Sweet, sexy and serious soul from Philly’s finest.
Daryl Easlea 2011
James Brown's trombone player, Fred Wesley, once called the work of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records (PIR) "funk with a bow tie", and the group that truly embodied that was Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes.
Backed by PIR’s invincible house band, MFSB, the Philadelphia scene veterans in the Blue Notes had melancholy down pat. Lead vocalist Teddy Pendergrass was able to convey heartache, emotion and elation in equal measure. Black & Blue was Melvin & The Blue Notes’ second album for the label, following the success of their self-titled debut in 1972, which contained the much-covered and much-loved If You Don’t Know Me by Now.
Black & Blue is probably the best of their PIR work. The Love I Lost became one of the group’s biggest hits. Originally intended as a ballad, co-writer and producer Gamble encouraged the band to speed up the song, and in doing so created a sad, swaggering, up-tempo classic. It All Depends on You is climatic and powerful, a work that has, like the best PIR catalogue, a deeper message reflecting the Civil Rights movement amid a love song. Is There a Place for Me is dark and brooding, while I'm Comin’ Home Tomorrow had poignancy for those returning from the Vietnam War.
Levity arrives in the form of Satisfaction Guaranteed (Or Take Your Love Back), a full gospel-influenced boogie about nothing weightier than getting a prospective lover between the sheets. "I don't want to sound conceited / But I'm the one you've always needed," would just sound like boasting from anyone else but Pendergrass. He then adds, "You've got no reason to be nervous / Teddy Bear's gonna give you the best of service." No wonder he vied with Isaac Hayes and Marvin Gaye for the position of America’s number one love man in the early 70s.
Black & Blue is spoiled only by the curious inclusion of the album’s opener, a minute-and-a-half introduction of Kander and Ebb’s show tune Cabaret, then incredibly popular due to the Oscar-winning movie of the same name. Its strange vaudevillian vibes remind you of the band’s nightclub roots, yet it jars against the remainder of the album’s sweet, sexy and serious soul.