HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES-REACHING FOR THE WORLD.

HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES-REACHING FOR THE WORLD.

Wake Up Everybody marked the end of an era for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Not only was To Be True the last Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ album to feature Teddy Pendergrass, but it was their last album to be released on Philadelphia International Records. It was the end of an era for a band that started back in 1954.

Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes had originally been formed back in the early fifties, as The Charlemagnes, and became The Blue Notes in 1954. Two years later, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released their debut single If You Love Me (Really Love Me) in 1956. Since then, they’d toured and released singles, but struggled to make a living. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes had struggled for success on the supper club circuit for fourteen years. They were no overnight success story. It was only when Harold Melvin brought Teddy Pendergrass onboard that their fortunes improved. Originally the drummer, the charismatic baritone became lead singer. Teddy Pendergrass was an unknown quantity, but Harold Melvin took a chance on him. Sadly and ultimately, Harold’s generosity wasn’t rewarded. 

Between 1972 and 1975, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released a quartet of albums. This included two number one US R&B albums and four number one US R&B singles. By the time Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes released Wake Up Everybody in November 1975, Teddy Pendergrass felt he deserved star billing. That’s despite the group being billed as Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass from the release of Wake Up Everybody, their fourth album. Teddy believed the success of the group was down to him. What he forgets in the Blue Notes’ trademark harmonies. Then in 1976, Teddy Pendergrass quit the group over money. 

Gamble and Huff who founded Philadelphia International Records, offered Teddy a recording contract. However, Teddy was only willing to sign the contract if Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes weren’t signed to Philadelphia International Records. So forgetting how Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes helped transform Philadelphia International Records, from a small unknown label into one of the biggest soul labels, Teddy Pendergrass got his way. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes found themselves without a label. 

Then in 1977, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes signed to ABC Records. Their debut album for ABC Records was Reaching For The World, which was recently released by PTG Records. This was the start of a new era for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Their lineup was transformed. Three new members joined the group. Replacing Teddy Pendergrass was David Ebo, while Dwight Johnson and William Spratley replaced Blue Notes Bernard Wilson and Jerry Cummings. It was this new lineup that featured on Reaching For The World. Before I tell you about Reaching For The World, I’ll tell you about their career since they joined Philadelphia International Records.

It was in 1970, that Teddy Pendergrass joined Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. Two years later, they were signed to Philadelphia International Records. During 1972, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes enjoyed their first taste of chart success. I Miss You (Part 1) reached number fifty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number seven in the US R&B Charts. Then If You Don’t Know Me By Now, reached number three in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. were on the way to becoming one of the label’s biggest acts.

In August 1972, that the group released their debut album, originally entitled I Miss You. However, after the success of If You Don’t Know Me By Now, the second single released from the album, Philadelphia International Records decided to repackage the album, giving it a new cover and title, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes. The now entitled Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, reached number fifty-three in the US Billboard 200 and four in the US R&B Charts. This was a more than satisfactory outcome for what many people perceive is the classic line up of the group. This was Teddy Pendergrass singing lead vocal, with Harold Melvin, Lloyd Parks, Lawrence Brown and Bernie Wilson singing harmonies and backing vocals. 

After this, the group embarked on its most successful period, with Black and Blue their second album, released in September 1973, reaching number twenty-seven in the US Billboard 200 and five in the US R&B Charts. It featured one of their most successful singles, The Love I Lost (Part 1), which reached number seven in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Soon, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were rivaling The O’Jays for the title as Philadelphia International Records’ most successful group.

1975 saw the group’s popularity soar, with them releasing two hugely successful albums. The first was To Be True, which was released in February 1975. It reached number twenty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. It became the group’s first album to be certified gold. Things were about to get even better.

Later that year, in November 1975, To Be True’s success was surpassed by Wake Up Everybody. It reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Not only that, but it was certified platinum, have sold over one million copies. As if that wasn’t enough, Wake Up Everybody (Part 1), the first single released from the album reached number twelve in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes were enjoying the most successful period of their career. What could go wrong?

Then in 1976, Teddy Pendergrass, left the group after an argument over money. Teddy seemed to think he was bigger than the group. He wanted top billing, so Harold Melvin agreed to group being billed as Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass. From the release of Wake Up Everybody, this was how the group were billed. That wasn’t enough for Teddy. So, he quit the group and signed to Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records.

Ironically, 1975 proved to be the end of an era for Philadelphia International Records. The label lost many of the founding members of its legendary studio band M.F.S.B. They’d been involved in a lengthy dispute with Gamble and Huff over money. When it couldn’t be resolved, many of the best musicians in M.F.S.B. left the label. This included Baker, Harris, Young and Vince Montana Jr. They were much more than musicians. Indeed, they were arrangers, producers and songwriters. This hugely affected Philadelphia International Records, who never enjoyed the same commercial success. Apart from The O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass, Philadelphia International Records was never enjoyed the same commercial success as they were between 1972 and 1975. After that commercial success was sporadic. That was the golden period. So were Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes leaving at the right time?

When Gamble and Huff offered Teddy a recording contract as a solo artist,  he said he’d only sign on one condition. That was that Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes weren’t signed to Philadelphia International Records. It was an ultimatum. Gamble and Huff forgetting how Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes helped transform Philadelphia International Records, from a small unknown label into one of the biggest soul labels, agreed. At a stroke, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes found themselves without a label. The unknown drummer and singer they’d rescued from obscurity, had made sure they were without a record label.

Then in 1977, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes signed to ABC Records. Their debut album for ABC Records was Reaching For The World, which was recently released by PTG Records. This new era for Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes began with their fifth album Reaching For The World. 

For Reaching For The World, Harold Melvin penned He Loves You And I Do Too and Big Singing Star. Harold cowrote two other tracks He wrote Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way with Melvin and Mervin Steals, then cowrote After You Love Me, Why Do You Leave Me with Kenny Gamble. Hubert V. Yarborough wrote Sandman and Hostage Part 1&2. Derek Floyd wrote the title-track, while MacFadden and Whitehead cowrote Stay Together with Victor Castarphen. These eight tracks became Reaching For The World.

Recording of Reaching For The World took place at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studio, in Philly. This was where all the Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes had been recorded. Producing Reaching For The World was Harold Melvin. Once Reaching For The World was finished, it was released in 1977.

On the release of Reaching For The World in 1977, it reached just number fifty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. The lead single was Reaching For The World, which reached number seventy-four in the US Billboard 100 and number six in the US R&B Charts. Then After You Love Me, Why Do You Leave Me, which featured Sharon Paige reached number 102 in the US Billboard 100 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. Hostage Parts 1&2 was chosen as the final single, but failed to chart. Although Reaching For The World hadn’t matched the heights of their four album for Philadelphia International Records, their was life after Teddy Pendergrass. Indeed, some people on hearing David Ebo said Teddy who? Is that the case or was Teddy missed on Reaching For The World?

Opening Reaching For The World is the title-track. Swathes of the lushest strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp usher in David Ebo’s vocal. Straight away, you’re hooked. David’s worldweary vocal is full of emotion, sadness and regret. He brings the lyrics to life. It’s as if he’s lived the torment he’s singing about. Meanwhile, the rhythm section and percussion provide the pulsating heartbeat, while stabs of growling horns add drama. The Blue Notes add soaring heartfelt, harmonies and strings sweep on this delicious dance-floor friendly track that introduces us to David Ebo.

Melancholy horns bray while drums mark the time on Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way. Then after dramatic bursts of drums and stabs of piano, impassioned, soul-searching harmonies sweep in atop the lushest of strings. With Vince Montana Jr’s vibes for company, they set the scene for David Ebo on his first ballad. He unleashes an emotive powerhouse, vamping his way through the lyrics. His vocal oozes emotion and drama. Matching him for drama are the drums. They play a huge part in the arrangement. So do the harmonies. Then when the vocal changes hands, there’s no weak links. It’s as if the new Blue Notes are determined to prove their worth. This they do and then some. As for David, his soul-baring vocal oozes emotion and hurt.

After You Love Me, Why Do You Leave Me has a jazzy introduction. Horns blaze, strings sweep and the rhythm section roll back the years to another musical era. Propelled along by the bass, an school jazz track unfolds. Sharon Paige takes charge of the lead vocal. Her vocal veers between tender, feisty and sassy, while the Blue Notes add questioning, hurt-filled harmonies. As Sharon’s vocal drops out, David takes centre-stage. He drops his vocal. It’s much more tender, but wistful. Harmonies from The Sweethearts Of Sigma sweep in, before drums pound, horns blaze and strings dance. Then David and Sharon feed off each, driving each other to greater heights of soulfulness. All the time, The Sweethearts Of Sigma sweep in, adding harmonies on this hook-laden, jazz-tinged track.

Strings cascade as Sandman shares his secrets. With a jaunty arrangement the rhythm section provide the heartbeat, while strings dance and The Sweethearts Of Sigma add tender, wistful harmonies. They set the scene for David, whose vocal is heartfelt and tender. Delivered with sincerity, he shows that he’s a versatile frontman. He’s equally comfortable delivering a powerhouse of a vocal as he is a tender, gentle vocal. Drums pound adding dramas, harmonies sweep in. Their beauty caress your ears and are the perfect foil for David’s vocal. Needy, sincere and joyous he pleads: “don’t wake me from my dreams, I might never have this dream again.”

Hostage Part 1&2 bursts into life, Philly Soul and funk colliding head on. The band are given the opportunity to stretch their legs. Driven along by the rhythm section, horns growl, string swirl and Larry Washington adds congas. David’s vocal begins as a vamp, before become a Pendergrass-esque powerhouse. It’s an impressive sound. Especially, when accompanied by some of Philly’s finest musicians in full flight. Stabs of piano, percussion, horns and strings all play their as David vamps and testifies. Quite simply, this is one of the highlights of Reaching For The World and a forgotten gem in Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes back-catalogue.

A soaring, soul-searching falsetto opens He Loves You and I Do Too. It gives way to the harmonies, before the falsetto returns. An outpouring of emotion, it’s accompanied by an understated arrangement. Just the rhythm section, piano, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and lush strings combine. Then drums pound and David’s vocal enters. He delivers his vocal with power and emotion, proving the perfect foil for the falsetto. When it drops out, The Blue Notes’ harmonies fill the spaces. Their harmonies are poignant and melancholy, adding the finishing touch to this tug of love.

Big Singing Star was the second track written by Harold Melvin. Not only does it show that Harold is a talented songwriter, but a talented producer on this epic fusion of funk and Philly Soul. Despite his undoubted talent, it’s seems strange that Gamble and Huff didn’t allow Harold to write or produce his own music. At ABC Records he had a fresh start and was coming into his own. This is obvious from the opening bars. Against a myriad of growling horns, thunderous drums and dancing strings, David vamps his way through the arrangement. Stabs of piano and urgent harmonies add to the drama of this epic track that sees Harold Melvin blossom as a songwriter and producer. As for David Ebo, he’s comfortably settling into the role of frontman and seems to be relishing the role. 

Closing Reaching For The World is Stay Together, which was written by McFadden and Whitehead with Victor Castarphen. Horns rasp, strings cascade, strings chime and the rhythm section provides the heartbeat. They set the scene for needy, tender harmonies from the Blue Notes. As strings quiver, David’s vocal is needy, almost pleading: “let’s forget about the past… we can Stay Together.” As his vocal drops out, the an equally needy falsetto sweeps in. Adding the finishing touch are harmonies. They add to the drama and emotion, all the time encouraging them to “Stay Together.”

Reaching For The World is a truly underrated album in Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes’ back-catalogue. It’s proof that Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes career didn’t end when Teddy Pendergrass left. There’s no question that there was life after Teddy Pendergrass and Philadelphia International Records. The loss of Teddy Pendergrass hurt Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, but was not a fatal blow. It definitely, affected the group as a commercial entity and couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

When Teddy left Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes in 1976, they’d they’d just released their most successful album Wake Up Everybody. ironically, Teddy left over an argument over money. Who knows what heights and riches they’d have enjoyed if they’d stayed together. Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes this must have been hugely disappointing. For Harold Melvin, who rescued Teddy from obscurity, this must have been akin to an act of betrayal. However, Harold had a secret weapon…David Ebo. He was one of three new members of Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes.

On Reaching For The World, David brings the music to life. He grabs songs and makes them work. Whether it’s ballads, dance-tracks or funky vamps, he makes the song his own. He’s no Teddy clone. No. Far from it. David is his own man with his own unique style. On the slower songs, he doesn’t over-sing the songs. He’s not like some soul singers, whose style is almost a parody of a soul singer. That’s not David’s style. Then on the uptempo tracks, David unleashes a series of vocal powerhouses. He vamps his way through songs as Philly Soul and funk becomes one. There’s even an opportunity for David to demonstrate his versatility on the jazzy After You Love Me, Why Do You Leave Me. For David Ebo, Reaching For The World saw him fill Teddy’s shoes for the first time. As for Harold Melvin, he blossomed having left Philadelphia International Records.

Having signed to ABC Harold Melvin got the chance to show he was a talented songwriter and producer. He wrote two tracks and cowrote two others. This was very different to Philadelphia International Records. Despite his undoubted talent, Gamble and Huff didn’t allow Harold to write or produce his own music. At ABC Records Harold Melvin, just like David Ebo had a fresh start and was coming into his own. 

Sadly, Harold Melvin and David Ebo’s fresh start wasn’t the commercial success it deserved to be. Reaching For The World reached just number fifty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts. When the title-track was released as a single, it gave Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes the final hit single in the US Billboard 100. Despite not matching the success of their four previous albums, Reaching For The World is a full of slick arrangements and music that’s infectiously catchy, hook-laden and dance-floor friendly. Then there’s funky tracks and gorgeous, heartfelt ballads. That’s why Reaching For The World, which was released by PTG Records, is a hidden gem in Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes back-catalogue. Reaching For The World also proved there was life after Teddy Pendergrass. Standout Tracks: Reaching For The World, Where There’s A Will There’s A Way, Hostage Part 1&2 and Big Singing Star.

HAROLD MELVIN AND THE BLUE NOTES-REACHING FOR THE WORLD.

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