Most groups have just one lead singer, two if they’re really lucky. Not many groups however, have five lead singers. Tavares did. Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch and Tiny each took turns of delivering the lead vocal on each of their albums, including Hard Core Poetry, their 1975 sophomore album, album which was recently released by SoulMusic Records. Released in 1975, Hard Core Poetry marked a change in Tavares’ fortunes. 

By 1974, when Tavares released their debut album Check It Out, on Capitol Records, they were already musical veterans. Founded in 1959, they enjoyed a degree of success around New Bedford, Massachusetts. They were making a living, but weren’t known outside of New Bedford. That would change in the early seventies. Capitol Records were looking to strengthen their roster of R&B artists. The man given the job of doing this, was Brian Panella, a friend of the Tavares’ brothers. He suggested Tavares should be signed to Capitol. After all, Tavares were a group with potential. This would soon pay off.

Johnny Bristol was given the job of producing Tavares’ 1974 debut album, Check It Out. It stalled at number 160 in the US Billboard 200, but reached number twenty in the US R&B Charts. Of the two singles released from Check It Out, the title-track reached number thirty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. That’s The Sound That Lonely Makes stalled at number seventy in the US Billboard 100, but reached number ten in the US R&B Charts. While Check It Out had been relatively successful, Capitol Records decided a change of producer was needed. This would lead to a change in Tavares’ fortunes

For their sophomore album Hard Core Poetry, Capitol Records hooked up Tavares with the experienced and talented songwriting and production team of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. They’d just enjoyed commercial success with The Four Tops, who’d just moved from Motown to ABC Dunhill Records. Their next project was turning the raw potential of Tavares into a polished product, one who’d enjoy commercial successful and critical acclaim.

Although Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter cowrote eight of the nine tracks on Hard Core Poetry, one track that really excited them, was She’s Gone. This was a cover of Daryl Hall and John Oates song, which featured on their album Abandoned Luncheonette. On its release as a single by Hall and Oates, it stalled at number sixty in the US Billboard 100 Charts. Dennis and Brian, realizing if the song was slowed down and the smoother edges taken off, could work. So, She’s Gone plus the other eight tracks that Dennis and Brian cowrote, would become Hard Core Poetry, which was recorded at Sound Labs, Los Angeles.

Dennis and Brian brought in some of the best session musicians of the seventies, to record Hard Core Poetry, at Sound Labs. They realized that it was false economy working with anything less that the best. The rhythm section included drummer Ed Greene, bassists Wilton Felder and Scott Edwards plus guitarists Larry Carlton, Dean Parks and Ben Benay. Michael Omartian and Dennis played keboards, while Gary Coleman and Brian contribued percussion. Strings came courtesy of Sid Sharp and The Boogie Symphony. Once Hard Core Poetry was recorded, it was released in September 1974.

The first single released from Hard Core Poetry, was Too Late, in 1974. It reached number fifty-nine in the US Billboard 100 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. She’s Gone was the next single. Released in 1975, it stalled at number fifty in the US Billboard 100, but reached number one in the US R&B Charts. This transformed the Tavares’ fortunes. After sixteen years together, they’d their first number one single, albeit a number US R&B single. Hard Core Poetry sold better than Check It Out, reaching number 121 in the US Billboard 200 and number eleven in the US R&B Charts. Remember What I Told You To Forget, which had been recorded by The Four Tops, was chosen as the final single from Hard Core Poetry. Reaching number twenty-five in the US Billboard 100, number four in the US R&B Charts and number thirteen in the US Disco Charts. This completed the transformation in Tavares’ fortunes, which began with Hard Core Poetry, which I’ll tell you about.

Someone To Go Home To, opens Hard Core Poetry, Tavares’ sophomore album. Literally bursting into life, stabs of piano, drive the arrangement along. Keyboards, dancing strings and rhythm section create a dramatic backdrop for the lead vocal. Delivered with emotion, the lyrics are about the strain of everyday life. It’s made worthwhile by having someone at home who loves you. Delivered with sincerity and feeling, the lead changes hands. Heartfelt, sweeping harmonies, driving guitars and swathes of strings join pounding drums provide the backdrop, for truly heartfelt delivery of some beautiful lyrics.

She’s Gone is instantly recognizable as it unfolds. Percussion, hissing hi-hats, keyboards and meandering bass accompany searing, Isley-esque guitars, which seem out of place. They’re joined by cooing harmonies, before the dual lead vocals feed-off each other. They drive each other to greater heights of emotion, drama and passion. Meanwhile, the rest of Tavares add tight, soulful harmonies. Strings sweep and swirl, adding to the drama and effectiveness of the reinvention of a familiar song. Good as this cover version is, Hall and Oates would recorded the definitive version of this song.

Straight away, you realise My Ship is something special. Driven along by a piano and galloping rhythm section, this dramatic, soulful song grabs your attention. They set the scene for vocal that’s a mixture of power and joy. Soon, this joy turns to hurt and pain. Tight, sweeping, harmonies and swathes of wistful strings accompany the lead vocal, on a track that’s been influenced by Philly Soul. Meanwhile the rhythm section provide the dramatic heartbeat, to what is, one of the best verses of Hard Core Poetry.

Leave It Up To The Lady is another track that’s been inspired by Philly Soul. Indeed, from the get-go, there’s a real Thom Bell sound to the arrangement. Guitars, piano and rhythm section provide a slow, almost understated backdrop for the lead vocal. That’s no bad thing, it’s impassioned and delivered with sincerity. Cascading harmonies and lush strings join the ever-present piano and guitar. Punchy, deliberate, harmonies provide the perfect accompaniment for the lead vocal that’s filled with contentment and gratitude, that comes from being in love.

Just a Hammond organ and rhythm section open To Love You, before a needy, half-spoken female vocal enters. It’s replaced by a vocal that’s heartfelt, but troubled. The root of this turmoil is that, he wants to tell her: “he wants to be free.” He didn’t mean to fall in love, but did. Harmonies veer between tight to cascading. They’re soulful, filled with emotion, adding to the drama. So do the searing guitars and keyboards, as Tavares at their soulful best, deliver one of the saddest, but soulful songs on Hardcore Poetry.

You sense Too Late is just about to explode into life. You’re not disappointed. Keyboards, percussion and punchy harmonies and hissing harmonies join guitars that again, are Isley-esque. Soon, strings are dancing and the rhythm section provide the heartbeat as the vocal enters and a delicious dance-track unfolds. Strings dance, bursts of harmonies and a sprinkling of percussion and poppy hooks join stabs of keyboards. Meanwhile, Tavares demonstrate, that whether it’s ballads or dance-floor friendly tracks, they’re equally at home.

Remember What I Told You To Forget is another piano lead ballad. Written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, it’s perfect for Tavares. It plays to their strengths. The tempo is slow, with the combination of strings and piano adding a sense of melancholia. Drums slowly, and emotively, provide the backdrop for Chubby’s vocal. It’s filled with loneliness sadness. Cooing harmonies accompany him, as he pleads, laying bare his soul, asking for forgiveness and to come home, to the woman he loves. 

What You Don’t Know is another uptempo track, one with a fuller, dramatic arrangement. From the opening bars, keyboards and rhythm section join with punchy harmonies. Then comes a strutting, powerful vocal. Strings sweep and swirl, while the rhythm section drive the arrangement along. Elements of funk, soul, rock and disco combine as the track heads towards its dramatic ending.

Closing Hard Core Poetry is the title-track. There’s a drop in the tempo, with just keyboards and percussion combining as Butch’s falsetto enters. Like so much soul music released during the early seventies, the song looks at the social issues of the time. Here, it does this from another angle, asking people to look at themselves before judging others. An understated rhythm section provide this ballad’s heartbeat as the lead vocal changes hands. Lush strings, weeping guitars and tender, wistful harmonies combine, on a track that again, is reminiscent of Thom Bell’s work with The Stylistics and Delfonics. That’s no bad thing, because it allows Tavares to showcase their vocal prowess and harmonic talents, on a song with some intelligent, thoughtful lyrics.

Capitol Records decision to change producer for Tavares sophomore album was vindicated. While Johnny Bristol gave Tavares a modicum of success, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter took Tavares into the major league. Together, they cowrote eight of the nine tracks on Hard Core Poetry. They also spotted the potential in She’s Gone, which gave Tavares a number one US R&B single. What Dennis and Brian also did, was give Tavares smoother sound. The rawness of their debut album disappeared. Hard Core Poetry was a much more accomplished and polished album. It seemed the lead vocals and harmonies were tighter and much more soulful. As for the use of dual vocalists on some tracks, this brought the lyrics to life, inspiring the other vocalist to greater heights of soulfulness. 

As for Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter’s production style, they’ve been influenced by several people. The first influence is Philly Soul, in particular, Thom Bell. This is apparent on several tracks, including My Ship, Leave It Up To The Lady and Hard Core Poetry. Not only is this apparent from the arrangement, but the harmonies. Given the success Thom Bell was enjoying, it’s no surprise other producers were inspired by his work. Another inspiration for Dennis and Brian, was The Isley Brothers. This is obvious on several tracks, with the Isley-esque guitars on She’s Gone and Too Late. On these tracks, the guitars sound as if they belong on an Isley Brothers’ album. Again, The Isley Brothers were enjoying the most successful period of their career, so other musicians and producers would pay homage to them, directly, or indirectly. Sometimes, this works, sometimes not. 

Having transformed Tavares’ fortunes in the space of just one album, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter only worked with Tavares for one more album, 1975s In The City. It reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. Featuring another number one US R&B sings, In The City was Tavares most successful album. In The City marked the end of an era for Tavares. After that, their music headed in the direction of disco. That’s a great shame, and proved to a missed opportunity for Tavares.

Nobody can blame Tavares for jumping on the disco bandwagon. Every other group was doing this. However, Tavares, could’ve been one of the best, and most successful soul groups of the seventies. That wasn’t to be the case. While they enjoyed some commercial success, they never enjoyed the commercial success and critical acclaim their talent deserved. We can only wonder what would’ve happened if the partnership between Tavares and Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter had lasted longer? Would Tavares have become one of the most successful and feted soul groups of the seventies? If Tavares had continued to release albums like Hard Core Poetry, which was recently released by SoulMusic Records, that might could’ve been the case. Standout Tracks: My Ship, Leave It Up To The Lady, To Love You and Remember What I Told You To Forget.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: