound written all over it. M.F.S.B. kick loose, showcasing their considerable skills. Driven along by the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section and the unmistakable sound of Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s funky wah-wah guitar, horns blaze and bray and strings dance. Brief bursts of tight, soaring harmonies sweep in and out. By then, M.F.S.B. have become an unstoppable musical juggernaut, fusing funk, Philly Soul and jazz. In many ways, this is more what you’d expect on an album by M.F.S.B. Here, Blue Magic almost play a supporting role, while M.F.S.B. show just why they were the hottest house-band of the seventies.
Having compared M.F.S.B. to a musical juggernaut on the previous track, Blue Magic return to their usual Philly Soul on We’re On The Right Track. The sound of a train whistle sees Baker, Harris, Young drive the arrangement along. Blue Magic climb aboard, adding tight, soulful and sweeping harmonies. Ted’s lead vocal is heartfelt, powerful and filled with emotion. Strings dance, horns rasp and kick and drums inject bursts of drama. Harmonies add to the drama and emotion, sweeping in joyously as Ted unleashes a powerful, impassioned vocal. Together, Blue Magic play their past in one of the most hook-laden, joyous tracks on Thirteen Blue Magic Lane.
When Stop and Get A Hold of Me begins, you’re lulled into a false sense of security. You think this is one of those dream ballads Blue Magic excelled at. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and ethereal harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma combine, before the arrangement almost pauses. This has your attention. The vocal is tender, thoughtful and dreamy. Just the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards provide the backdrop for the vocal. Then, another pause, and Blue Magic throw a curveball. Now the vocal becomes a grizzled, funky vamp. Just as quickly, things return to normal. You’d never have foreseen. After that, you’re expecting the unexpected. What follows is a dreamy slice of Philly Soul, with bursts of dramatic funky vamps. This results in a captivating combination, courtesy of producer Norman Harris.
Closing Thirteen Blue Magic Lane is What’s Come Over Me, written by Ted Mills and featuring Margie Joseph, who shares the lead vocal. When the arrangement opens, it brings to mind tracks from Blue Magic’s two previous albums. Baker, Harris, Young provide the slow, broody heartbeat and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes add a subtle contrast. Lush strings sweep, horns rasp and pizzicato strings accompany Margie’s heartbroken vocal. Her vocal is filled with sadness, emotion and confusion. When Ted takes charge over the lead vocal, he matches the sadness and emotion in Margie’s vocal Harmonies tenderly reply to Ted. Wistful horns, dramatic drums and melancholy strings provide the backdrop for Ted and Margie’s vocal, as they close Thirteen Blue Magic Lane with what’s quite simply, one of the best tracks on the album. Not only that, but it has Blue Magic’s name written all over it.
With Blue Magic’s career at something of a crossroads, they knew that Thirteen Blue Magic Lane could prove crucial to their future career. It really was stick or twist. If Thirteen Blue Magic Lane hadn’t been a commercial success, their hopes of becoming one of Philly’s leading vocal groups could’ve been over. Thankfully, Thirteen Blue Magic Lane saw a change in Blue Magic’s fortunes. Two top twenty US R&B singles and a top ten US R&B album meant Blue Magic, having been at a crossroads in their career, had taken the right turn. There was life after their debut album Blue Magic and Sideshow. That album had set the bar high. Maybe that was the problem. Spurred on by the Philly Soul classic Sideshow, Blue Magic was a lot to live up to. Magic of The Blue hadn’t managed to even come close. Thankfully, Thirteen Blue Magic Lane saw Blue Magic’s fortunes improve.
During the nine tracks on Blue Magic, dreamy ballads and uptempo songs sat comfortably side by side. Each member of Blue Magic played their part in success of Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. This showed that Blue Magic was much more than Ted Mills. While Ted Mills was the lead singer, other members of Blue Magic got the chance to shine during Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. Then on What’s Come Over Me, Margie Joseph joined Blue Magic, resulting in a track that was vintage Blue Magic. It had their name written all over it. Having said that, there was much more to Thirteen Blue Magic Lane than one track.
The Loneliest House On The Block features one of Ted Mills’ best vocals, while Chasing Rainbows demonstrates his talent as a singer and songwriter. Haunted (By Your Love) is one of the most emotive, heartfelt songs on Thirteen Blue Magic Lane, featuring some deliciously soulful harmonies. Magic of The Blue sees Blue Magic and M.F.S.B. become a musical juggernaut. This results in a track that showcases the multitalented M.F.S.B. at the peak of their power. Stop and Get A Hold of Me sees Blue Magic throw a series of curveballs. One minute a dreamy ballad flows along, then the next, the vocal becomes a funky vamp. Like other tracks on Thirteen Blue Magic Lane, Blue Magic show very different sides to their music. Eclectic describes Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. Maybe that’s what made Thirteen Blue Magic Lane such a commercial success.
After the disappointment of Magic of The Blue, Blue Magic were back, nearly reaching the heights of their debut album Blue Magic. Sadly, that was as good as things got for Blue Magic. Following Thirteen Blue Magic Lane, Blue Magic never reached the same commercial heights. Their fourth album, 1976s Mystic Dragons only reached number 170 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. When 1977s Message From the Magic failed to chart, Blue Magic left Atco Records. They only released four more albums between 1981 and 1995, with a different lineup. So, for new comers to Blue Magic’s music, their first three albums, Blue Magic, Magic of The Blue and Thirteen Blue Magic Lane feature Blue Magic at their very best. Indeed, on Thirteen Blue Magic Lane, sees Blue Magic return to the heights of their debut album, fusing Philly Soul, funk and hooks aplenty. Standout Tracks: The Loneliest House On The Block, Chasing Rainbows, Magic of The Blue and What’s Come Over Me.
BLUE MAGIC-THIRTEEN BLUE MAGIC LANE.