PLEASURE-SPECIAL THINGS.

PLEASURE-SPECIAL THINGS.

Having spent spent several years honing their style and sound, Pleasure were “discovered” by Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders. Pleasure’s persistence had paid off. Pleasure had worked hard at improving and honing their style. They’d also made sure any band that swung through Portland, were handed a copy of Pleasure’s demo. Grover Washington Jr. received a copy. He liked the band, and realised they had talent. So Grover told Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders about Pleasure. 

Pleasure were formed in 1972, after a merger of two high school bands, Franchise and The Soul Masters. Franchise were led by guitarist and vocalist Marlon McClain. Their music was a fusion of disco and rock. The Soul Masters, whose music was jazz-tinged and soulful, were led by Donald Hepburn. These two groups became one, who they named Pleasure. 

For two years, Pleasure played around the Portland area. They soon attracted a loyal following locally. Word started to spread further afield, about this Portland band called Pleasure. No wonder. They were good. Very good. Every band who swung through Portland were handed a copy of Pleasure’s demo. Grover Washington Jr. received a copy. Liking what he heard, he told Wayne Henderson of The Crusaders about Pleasure. 

So, Wayne Henderson headed to a club in Portland, where he heard Pleasure. Immediately, he realised Pleasure were a band with a big future. Wayne recommended Pleasure to Fantasy Records, a forward thinking and successful label. Fantasy always keen to sign talented artists and groups. Pleasure were certainly talented and keen to sign to the label, groups like The Blackbyrds called home.

Now signed to Fantasy Records, Pleasure released six albums between their 1975 debut Dust Yourself Off and 1980s Special Things. Their final album for Fantasy Records, 1980s Special Things, which was recently released by BGP, a subsidiary of Ace Records, marked the end of an era for Pleasure. 

Having signed to Fantasy Records, they hooked up with The Crusaders’ trombonist Wayne Henderson. Wayne would produce their first four albums. Their debut album was 1975s Dust Yourself Off. Most of Dust Yourself Off, was written by Pleasure. The exception was Midnight At The Oasis, which was given an uber funky makeover. On its release in July 1975,Dust Yourself Off reached just number fifty-four in the US R&B Charts. For a debut album, this was a positive start to Pleasure’s career. 

Pleasure’s sophomore album was 1976s Accept No Substitutes, which reached number 162 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-two in the US R&B Charts. Accept No Substitutes featured Pleasure’s first hit single. Ghettos of The Mind reached number seventy-one in the US R&B Charts. It seemed Pleasure’s music was reaching a wider audience.

This proved to be the case with Pleasure’s third album Joyous, released in 1977. Not only did Joyous reach number 113 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts, but featured an anthemic track. This was the title-track Joyous, which reached number thirty-five in the US R&B Charts. Since then, this anthemic track has been a dance-floor favourite. Having released their most successful single and album, the future looked bright for Pleasure.

That wasn’t the case. 1978s Get To The Feeling was the last album produced by Wayne Henderson. Rather than building on the momentum of previous albums, it stalled at number 119 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-two in the US R&B Charts. Get To The Feeling didn’t even feature a hit single. Pleasure had a problem. Their music seemed to have stood still while music changed. Maybe Pleasure and Wayne Henderson’s partnership having run its course? Either that or they’d run out of ideas. Regardless of what the problem was, changes were made.

Out went producer Wayne Henderson. Replacing him was Phil Kaffel, who co-produced their fifth album Future Now with Pleasure’s guitarist Marlon McLain. This marked not just the beginning of a new chapter in Pleasure’s career, but the most successful album of their career. Future Now.

When Future Now was released in 1979, it reached number sixty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Future Now featured two hit singles. The title-track reached number seventy-five in the US R&B Charts. The Glide gave Pleasure the biggest single of their career, reaching number fifty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. Having enjoyed the most successful album of their career, Pleasure would only release one more album for Fantasy Records, Special Things.

For their sixth album, Special Things, Pleasure wrote the eight tracks. Nathaniel Phillips penned the title-track, Marlon McClain wrote Law Of The Raw and Michael Hepburn contributed You Are My Star. Michael cowrote Living Without You with Fred Reed. Donald and Michael Hepburn cowrote Now You Choose Me with Nathaniel Phillips, while Nathaniel and Donald wrote Take A Chance. Marlon McClain and Donald Hepburn penned Yearnin’ Burnin.’ The other track was Spread That Feelin’ All Around, a collaboration between Michael, Nathaniel and guitarist Doug Lewis. These eight tracks became Special Things.

Recording of Special Things took place at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley, California. Producing Future Now was Phil Kaffel and Marlon McLain. The lineup of Pleasure featured a rhythm section of drummer Bruce Carter, bassist Nathaniel Phillips and guitarists Marlon McLain and Doug Lewis. Donald and Michael Hepburn played keyboards, Bruce Smith percussion, Denis Springer soprano and tenor saxophone and Tony Collins flugelhorn and trumpet. They were joined by session musicians. This included Jerry Hey on flugelhorn and trumpet,alto saxophonist Larry Williams and Tim Gorman added synths. The Waters Sisters and Marti McCall sang backing vocals. Once Special Things was recorded, it was released in 1980.

On the release of Special Things in 1980, it reached number ninety-seven in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Two singles were released from Special Things. Real Thing reached number sixty-five in the US R&B Charts. Yearnin’ Burnin’ then reached number thirty in the US R&B Charts. Neither Special Things, nor the singles matched the commercial success of Future Now, despite being heavily promoted by Fantasy Records. They wanted to build on the success of Future Now. To do this, Pleasure returned to the formula that made Future Now a success. Soul, funk and dance music were combined by Pleasure over Special Things’ eight tracks. It didn’t match the commercial success of its predecessor though. Why was that? That’s what I’ll tell you, once I’ve told you about the music on Special Things.

Now You Choose Me opens Special Things, what was Pleasure’s final album for Fantasy Records. Stabs of urgent, blazing horns, washes of synths and a gloriously funky bass join drums that crack. The drums have a real eighties sound. That ensures Pleasure have your attention. Now Sherman Davis delivers a powerful, impassioned vocal. It’s delivered with feeling as harmonies soar soulfully above the arrangement. Pleasure it seems, have picked up where they left off on Future Now, combining soul and uber funky, dance-floor friendly grooves.

Thoughtful, pensive keyboards open Special Things. Synths usher in Nathaniel Phillips’ bass. Just like the previous track, he plays an important role in the arrangement. Funky, soulful, dreamy and spacious describes the arrangement. It’s the perfect backdrop for Sherman’s vocal. He unleashes a tender, heartfelt vocal. As the band play around his vocal, thoughtful harmonies, keyboards and synthetic strings sweep. Later, the arrangement heads in the direction of jazz. So does Sherman’s vocal. All this plays it’s part in a quite beautiful, dreamy and genre-melting track that should’ve been a single.

Yearnin’ Burnin’ is a tough, funky track. Pleasure lock into a tight, funky groove, Nathaniel’s bass and the chiming guitars become one. They’re augmented by keyboards. As for the vocal, it changes hands. One minute it’s tough and edgy, the next it’s a tender, sassy falsetto. All the time, Pleasure keep things tough and funky. Their rhythm section are at the heart of the action, before stabs of grizzled horns add to this slice of sassy funk.

Law Of The Raw sees a rock, funk and electronica join forces. Searing rocky guitars, keyboards, synths and the rhythm section create a tough, dramatic arrangement. Cymbals crash, drums roll and pound. Machine gun guitars and banks of keyboards see genre melt into one. Pleasure seem to be enjoying jamming, feeding off each other and seeing what the result is. Towards the end of the track, sizzling rock guitars are added. It’s as if you’ve strayed on to a Van Halen album. That’s not the case. It’s Pleasure, but as you’ve never heard them before. During this instrumental, you realise how good musicians they were.

Bursts of braying horns open Take A Chance. Then washes of synths, chiming guitars, pounding drums and hissing hi-hats join forces with Nathaniel’s bass. They keep things funky as Sherman’s tender, punchy vocal enters. It’s urgent and needy. Meanwhile, there’s a sense of urgency to the arrangement. That comes courtesy of the rhythm section, keyboards and bursts of flugelhorn. Soon, harmonies and horns interject. They play their part in providing the backdrop for Sherman’s vocal. Urgent, sensual and needy it’s one of his most emotive and one of the Special Things on the album.

Living Without You sees the tempo drop. The rhythm section create a slow, floaty and spacious arrangement. Sherman’s vocal is full of heartache, hurt and confusion, as jazz, soul and funk combine. Percussion, melancholy horns and keyboards combine, before a pensive rhythm section are joined by harmonies.  Nearly everything falls into place at the right time. That’s apart from some rogue percussion. This is one of Nathaniel, Michael Hepburn and Phil Kaffel’s best productions. Just like on the title-track, Pleasure are at their best when things are soulful.

The drums set the scene on Spend That Feelin’ All Around. Then the bass, stabs of horns and keyboards enter. Gradually, the arrangement’s revealing its secrets. Next comes the vocal and harmonies. One wonders what’ll happen next? What follows, is a joyous, hooky track. It’s as if Pleasure have sought inspiration from The Jacksons. They dig deep and mix soul, funk and jazz horns. There’s even some rocky guitars thrown in for good measure on this delicious and joyous dance track.

Closing Special Things and Pleasure’s time at Fantasy Records, is You Are My Star. Space-age synths meander along. They add a melancholy sound, while the bass, guitar and flugelhorn add to the atmospheric sound. Jazz and funk are combined to create a wistful, melancholy farewell from Pleasure, that showed the direction their music could’ve moved towards.

Special Things represented the end of an era for Pleasure. It was their final album for Fantasy Records. They picked up where they left on Future Now. It marked a change in sound and style. There was still funk, soul, jazz and rock. However, on Future Now, Pleasure’s music took on a space-age, experimental sound. To some extent Special Things featured more of the same. That’s no bad things.

Sadly, Special Things didn’t see Pleasure leave on a high. Neither Special Things, nor the singles matched the commercial success of Future Now. That’s despite Special Things being heavily promoted by Fantasy Records. They wanted to build on the success of Future Now. To do this, Pleasure returned to the formula that made Future Now a success. Soul, funk and dance music were combined by Pleasure on Special Things’ eight tracks. It didn’t match the commercial success of its predecessor though. There’s a reason for that.

Music had changed in the last year. Disco had died and there had been a huge backlash against anything remotely connected to disco. This was affecting sales of soul and funk music too. Special Things despite its quality, was caught in the crossfire. The musical environment had changed. Soon, another musical genre would replace disco. In the meantime, music was at a crossroads. So were Pleasure. What the Future Now held for them was still to be decided.

Having left Fantasy Records after the release of Special Things, which was recently released by BGP, a subsidiary of Ace Records, Pleasure released just one more album. That was Give It Up in 1981. It reached a disappointing number 164 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty in the US R&B Charts. That was the last album Pleasure released. Looking back, the best music of Pleasure’s seven album career was the music they released at Fantasy Records. This started with their 1975 debut Dust Yourself Off, and  finished with 1980s Special Things. Standout Tracks: Special Things, Take A Chance, Living Without You and You Are My Star. 

PLEASURE-SPECIAL THINGS.

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