JERRY BUTLER-LOVE’S ON THE MENU AND SUITE FOR THE SINGLE GIRL.
JERRY BUTLER-LOVE’S ON THE MENU AND SUITE FOR THE SINGLE GIRL.
In 1975, Jerry Butler’s contract with Mercury Records was about to expire. He’d spent nine years at Mercury, ever since the demise of Vee-Jay Records. Since then, Jerry’s career had been in the ascendancy. Jerry had established a reputation as one of best, most charismatic and successful soul singers of his generation. Indeed, at Mercury Jerry had enjoyed his only million-selling single, Hey Western Union Man, produced by Gamble and Huff, who played a huge part in Jerry’s commercial success. With Gamble and Huff, Jerry enjoyed hit singles like Moody Woman, What’s The Use of Breaking Up and Never Give You Up. Gamble and Huff also produced Jerry’s most successful album, The Iceman Cometh. It was won of over twenty albums Jerry had released. Most of them were solo albums, but Jerry had released albums with Betty Everett, Gene Chandler and The Impressions. Jerry had even turned his hand to soundtrack albums. Versatile, charismatic and a talented singer and songwriter describes Jerry Butler. Given how influential Gamble and Huff had been in Jerry’s career, it seems strange that Gamble and Huff didn’t try to sign Jerry to Philadelphia International Records in 1975. Instead, Jerry would sing to Motown, the self-styled “hit factory.” Next stop for Jerry Butler after Mercury would be Motown Records.
Ewart Amber, who Jerry knew from his days at Vee-Jay had worked at Motown since 1967. Motown had been his home since Vee-Jay shut its doors. So when Ewart heard that Jerry was leaving Mercury he made a phone to The Iceman. Soon, Jerry was signing a four record deal with Motown. Jerry Butler’s first two albums for Motown were 1976s Love’s On The Menu and 1977s Suite For The Single Girl which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 18th March 2013. This marked a new chapter in Jerry Butler’s career. After nine years at Mercury, where Jerry enjoyed commercial success and critical acclaim would this continue at Motown? That’s what I’ll tell you, when I tell you about Love’s On The Menu and Suite For The Single Girl.
LOVE’S ON THE MENU.
For Jerry’s Motown debut Love’s On The Menu, the ten tracks on the album were written by Motown artists and staffers and Jerry’s Chicago songwriting contacts. Jerry penned I Don’t Want To Know Nobody with Michel Sutton, and cowrote I Think That She’s In Love with Sam Brown. He also cowrote Don’t Let This Smile Fool You and Love’s On The Menu Tonight with Michael Smith, who contributed The Devil In Mrs Jones. Songs written by Motown artists and staffers included Lionel Ritchie’s This Is Your Life, Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright’s I’m Goin’ Left and Leon Ware and Pam Sawyer’s Early Bird. Along with Harold Johnson’s I Don’t Wanna Be Reminded and Jeff Barry and Peter Allen’s I Honestly Love You, these ten tracks became Jerry’s Motown debut Love’s On The Menu.
Recording of Love’s On The Menu took place at Motown’s Recording Studios in Hollywood. A number of producers worked on Love’s On The Menu, including Mark Davis, Sam Brown, Michael Sutton and Hal Davis. Similarly, various arrangers were brought in. Tom Baird, Art Wright, William Goldstein, Clayton Ivey, Terry Woodford and Skip Lane joined Mark Davis. Along with the band, came a full string and horn section. It seemed no expense had been spared for Motown’s latest signing for Jerry’s Motown debut Love’s On The Menu. While Love’s On The Menu, was success on the menu for Jerry Butler?
On the release of Love’s On The Menu in 1976, it only reached number forty-nine in the US R&B Charts. Then when The Devil In Mrs Jones was released as a single, it stalled at number fifty-five in the US R&B Charts. It seemed that Love’s On The Menu, with its combination of cover versions, ballads and dance tracks, hadn’t found favor with America’s record buying public. Mind you, music was changing, so with 1976 being the height of disco’s popularity, had Jerry’s music fallen victim to musical fashions? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the music on Love’s On The Menu.
Opening Love’s On The Menu on a high is I Don’t Want Anybody To Know. It’s an upbeat, dance-floor friendly slice of emotive soul from Jerry. He literally rolls back the year. With dramatic backing vocalists, dancing strings and growling horns for company, he storms his way through the track, demonstrating The Iceman is back. I’m Goin’ Left is a similar sounding track, where the soulfulness and quality continues. Jerry sings call and response with his backing vocalists, while a pulsating beat provides the pounding heartbeat. Again, the strings and backing vocalists play crucial roles, as Jerry unleashes a vocal which fuses power and passion.
Don’t Want To Be Reminded sees the tempo drop and dramatic keyboards set the scene for Jerry. His vocal is filled with heartache and hurt he lays bare his soul. Just the piano, bass and wistful strings provide the backdrop for his vocal. before a rasping horn and gospel-tinged backing vocalists add the finishing touch. They play their part in the heartbreakingly sad, dramatic and beautiful song.
As Don’t Let The Smile Fool You unfolds, the drama builds before Jerry’s vocal grows in power and emotion. Testifying backing vocalists, pounding drums and quivering strings join Jerry as the drama builds. Ruefully, with the benefit of experience and hurt he warns: “Don’t Let The Smile Fool You.” Soulful and laden with drama and emotion, it’s vintage Jerry Butler.
I Honestly Love You has an understated, wistful and jazz sound when it opens. Jerry’s pensive, tender vocal delivers each word thoughtfully and carefully. Throughout the track, the arrangement with its lush strings, cooing harmonies and guitar compliments the arrangement, allowing Jerry to deliver his most heartfelt and sincere vocal on Love’s On The Menu. Pounding, dramatic drums give way to a jazz-tinged arrangement. Horns rasp, as the arrangement starts to swing. Spurred on, Jerry’s vocal is needy and filled with longing. Harmonies sweep in, complimenting Jerry’s vocal, while strings sweep, horns rasp and drums add to the sense of drama and anticipation.
Very different is The Devil In Mrs Jones, the single released from Love’s On The Menu. It has a tougher, funkier sound, with Jerry’s vocal a sassy, vamp. It’s as if its inclusion is to make Jerry’s music appealing to a wider audience. Cooing, punchy harmonies accompany Jerry as he unleashes a powerful, growling vocal. His band kick loose, delivering a storming performance, and with Jerry, play their part in this tougher, funkier and more contemporary sounding track.
Thank You Early Bird returns to Jerry’s more familiar sound. A spacious arrangement where strings, harmonies and drums play crucial roles accompany Jerry. His vocal takes centre-stage, growing in power and confidence. Indeed, the longer the track progresses, the better Jerry’s vocal and the arrangement get. Helping Jerry no end, are the backing vocals who add to the track’s sheer soulfulness.
I Think She’s In Love sees Jerry drop the tempo again. The subtle arrangement sees Jerry and ethereal backing vocalists feed off each other. Their vocals are impassioned, tender and truly heartfelt. Lush strings, wistful horns and a meandering bass reinforce the beauty and elegance of this gorgeous paean to love.
Closing Love’s On The Menu is what Jerry does so well, sing ballad. Although understated at the start, the arrangement uses synths and sound effects. Thankfully, they don’t detract from Jerry’s vocal. As his vocal grows in power, passion and sincerity, the arrangement grows in power. When things settle, strings swirl, harmonies soar and horns blaze. This spurs Jerry on to deliver a compelling, impassioned vocal.
Jerry Butler’s Motown debut, Love’s On The Menu, might not have been his most successful album, but there was nothing wrong with the music. With it’s combination of ballads and uptempo dance tracks, Love’s On The Menu demonstrated why Jerry Butler had enjoyed such a long and successful career. Maybe the problem was, that Jerry’s music hadn’t changed with musical fashions. Having said that, rather than sell his soul to disco like other artists did. Maybe that’s why Love’s On The Menu has stood the test of time. It’s a classy, smooth and soulful collection of ballads and dance tracks. Maybe Jerry’s fortunes would change with Suite For The Single Girl, his third concept album.
SUITE FOR THE SINGLE GIRL.
Following the disappointment of Love’s On The Menu, Jerry returned in 1977 with his second Motown album. This was another of Jerry’s concept albums, Suite For The Single Girl. This was his third concept album, following in the footsteps of 1968s The Iceman Cometh and 1969s Ice On Ice. For Suite For The Single Girl, Jerry changed things about. He brought in Homer Talbert and with Jerry, the pair cowrote four of the nine tracks. This included Suite For A Single Girl, I Wanna Do It To You, What A Pleasant Surprise and Let’s Get Out Of Town. Paul Wilson penned Mrs Fine, Chalk It Up and Music In Her Dreams/Dream Music. The other two tracks were written by Keithen Carter and Michael Ward. With new songwriters working on Suite For The Single Girl, there were changes in the recording of the album.
Rather than just record in Los Angeles, Jerry spilt recording between Motown’s Recording Studios in Hollywood and Chicago’s Chicago Recording Company. Maybe Jerry felt returning to Chi Town, where he grew up and first found success would prove beneficial to Suite For The Single Girl. Jerry, Homer Talbert and Paul Wilson produced Suite For The Single Girl, while Paul and James Mack arranged the tracks. With two studios being used, this meant two bands. This included a rhythm section of drummers Steve Cobb and Bryan Grice, bassists Tiaz Palmer and Jeffrey Simon and guitarists Byron Gregory and Danny Leake. Vince Willis, Dean Grant and Tennyson Stevens played piano and Fred Walker and Marvin Sparks added percussion. They were joined by ab horn and string session. Once Suite For The Single Girl was recorded, it was released in 1977. Would Suite For The Single Girl see Jerry’s fortunes improve.
Suite For The Single Girl was released in 1977, and saw an upturn in Jerry Butler’s fortunes. It reached number 146 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. The lead single, I Wanna Do It To You reached number fifty-one in the US Billboard 100 and number seven in the US R&B Charts. Then Chalk It Up reached number twenty-eight in the US R&B Charts and number thirty-nine in the US Dance Music/Club Play Charts. Jerry’s decision to change songwriting partners and record in Chicago had been vindicated. However, what made Suite For The Single Girl such a successful album?
Suite For The Single Girl, which opens with the title-track was Jerry’s third concept album. Jerry dedicates it: “to all the single girls.” Quickly, he unleashes a vocal filled with heartache and hurt, where hope and happiness is long-gone. As they grow older, their chances of happiness slip away. While Jerry’s vocal is tinged with sadness, as strings and backing vocalists accompany him. Although melancholy and heartbreaking, the quality of the lyrics and Jerry’s vocal is peerless.
A rasping horn opens I Wanna Do This To You, before Jerry’s needy vocal enters. Harmonies accompany him, while the arrangement unfolds in waves. Strings sweep in, harmonies soar and Jerry pleads and begs, his vocal sensual and needy.
Ms. Fine is an uptempo, dance track. Horns growl, drums pound and stabs of keyboards set the scene for Jerry’s confident vamp. Strings dance, horns kick and a funky bass weaves its way across the arrangement. Cascading harmonies and thunderous drums play there part in this irresistible dance track.
A meandering keyboard opens What A Pleasant Surprise, which is very different from other tracks on Suite For The Single Girl. It has a slight Caribbean influence. The understated, laid-back arrangement is perfect for Jerry’s vocal. It’s loose, joyous and laden with emotion, as Jerry demonstrates another side to him music.
Chalk It Up is another uptempo, dance track. Again, it’s a track with a funky side. Jerry sings call and response with his backing vocalists, before the arrangement reveals it secrets. Strings quiver and shiver, the rhythm section and guitar add drama and funk. Jerry, with handclaps and harmonies for company, delivers a charismatic vocal, while this hypnotic, drama laden track reveals its hidden depths.
Music In Her Dreams/Dream Music is a two part suite lasting nearly eight minutes. It’s captivating, filled with drama and emotion. Jerry sings about a woman who loves music, but can only sing in her sleep. His vocal paints pictures that unfold before your eyes. The rest of the arrangement is like a painters palette, adding color and detail to this emotive, wistful musical picture.
Only Pretty Girls is another song with a message. Jerry’s message is that Only Pretty Girls exist in films, television and magazines. That’s make believe Jerry sings, not reality. He does this against a string drenched, dramatic backdrop. Jerry tells it like it is. He rails against this idealistic, media driven portrayal of women and beauty, while telling the truth about life and reality.
Moody and dramatic describes Let’s Go Get Out Of Town. The tough, edgy sound of a clavinet grabs your attention, before keyboards and a bass rhythm section driven along by the bass take charge. By now the arrangement has a funky sound, while Jerry’s vocal is smooth and soulful. He becomes the bedroom balladeer, his pleas to: “let’s get out of town,” met with approving purring harmonies. Funky, soulful and sensual, The Iceman turns bedroom balladeer, with his smooth, sultry vocal.
You Gotta Believe In Me closes Suite For The Single Girl. Piano, a pounding rhythm section and growling horns signal the arrival of Jerry. He picks up the baton, delivering a powerful, impassioned vocal. Cooing, punchy harmonies accompany Jerry, before horns kick and growl. From there, Jerry unleashes one of his trademark powerful, vampish soulful vocal. Testifying harmonies accompany him, as Jerry and his band ensure Suite For The Single Girl on a pulsating, soulful high.
Just like Jerry Butler’s previous album Love’s On The Menu, Suite For The SIngle Girl didn’t succumb to the vagaries of changing musical trends. Granted there were several uptempo, dance tracks, but mostly, Jerry stuck to what he did best, singing soul. Not for Jerry trying to catch a wave of a musical trend with a disco track, like many artists did. Instead, he stuck to his musical principles and kept this soulful. Bedroom ballads and song laden with heartache and hurt sit comfortably side-by-side. The result is a concept album full of emotion, sadness, joy, need and unattainable dreams. Intelligent, intriguing and captivating describe Suite For The SIngle Girl. So too, does hook-laden and soulful, just as Jerry “The Iceman” Butler had been doing for two decades. With his Chi Town musical friends, Suite For The SIngle Girl saw The Iceman back to his best.
Indeed Love’s On The Menu and Suite For The Single Girl, Jerry Butler’s first two Motown album which will be rereleased by SoulMusic Records on 18th March 2013, demonstrate one of the legends of soul music at his the height of his powers. Motown proved to be the perfect label for Jerry Butler. It allowed him the creative freedom to express himself musically, without wanting him to be a hostage of fortune to musical trends. Standout Tracks: Don’t Want To Be Reminded, I Think She’s In Love, Ms. Fine and You Gotta Believe In Me.
JERRY BUTLER-LOVE’S ON THE MENU AND SUITE FOR THE SINGLE GIRL.