As someone whose a huge fan of Philly Soul, one thing that continues to frustrate me, is that many Philly Soul albums haven’t yet made it to CD. I can think of numerous Philly Soul classics waiting for their CD debut. Considering CDs are nearly thirty years old, that’s disappointing, to say the least. After all, there’s a captive audience who’d purchase reissues of these elusive Philly Soul classics. One album I’ve been hoping would be reissued was Major Harris’ 1976 sophomore album Jealousy. Thankfully, WEA Japan have realized that there’s a captive audience for Philly Soul, and recently, have released five classic albums, which I’ll tell you about. The first of these is Major Harris’ Jealousy, which was released on 30th April 2013.
WEA Japan’s rerelease of Jealousy comes just six months after the tragic death of Major Harris. Major Harris died on 9th November 2012, aged just sixty-five. He was one of legends of Philly Soul. He’d enjoyed a long and successful career, one that spanned over five decades. This success came as part of groups like The Delfonics and as a solo artist. After being a member of The Delfonics between 1971 and 1975, during which time they recorded two albums. Then as The Delfonics career seemed to stall, Major Harris embarked upon his solo career. Between 1975 and 1984, Major Harris released four solo albums. His solo career started with 1975s million-selling My Way. It featured the number one US R&B single Love Won’t Let Me Wait. A year later, in 1976, Major Harris released his sophomore album Jealousy. Would Jealousy match the success of My Way? Before I tell that, I’ll tell you about Major Harris’ career.
Major Harris was born on February 9th 1947, in Richmond, Virginia. During his nascent career, Major Harris was a member of The Charmers, The Teenagers, The Jarmels and Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Later, Major Harris released singles a few singles on the Okeh and Laurie labels. Then in 1971, Major Harris caught a break. He replaced Randy Cain in The Delfonics. It seemed Major Harris’ luck was changing.
Unfortunately, Major Harris joined The Delfonics as their fortunes changed. Thom Bell, who had produced their first three albums, and cowrote many of their songs with Linda Creed. However, no longer would Thom Bell be The Delfonics’ producer. For Major Harris’ Delfonics debut, 1972s Tell Me This Is A Dream, Stan Watson, owner of Philly Groove Records, The Delfonics’ label, would coproduce the album with Thom Bell. On its release it reached just number 123 in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. If that was disappointing, worse was to come.
Alive and Kicking was released in 1974. Not only would it prove to be The Delfonics’ least successful album, but was their final album. It reached number 205 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts. So with The Delfonics’ career on the slide, Major Harris decided that the time was right to launch his solo career.
With Major Harris embarking on his solo career, his debut album My Way was released in 1975. My Was was released to critical acclaim and huge commercial success. My Way reached number twenty-eight in the US Billboard 200 and number twelve in the US R&B Charts. If that was good, then things would get even better. After years of trying, Major Harris enjoyed a number one single. Each Morning I Wake Up reached number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Not only did this vindicate his decision to leave The Delfonics, but surpassed the success of any of their singles. Having released his debut album in 1975, his sophomore album Jealousy was released in 1976.
For Jealousy, the same personnel that worked on My Way reconvened. This included many members of The Salsoul Orchestra, who previously, had been members of Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band M.F.S.B. Norman Harris, Major Harris’ cousin cowrote Ruby Lee with Ron Baker. Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett who cowrote the number one US R&B single Love Won’t Let Me Wait, penned Walkin’ In the Footsteps and Talking To Myself, while Bobby cowrote It’s Got To Be Magic with Terry Collins. The other four tracks, Jealousy, I Got Over Love, Tynisa (Goddess of Love) and What’s the Use In the Truth were written by Joseph B. Jefferson and Charles B. Collins. These eight tracks became Jealousy, which was recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound Studios.
Many of the musicians who played of My Way would also play on Jealousy. Baker, Harris, Young provided the rhythm section and Bobby “Electronic” Eli played guitar. Joining them were Vince Montana Jr, on vibes, Larry Washington played congas and keyboardist Carlton “Cotton” Kent. Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey also played keyboards and synths. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton. Various arrangers and producers worked on Jealousy, including Major Harris, Norman Harris, Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Once Jealousy was recorded, it was released in 1976.
On the release of Jealousy in 1976, it reached number 153 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-three in the US R&B Charts. Jealousy had failed to match the success of My Way. I Got Over Love was released as the lead single, reaching number twenty-four in the US R&B Charts. It’s Got To Be Magic then reached number ninety-one in the US R&B Charts. The last single was the title-track Jealousy, which reached number seventy-three in the US Billboard 100 and number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. Sadly, none of the three singles replicated the success of Love Won’t Let Me Wait, the number one US R&B single from My Way.
Jealousy opens with the title-track Jealousy, arranged by Norman Harris, who produced the track with Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Just melodic keyboards and swathes of strings combine, before Norman Harris adds his subtle, jazzy guitar. They set the scene for Major Harris. His vocal is strong, deliberate and heartfelt. The Sweethearts of Sigma match his emotion and fervor. Their vocals sweep in, soaring above the arrangement. Meanwhile Larry Washington’s congas, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, lush strings combine, as Baker, Harris Young provide a pounding heartbeat. Like the harmonies, the arrangement matches the sheer emotion, power and fervor in Major Harris’ voice. This ensures Jealousy gets off to a memorable start.
The tempo drops on I Got Over Love, with a heartbroken female vocalists pleading with Major not to go. Wistful, melancholy horns and emotive strings join Norman Harris’ chiming guitar and Vince Montana Jr’s pensive vibes. When Major Harris’ vocal enters, it’s filled with sadness, regret and even hope, hope for the future. He delivers the lyrics tenderly and thoughtfully. Equally ender, subtle and soulful harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma accompany him. They playing a leading role, in the track’s sound and success. Although tinged with sadness and regret, it’s also a very beautiful, melancholy song.
Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett cowrote Walkin’ In the Footsteps, which Bobby arranged and produced. This is one of the uptempo songs, allowing Major Harris and his band to kick loose. Stabs and flourishes of piano are joined by sweeping, swirling strings, rasping horns and Baker, Harris, Young. They inject power and drama into the arrangement. By then, Major Harris delivers one of his best vocals on Jealousy, It’s powerful, passionate and filled with emotion. He’s joined by The Sweethearts of Sigma, who add tender, beautiful and soulful harmonies. Soon the band hit their stride. Now the arrangement is a mass of dancing strings, growling horns and bursts of drama from the rhythm section. Add to that the unmistakable sound of Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s guitar and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and the result is a truly delicious uptempo slice of Philly Soul.
Tynisa (Goddess of Love) was arranged by Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey who produced the song with Norman Harris. An urgent combination of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, braying horns and cascading strings grab your attention. Then when Major Harris vocal enters, the arrangement takes on a more understated sound. Major’s vocal is pensive and wistful, accompanied by The Sweethearts of Sigma’s heartfelt harmonies. When Major’s vocal grows in power, so does the arrangement. Horns, strings and the rhythm section reinforce and reflect the drama in the vocal. For his part, Major Harris’ delivers a vocal that’s a mixture of melancholia, emotion, power and sadness.
It’s Got To Be Magic was arranged and produced by Bobby “Electronic” Eli. The tempo drops, swathes of strings sweep slowly above the arrangement, setting the scene for this sensual bedroom ballad. Major Harris’ vocal is sensual, joyful and thankful. Subtle, sensuous harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma prove the perfect foil for Major’s vocal. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, Norman Harris’ jazzy guitar and keyboards provide the perfect backdrop. Later, the rhythm section reflects the playful, sassy and vampish nature of Major’s vocal during this bedroom ballad par excellence.
Ruby Lee was written by Ron Baker and Norman Harris who arranged and produced the song. It’s a song with a strong narrative, filled with social comment and almost ironically, marches along. Growling horns, swirling strings and a pulsating heartbeat from Baker, Harris, Young are joined be Major Harris. His vocal is quick, filled with joy and hope. The Sweethearts of Sigma add cooing, soaring harmonies as the arrangement takes on a hustle sound. By now the band have kicked loose. It’s an impressive sound. A myriad of dancing strings, bursts of blazing horns and a punchy rhythm section march along. Later, there’s a twist. Major’s vocal grows in power, becoming a hurt-filled vamp, as he lays bare his soul. Two years he’s been away, fighting for his country. Now he’s back, Ruby Lee’s gone and his house is up for sale. He’s heartbroken, desperate and has lost hope. Of all the songs on Jealousy, this must be the most moving, powerful and potent. One listen and you’ll understand why.
Talking To Myself was the second Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett composition on Jealousy. Just Vince Montana Jr’s, braying horns and Baker, Harris, Young combine to create a slow, understated backdrop for Major’s vocal. Quivering strings signal the arrival of his heartbroken vocal. The Sweethearts of Sigma add harmonies, while shimmering strings, rasping horns and Norman Harris’ sparse, jazzy guitar combine. With Norman’s guitar playing, it’s sometimes what he doesn’t play that makes his playing so effective. Earl Young’s drums reflect the drama and hurt in Major Harris’ vocal as he unleashes one of his most heartfelt vocals, where hope and happiness seem a long way away.
Closing Jealousy is What’s the Use In the Truth. The tempo drops, but the drama and emotion doesn’t. Growling horns, percussion and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes combine with Baker, Harris, Young. They provide an understated backdrop for Major Harris’ wistful, melancholy and dramatic vocal. Soon, The Sweethearts of Sigma add punchy, dramatic and impassioned harmonies. They seem to drive Major Harris to greater heights. His vocal is deliberate, questioning and probing. “What’s the Use In the Truth if you can’t tell a lie sometime” ponders Major Harris, as he delivers one of his most poignant, pensive and impassioned vocals. This seems a fitting way to close Jealousy.
So, that’s the story of Major Harris’ 1976 sophomore album Jealousy. Sadly, neither Jealousy, nor any of the singles released from Jealousy, matched the success of My Way. Part of the problem was that musical fashions were changing quickly. Disco had became the most popular musical genre. For soul singers like Major Harris, this presented a problem. Granted some of the songs on Jealousy are dance-floor friendly, but that didn’t help make Jealousy the commercial success it deserved to be. With an all-star cast of Philly songwriters, arrangers, producers and musicians working on Jealousy, there was nothing whatsoever wrong with the eight tracks on Jealousy. Norman Harris, Major Harris’ cousin, played an important part in the making Jealousy. He cowrote Ruby Lee with Ron Baker, and arranged and produced three tracks on Jealousy. Bobby “Electronic” Eli who cowrote three tracks on Jealousy played an equally important part. This included Walkin’ In the Footsteps and Talking To Myself with Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Vinnie Barrett. Unfortunately, neither of these tracks could replicate the success of Love Won’t Let Me Wait. Following Jealousy, Major Harris wouldn’t release another album on Atlantic Records.
Two years after the release of Jealousy, Major Harris released How Do You Take Your Love in 1978, on RCA Victor. This would be Major Harris penultimate album.1984s I Believe In Love was Major Harris’ final solo album. After that, Major Harris’ musical career continued. Tragically, Major Harris passed away on 9th November 2012, aged just sixty-five. Philly Soul had lost another of its legends. Major Harris left behind a rich musical legacy, including two albums he recorded with The Delfonics and four solo albums. Of these four solo albums, Major Harris‘ best two albums were 1975s My Way and 1976s Jealousy, which was released by WEA Japan on 30th April 2013, includes some sumptuous, smooth Philly Soul. Standout Tracks: Jealousy, Walkin’ In the Footsteps, Ruby Lee and Talking To Myself.