BLUE MAGIC-WELCOME BACK.

BLUE MAGIC-WELCOME BACK.

In 1978, in an attempt to rejuvenate their career, Atco decided that Blue Magic should work with a new producer. So Skip Scarborough was brought onboard to produce Message From The Magic. Skip replaced Bobby “Electronic” Eli, who produced Mystic Dragons. However, a change of producer was just one of a number of changes that would take place.  

Rather than record Message From The Magic in Philly, recording took place in Los Angeles. No expense was spared. Some of L.A.’s top session players were drafted in. They replaced members of The Salsoul Orchestra who had always accompanied Blue Magic. These session players would accompany a new lineup of Blue Magic.

Vernon and Wendell Sawyers left Blue Magic after Mystic Dragons. This was a huge blow. They were  huge part of Blue Magic’s sound. Their replacements were Michael Buchanan and Walter Smith. They made their debut on Message From The Magic. The decision to hire proved to be flawed Skip Scarborough. He failed to rejuvenate Blue Magic’s career. Their career was at a crossroads before Skip Scarborough arrived. Worse was to come.

Following the abject failure of Message From The Magic, Blue Magic left Atco. To say their career had stalled, was an understatement. Blue Magic didn’t even have a recording. For three long years, Blue Magic never released another album. Philly Soul was no longer popular. Nor was disco. It had died in 1979. Music was changing, and changing fast. So artists and groups were desperately reinventing themselves. Not Blue Magic. They returned to what they did best. 

This meant Blue Magic’s formula of romantic ballads, slow jams and dance tracks. This is how they made their name. It had proved successful in the past. One of the mean who’d worked with Blue Magic during the most successful period of his career was producer Norman Harris. That’s who Blue Magic turned to, in an attempt to rejuvenate their career. Norman Harris would produce Blue Magic’s comeback album Welcome Back for Capitol Reords. Welcome Back was recently rereleased by FTG Records. For Blue Magic, this was almost like starting over. It was a long way from 1974.

Blue Magic’s eponymous debut album was released in January 1974, reaching number forty-five in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts. This resulted in Blue Magic being certified gold. Blue Magic featured the million-selling Philly Soul classic Sideshow, written by Vinnie Barrett and Bobby “Electronic” Eli. Sadly, after their debut album, Blue Magic failed to replicate the success of Blue Magic. 

The Magic of The Blue, released in December 1974, reached number seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and number fourteen in the US R&B Charts. Even when the Vinnie Barrett and Bobby “Electronic” Eli, penned Three Ring Circus was released as a single, it stalled at number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the US R&B Charts. Blue Magic’s fortunes improve during 1975.

1975 saw Blue Magic embark on their first world tour. It lasted sixteen grueling and exhausting weeks. However, their luck was about to improve. Blue Magic won an Ebony Award for the best new group. Then in September 1975, their third album, Thirteen Blue Magic Lane reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number nine in the US R&B Charts. With Blue Magic’s fortunes improving, work began on their next album Mystic Dragons. For Mystic Dragons, there would be some changes.

Unlike Blue Magic’s first three albums, Norman Harris wasn’t producing Mystic Dragons. Neither would Norman provide any of the songs on Mystic Dragons. Given Norman had co-written eleven songs on Blue Magic’s three previous albums this would be a huge void. Another void was the loss of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. Unsurprisingly On the release of Mystic Dragons in 1976, it was the least successful album of Blue Magic’s career. 

Mystic Dragons stalled at number 170 in the US Billboard 200 and number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. Three singles were released from Mystic Dragons during 1976. Freak-N-Steln only reached number seventy-three in the US R&B Charts. It’s Something About Love then reached number forty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Summer Snow proved to be the most successful single, reaching number forty in the US R&B Charts. That was a small crumb of comfort for Blue Magic, who lost two of their original lineup.

Vernon and Wendell Sawyers left after Mystic Dragons. This was a huge blow. They were  huge part of Blue Magic’s sound. Their replacements were Michael Buchanan and Walter Smith. Blue Magic’s newest recruits made their debut on Blue Magic’s fifth studio album Message From The Magic, which was released in 1978.

Message From The Magic was produced by Skip Scarborough, and recorded in Los Angeles. It was a case of all change. Even the musicians who’d previously provided the backdrop for Blue Magic were changed. Skip Scarborough was a new broom, determined to sweep clean. Ironically, he produced the least successful and most disappointing album of Blue Magic’s career. On the release of Message From The Magic in 1978, it failed to chart. For Blue Magic this was the least successful album of their career. The decision to move from Philly to L.A. had been a disaster. Worse was to come.

Blue Magic left Atco following the abject failure of Message From The Magic in 1978. Three years passed before Blue Magic set foot in a recording studio. Guiding them every step of the way was producer Norman Harris and some of Philly’s finest arrangers, producers, songwriters, musicians and backing vocalists.

When recording of Welcome Back began at Alpha International Studios and Sigma Sound Studios, in Philadelphia, ten tracks were to be recorded. Eight of the tracks were penned by members of Blue Magic. Alan Felder penned All I Really Need Is You and the Hendricks penned Welcome Back. Accompanying Blue Magic was an all-star case of former members of M.F.S.B. and The Salsoul Orchestra. 

Providing Welcome Back’s heartbeat were the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They were joined by guitarists Bobby Eli and T.J. Tindall. Vince Montana Jr. added vibes and percussion, while Larry Washington played percussion and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey, Lenny Pakula and Carlton “Cotton” Kent keyboards. Adding the strings and horns were Don Renaldo and His Swinging Strings and Horns. Adding backing vocals were the legendary Sweethearts of Sigma, Carla Benson, Barbara Ingram and Evette Benton. Their unmistakable harmonies were augmented by Bruce Grey, Mikki Farrow, Carl Helm, Phil Hurtt. With so many familiar faces, it was like Blue Magic’s early days, when they were enjoying commercial success and critical acclaim. However, some things were changing.

Lead singer Ted Mills didn’t just play piano on Welcome Back, but synths. So did Eugene Curry. He played synths, Fender Rhodes and Mini Moog. Philly Soul, it seems, was changing. Would this result in Blue Magic’s career being rejuvenated? 

On the release of Welcome Back in 1981, it was a case of deja vu. Welcome Back failed to chart. Neither of the singles, Land of Make-Believe nor Seems I Haven’t Seen Her charted. Sadly, bringing back Norman Harris and his all-star cast hadn’t rejuvenated Blue Magic’s career. However, Welcome Back is vintage Blue Magic.

Opening Welcome Back is The Oscar, which was co-produced by Ron Tyson. A roll of drums signals the arrival of swirling strings and a Thom Bell horn. Meanwhile the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section provide the heartbeat. Ron Baker’s bass meanders along, Norman Harris’ guitar chimes and Earl Young’s drum add drama. This is the perfect backdrop for Ted Mills’ tender, heartfelt, falsetto. Cooing harmonies soar above the arrangement. They’re joined by braying horns, sweeping strings and bursts of thunderous drums. They provide a dramatic backdrop to Ted’s emotive vocal as Blue Magic roll back the years. With an all-star cast of Philly’s finest musicians and backing singers, Blue Magic produce a vintage slice of Philly Soul.

Feelin’ The Love bursts into life, and Blue Magic head for the dance-floor. What follows is an irresistible dance-track. From the get-go, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section propel the arrangement along. Strings dance and horns rasp as Ted delivers a joyous, lovestruck vocal. It’s as if he and the rest of Blue Magic have been inspired. They’re a totally different band from the one on Message From The Magic. Blue Magic seem reenergised. Especially Ted. His vocal glides atop the lush strings. Harmonies coo, while Ron Baker unleashes some funky licks. It’s the perfect foil for the myriad of percussion, strings and horns that accompany Ted on this joyous and irresistible dance-track.

There’s no let up in the quality on Who Could Ever Leave You. It’s Philly Soul with a funky twist. Baker, Harris, Young join forces with percussion and lush strings. They set the scene for tender harmonies. Then a dramatic burst of Earl Young’s drums signal the arrival of Ted’s rueful vocal. The way he sings “Who Could Ever Leave You,” it’s as if the lyrics are personal. Cooing harmonies sweep in, while Ron Baker’s bass and Norman Harris’ crystalline guitar add a funky twist to this deliciously soulful track.

Strings dance and drums pound as Welcome Back reveals its secrets. Baker, Harris, Young add a funky backdrop as the tempo increases and things get funky. Ted delivers his vocal quickly, combining hope and joy. Harmonies glide in, strings quiver, the rhythm section drive the arrangement along and horns growl. Later, Norman Harris unleashes a funky solo while Ted and the rest of Blue Magic urgently and soulfully, drive each other to great heights.

Land Of Make Believe was the track that closed the first side of Welcome Back. It’s a slow ballad. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes combine with a chiming guitar, cooing harmonies and lush strings. Along with a Fender Rhodes, they set the scene for Ted’s tender, seductive vocal. Earl Young’s drums add an element of drama as Ted’s vocal grows in power and passion. Every step of the way, the rest of Blue Magic’s harmonies compliment Ted’s vocal during this romantic paean. It allows Blue Magic to showcase their vocal prowess. No wonder. This is what Blue Magic made their name doing. In their day, Blue Magic were one of the finest purveyors of Philly Soul.

Seems I Haven’t Seen Her floats into being. Baker, Harris, Young provide the heartbeat and the lushest of strings glide in. They’re joined by Blue Magic’s sweeping harmonies. When the vocal enters, it’s needy and hopeful. It changes hands. Ted’s falsetto provides a contrast. he breaths life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics.  As for Norman Harris’ production, it’s a mini masterpiece, reminiscent of Thom Bell’s work with The Stylistics. That’s how good it is. 

Baker, Harris, Young join forces with strings and Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah guitar, rasping horns and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes  on Standin’ On The Edge Of A Love Affair. The result is a fusion of Philly Soul and funk with a slightly futuristic twist. That’s until Ted’s vocal enters. It’s heartfelt and impassioned. That’s still the case when the vocal changes hands. After that, another slice of vintage Philly Soul ufolds. Ron Baker’s  bass would help drive the arrangement along, while Earl Young’s drums and growling horns inject an element of drama. This sets the scene for Blue Magic to deliver a heartfelt, hopeful vocal masterclass.

Let There Be Love sees the tempo drop again, and Blue Magic deliver another beautiful ballad. Framing Ted’s wistful, thoughtful vocal are lush strings, braying horns and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes. Underpinning the arrangement is the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. They provide a melancholy, understated backdrop for Blue Magic. Before long, the vocal changes hands. It’s needy, hopeful and like the arrangement, grows in drama. Ted’s falsetto is the perfect foil.  He adds urgent backing vocals, as Blue Magic demonstrate that when it comes to balladry, they were among the best.

All I Really Need Is You has a bubbling, funky introduction as keyboards, percussion and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with strings. So does Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s wah-wah, a synth and braying horns. Then when Ted Mills’ tender, heartfelt vocal enters, it’s all change. The arrangement takes on a vintage sound. Ron Baker’s bass helps propel the arrangement along. Norman Harris’ crystalline guitar chimes and swells of strings sweep. Meanwhile, Ted unleashes a vocal powerhouse and the arrangement, complete with bubbling synth and harmonica glides, before reaching an emotive crescendo.

Remember November closes Welcome Back, Blue Magic’s comeback album. Stabs of melancholy keyboards give way to pizzicato strings and Ted’s wistful vocal. Ron Baker’s bass drives the arrangement along. It features swathes of strings, Norman Harris’ chiming guitar and braying horns. The Sweethearts of Sigma contribute cooing harmonies. They glide and sweep in and out of the arrangement, as Ted’s vocal grows in power and emotion. They’re the perfect foil to Ted as he unleashes another impassioned vocal masterclass.

Blue Magic’s comeback album Welcome Back, was a welcome return to form. It was a far better album than the disappointing Message From The Magic. No wonder. Skip Scarborough had been replaced as producer. He didn’t bring out the best in Blue Magic. Granted he played to their strengths, combining ballads with dance-tracks. However, some of the tracks just weren’t good enough. Another problem was that Blue Magic didn’t sound like Blue Magic. Their trademark Philly Soul sound seemed to have been diluted. This wasn’t the first time this happened.

It happened in 1976, when Blue Magic released their fourth album Mystic Dragons. Unlike their first three albums, it wasn’t produced by Norman Harris. Instead, Mystic Dragons was produced by Bobby “Electronic” Eli. He fused Philly Soul, gospel and a much more funky sound. This didn’t go down well with Blue Magic’s fans. Mystic Dragons became the least successful album of their career. That’s until 1978 and the  release of the Skip Scarborough Message From The Magic. Its commercial failure resulted in Blue Magic leaving Atco. Three years later, Norman Harris returned to the fold and produced their best album in six years, Welcome Back.

On Welcome Back, Norman Harris and his all-star band provided the perfect backdrop for Blue Magic. No wonder. Look at the calibre of musicians accompanying Blue Magic. The Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, Vince Montana Jr, Bobby “Electronic” Eli, Larry Washington, Don Renaldo and The Sweethearts of Sigma were Philly Soul royalty. They’d been members of M.F.S.B. and then The Salsoul Orchestra. These musicians had played on Blue Magic’s first four albums. However, Blue Magic’s best and most successful albums were the trio produced by Norman Harris. 

Norman rolled back the years for Blue Magic on Welcome Back. From the opening bars of The Oscar, right through to the closing notes of Remember November, Norman Harris’ all-star band provide the perfect backdrop for Blue Magic. Ted Mills and the rest of Blue Magic seemed to raise their game. They drove each other to greater heights of soulfulness. Aiding and abetting Blue Magic were Norman Harris and his all-star band. Whether it was romanic ballads, slow jams or dance tracks, they provided the perfect backdrop for Blue Magic on Welcome Back. It was a welcome return to form from Blue Magic. Sadly, Welcome Back failed commercially.

The reason for this is simple. By the early eighties. music was changing, and changing fast. Philly Soul was no longer as popular. The same can be said of all forms of soul music. As for disco, it was long dead. Boogie had replaced it in popularity. So even the dance tracks on Welcome Back passed people by. For Ted Mills and the rest of Blue Magic, their reunion with Norman Harris and his all-star band hadn’t been a commercial success. At least, Welcome Back was a welcome return to form from Blue Magic.

Welcome Back sees Blue Magic roll back the years. It’s a return to the music they released on Blue Magic, The Magic Of The Blue and Thirteen Blue Magic Lane. There’s a reason for that. Norman Harris returned to the producer’s chair and with his all-star band, produced Blue Magic’s best album in six years, Welcome Back. It’s the last great album Blue Magic released. Welcome Back was a welcome return to form from Blue Magic, one of the finest purveyors of Philly Soul.

BLUE MAGIC-WELCOME BACK.

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