You Just Can’t Walk Away: The Dells Come “One Step Closer” On New Reissue
It can be fairly said that no group in popular music has had a run quite like that of The Dells. The mighty Chicago group, founded in 1952, can boast a line-up of five – Mickey McGill, Verne Allison, Marvin Junior, Chuck Barksdale and Johnny Carter – that didn’t change between 1960 and 2009, the year of Carter’s passing! Such longevity has meant that The Dells have prospered through numerous musical trends, only altering the instrumentation around their velvet vocals. Cherry Red’s SoulMusic label recently reissued two of The Dells’ seventies classics, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, But We Did It and Love Connection, in expanded form, and the label has now just turned its attention to another never-on-CD Dells classic, 1984’s One Step Closer.
Rather than the swirling strings that surrounded them on those two Philadelphia-produced LPs, One Step Closer immersed The Dells in a world of then-current synthesizers and drum machines. It was originally released on the CBS-distributed Private I label, and followed stints at Vee-Jay (where the doo-wop standard “Oh, What a Nite” debuted), Chess (Top 10 Pop hit “Stay in My Corner”), Mercury (the two Norman Harris-produced Philly soul albums), ABC and 20th Century. Private I seemed a good match for The Dells, as it was already home to soul survivors like The Chi-Lites and The Staple Singers. The group was paired with the hitmaking production team of Chuck Jackson (not the “Any Day Now” singer) and Marvin Yancy, who had launched the career of Natalie Cole with the smash “This Will Be.” (Cole and Yancy later married, though the union was short-lived.) In Lewis Dene’s excellent liner notes for SoulMusic’s new reissue, bass Chuck Barksdale recalls of One Step Closer that “it was the first time we had used what I call synthetic music, but the song was strong enough to make the track happen.” Indeed, the title track is instantly infectious, while other songs on the LP met the group’s usual high standard. The ballad “You Just Can’t Walk Away,” the album’s leadoff single, showed off Marvin Junior’s silky vocals in what amounts to an updated version of the kind of song Teddy Pendergrass might have recorded. The younger artist owed a great vocal debt to Marvin Junior, and the resemblance is immediately evident on the track.
You’ll find more after the jump, including the track listing with discography, and an order link!
Though Jackson and Yancy penned and produced most of the tracks on One Step Closer, room was made for a few outside tracks. Guitarist/songwriter/producer David Williams (Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”) offered the up-tempo “Don’t Want Nobody” and “Jody,” and Nick Ashford and Valarie Simpson’s dramatic Motown gem “I Am Your Man” was also revived by producers Danny Johnson and Archie Russel in a lush style showcasing Johnny Carter’s aching falsetto. Tragically, One Step Closer was one of Marvin Yancy’s final productions, as he died in 1985 of a heart attack at the age of 34. Despite its many strengths, the album couldn’t crack the American pop chart and barely made the Top 50 on the R&B side. The 2012 reissue has been expanded with the U.S. single edit of “You Just Can’t Walk Away,” and the U.S. single edit and “Remix Club Version” of “One Step Closer.” The Dub/Bonus Beats version of “One Step Closer” has not made the cut. The singles fared somewhat better than the album; “You Just Can’t Walk Away” hit No. 23 on the R&B chart, and “One Step Closer” made it to No. 46. Alan Wilson has remastered “from master tapes provided by Sony Music U.K. and Sony Music U.S.”.
The Dells continued to record, turning out new albums every few years on varied labels like Philadelphia International, Veteran and Volt. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees recently announced their retirement, but it’s unlikely that the music of The Dells will “retire” any time soon. One Step Closer is available now from SoulMusic Records, and can be ordered below!
The Dells, One Step Closer: Expanded Edition (Private I LP BFZ 39309, 1984 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5056, 2012)
- One Step Closer
- Love On
- You Just Can’t Walk Away
- Come On Back to Me
- Holdin’ On
- Don’t Want Nobody
- I Am Your Man
- You Just Can’t Walk Away (U.S. Single Edit) (Private I single 04343, 1984)
- One Step Closer (U.S. Single Edit) (Private I single 04448, 1984)
- One Step Closer (U.S. Remix Club Version) (Private I single 4Z9-04995, 1984)