Syreeta had come a long way since she first joined Motown. Back then, she was a receptionist and part-time demo singer at Motown, who had dreams of becoming a successful solo singer. Sometimes, dreams come true. They certainly did for Syreeta Wright.
Having started work as a reception at Motown in 1965, she worked part-time as a demo-singer. Quickly, Motown executives realized that Syreeta was a talented singer and songwriter. She released her debut single in 1968, the same year she met Stevie Wonder.
Four years later Syreeta released her eponymous debut album Syreeta. During the last four years, she’d married Stevie Wonder, and played a huge part in transforming his career. By 1972, Syreeta wanted to concentrate on her own career. She released Syreeta on Mowest, a Motown subsidiary. It reached number seventy-three in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-eight in the US R&B Charts. This was the first step in Syreeta’s solo career.
For Syreeta’s sophomore album, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, the album was released on Tamla. The eleven tracks were written by Syreeta and Stevie Wonder. Like her debut album Syreeta, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, it didn’t contain any hit singles. Released in 1974, reached number 116 US Billboard 200 and number fifty-three in the US R&B Charts. While not as successful as her debut album, Syreeta was establishing a reputation as one of Motown’s finest female vocalists.
There was a gap of three years between Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta and her third solo album, One To One. During that time, internal politics at Motown frustrated Syreeta. She wanted more artistic control over her music. This would allow her to explore new ideas musically. During this three year period, Syreeta had married Curtis Robertson Jr. Together, they cowrote four tracks on One To One, which was produced by, Leon Ware, who was fresh from producing Marvin Gaye’s classic album I Want You. Sadly, One To One, which was released in 1977 failed to chart. It seemed that since Syreeta’s career was at a crossroads. How much longer would Motown stand by an artist who wasn’t a commercial success?
The next three years would see Syreeta’s fortunes mixed. She released an album of duets with G.C. Cameron. It too, failed to meet Motown’s sale’s forecast. Then in late-1979, Syreeta and Billy Preston enjoyed a hit with With You I’m Born Again. It featured on the soundtrack to Fast Break, a film that wasn’t a box-office hit. Reaching number four in the US Billboard 100, With You I’m Born Again rejuvenated Syreeta’s ailing career. Motown wanting to build on the success of With You I’m Born Again, decided the time was right for Syreeta to release her fourth solo album. Entitled Syreeta, which was recently rereleased by SoulMusic Records, would Syreeta rejuvenate and indeed, rescue Syreeta’s stalling career?
Syreeta, which became Syreeta’s fourth solo album, featured eleven songs. Of these eleven tracks, Syreeta cowrote just three of them. Two of them, Syreeta cowrote with her ex-husband Stevie Wonder. They penned Blame It On The Sun and Signed, Sealed and Delivered (|’m Yours) with Lee Garrett and Lulu Lardaway. The other track Syreeta cowrote was Dance For Me Children, which she cowrote with Curtis Robertson and Sheree Brown. Other tracks were written by various songwriters and songwriting teams.
Among the other tracks on Syreeta, were Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough’s Let Me Be The One, Kenneth Peterson’s You Bring Out The Love In Me and Here’s My Love, written by Anthony Miller and Keith Echols. Disco songwriter Bob Esty, and Michelle Aller, penned Love Fire, while the songwriting team of ex-Chantel Arlene Smith, George Goldner and Richard Barrett contributed Here’s My Love. The other two tracks were duets with Billy Preston.
After the success of With You I’m Born Again, Billy Preston and Syreeta joined forces on Jerry Peters’ One More Time For Love and Please Stay, penned by Carol Connors and David Shire. These tracks, plus the other nine tracks, were recorded at various studios.
To record Syreeta, four studios and four producers were used. Eleven tracks were recorded at Studio 55, Kendun Recorders, NSP Studio and Motown/Hitsville USA Studios. Accompanying Syreetaa were some of the top session musicians. This included, a rhythm section of drummer Michael Baird, bassist Freddie Washington and guitarist Ray Parker Jr. They were joined percussionist Paulinho DaCoasta, keyboardists Greg Mathieson and Billy Preston on piano, organ, clavinet, Fender Rhodes and backing vocals. Among the backing vocalists came courtesy of Sheree Brown, Terry Young, Gwen Mathews, Oma Drake and Monalisa Young. Once the eleven songs were recorded, Syreeta was released in 1980. Could Syreeta be about to make a comeback?
On its release in 1980, Syreeta reached number seventy-three in the US Billboard 200. While Syreeta wasn’t a huge commercial success, it was Syreeta’s most successful album since her 1972 debut album. The lead single, One More Time For Love gave Syreeta a minor hit, reaching just number seventy-two in the US R&B Charts. When Please Stay, a duet with Billy Preston, was released as a single, it failed to chart. At least Syreeta’s career had been rejuvenated. She’d been at a musical crossroads, but took the right turn. Syreeta, it seemed, was back. Why was Syreeta a commercial success? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the music on Syreeta.
Opening Syreeta is a cover of Blame It On The Sun. Stevie wonder recorded the original on 1972s Talking Book. Some people might say it’s the definitive version. Syreeta seems in a no-win situation. How do you surpass a supposed classic? The arrangement has a languid, melancholy sound. That’s perfect for Syreeta’s emotive, tender vocal. Filled with hurt and sadness, her vocal grows in power and emotion. Just a deliberate rhythm section, guitars and keyboards accompany Syreeta. Gradually, she unleashes a vocal that’s dripping with emotion. Rueful and tinged with regret, Syreeta brings new life, meaning and a sense of melancholia to the track. So good is her version, that I much prefer it to the original.
An understated combination of weeping guitars, percussion and rhythm section open Let Me Be The One. A slow, subtle and spacious arrangement unfolds, allowing Syreeta’s vocal to take centre-stage. That’s where it belongs. Her heartfelt delivery is accompanied by harmonies. They reply to her call, matching her for passion and sincerity. Meanwhile, strings sweep in, as this slick, multilayered arrangement grows in power and drama, providing the perfect accompaniment to Syreeta’s needy, pleading vocal.
You Bring Out The Love In Me sees Syreeta’s all-star band break out the funk. The rhythm section provide the pulsating heartbeat. They’re joined bt a clavinet, Fender Rhodes and wah-wah guitars, as the track heads in the direction of P-funk. As for Syreeta, she seems to enjoy the change in style. Spurred on, she almost struts her way through the song, her vocal sassy and feisty, matched all the way by urgent, soaring harmonies.
Please Stay is the first of two duets with Billy Preston. Against a subtle keyboards, Syreeta’s tender, heartfelt vocal gives way to Billy’s. It’s equally tender and sincere. As the arrangement unfolds, lush, but wistful strings sweep in and the rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Midway through the song Syreeta and Billy’s vocals grow in power. They’re well matched, and drive each other to greater heights, as the track heads towards its dramatic and emotive crescendo, which for some people, may be somewhat overblown.
He’s Gone has a real retro sound. It sounds as if it should’ve been recorded in the early sixties, by The Crystals or Chantels. No wonder. It was co-written by ex-Chantel Arlene Smith. Punchy, doo-wop style harmonies accompany Syreeta while her band roll back years. They get in on the act, sounding as if they’re accompanying a sixties girl-group. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, and are joined by searing guitars, as Syreeta delivers a vocal that’s a glorious reminder of what music used to sound like.
Prolific disco songwriter Bob Esty joined Michelle Aller to write Love Fire. It bursts into life. Flourishes of strings are joined by a thunderous rhythm section, percussion and cooing harmonies. When Syreeta enters, she’s donned the guise of disco diva, albeit a year too late. Demonstrating her versatility, she struts her way through the track. Strings dance, harmonies sweep in and the rhythm section keep things funky. Vamping her way through the track, Syreeta plays a starring role in this hook-laden, dance-floor friendly track.
From the opening bars of Here’s My Love, Syreeta’s vocal is reminiscent of Minnie Riperton. Produced by Jerry Peters, percussion, tender, sweeping harmonies, lush strings and weeping guitars accompany Syreeta. A deliberate piano and the rhythm section are crucial the slow tempo, as Syreeta delivers a needy vocal that longs for love.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) is rejuvenated by Syreeta. This is very different to the original. The song is totally reinvented. It has funky, soulful, celebratory sound. Keyboards, blazing horns and a funky rhythm section combine to create a funky backdrop. They’re joined by Syreeta, who feeds off her backing vocalists. Together, they transform the song into a joyous, celebratory song, that breathes new life into an old song.
Dance For Me Children is another uptempo, funky track. The rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while stabs of keyboards and horns are joined by percussion and chiming guitars. As for Syreeta, her vocal dances above the arrangement, encouraged along by the soulful, swinging strains of her backing singers. The result is a catchy, swinging fusion of soul and funk.
Closing Syreeta is One More Time For Love (Reprise). Just under a minute long, it’s a pensive, thoughtful song, where Syreeta, accompanied by a piano asks, “what’s it all about.” That’s a good question. This song poses many questions, but doesn’t provide any answers.
Before Syreeta released her fourth solo album Syreeta, her career was at a crossroads. If Syreeta hadn’t been a commercial success, who knows what might have happened? Maybe Motown would’ve cut their losses, and dropped Syreeta. That didn’t happen. Instead, Syreeta reached number seventy-three in the US Billboard 200. This was her most successful album since her 1972 debut album, also entitled Syreeta. What made Syreeta a commercial success, and an album that’s aged well, is the production and choice of songs.
Rather than use just one producer, four different producers worked on Syreeta. Jerry Peters, produced eight tracks, Hal Davis two and Billy Preston and David Shire produced Please Stay. While each producer had their own style, this combination of different styles worked. Taken together, they produced a fluid album where surprises aplenty were in store for the listener. Veering from ballads to dance-tracks, one minute the music was funky, the next it was soulful. Sometimes, it was funky and soulful. There’s even the disco of Love Fire, and a nod towards sixties girl groups, complete with doo-wop harmonies. One thing Syreeta always is, is entertaining. New tracks are introduced to the listener, as seamlessly Syreeta, demonstrating her versatility, moves between musical genres. Then on Blame It One The Sun and Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) she reinvents two tracks originally recorded by Stevie Wonder. Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) is rejuvenated, transformed into a celebratory, joyous track. Then there’s a cover of Bill Withers and Skip Scarborough’s Let Me Be The One. It featured on Bill’s 1977 album Menagerie. Again, it’s reinvented by Syreeta and her all-star band. Another thing that was reinvented was Syreeta herself.
Syreeta which was recently rereleased by SoulMusic Records, has a much more polished, poppy sound than previous albums. It was as if the album had been designed to appeal to a much wider audience. Soul, funk, disco, doo-wop and pop, it was all on Syreeta. Eclectic describes the music on Syreeta. So does accomplished and slick. Syreeta whose career had been at a crossroads, proved that she was still one of Motown’s finest female vocalists. While her career had stalled after her sophomore album Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta, Syreeta was back, back with what was the finest album of her career Syreeta. Standout Tracks: Let Me Be The One, He’s Gone, Love Fire and Here’s My Love.