Though their appearance on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack ensured that Tavares would always be associated with disco, the New England band of brothers (Ralph, Pooch, Chubby, Butch and Tiny!) had its roots in classic soul. They began in 1959 as Chubby and the Turnpikes (!) and eventually notched hits on the R&B charts like 1974’s “She’s Gone” (two years before Hall and Oates’ own version of the song achieved chart success) and 1975’s “It Only Takes a Minute,” which also crossed over to the pop chart. That Dennis Lambert/Brian Potter song from 1975’s Sky High LP found a suitable follow-up hit in the next year’s “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel,” from In the City. Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint reissued those two Tavares albums in 2011, and the label has recently turned its attention to two more long-players from the group, 1979’s Madam Butterfly and 1980’s Love Uprising. (Supercharged, the album that chronologically falls between Madam and Love Uprising was also the recipient of a SoulMusic upgrade earlier in 2012.)
To diversify their sound beyond the expected disco, Tavares turned in 1978 to arranger/producer Bobby Martin, a veteran of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label. By 1979, many key members of the Gamble/Huff team had split from the soul empire, and Martin was among them. The man who gave Gamble, Huff and Cary Gilbert’s song “Me and Mrs. Jones” its steamy orchestration was responsible for arranging or co-arranging every track on Madam Butterfly, and his touch is evident throughout. Martin and his team (including writers Len Ron Hanks and Zane Grey, who contributed five songs, and Sam Dees, who wrote three) brought silk and soul from the city of Brotherly Love to the Massachusetts brothers. Another Philly alum, Ron Kersey, shared horn and string chart duties with Martin, and played a variety of instruments (electric piano, acoustic piano, clavinet, organ, melodica) on the LP. Martin and his arrangers took pains to spotlight the vocal blend of Tavares’ members with close-knit, gospel-influenced harmonies, all on a bed of rich orchestrations.
Madam Butterfly is so laden with hooks that Tiny Tavares opines in Kevin L. Goins’ new liner notes that “the DJs were playing the entire album so much that it cut into sales…[and] many folks didn’t feel the need to buy the record!” The album contains both ballads and danceable tracks that were lightly flecked with disco but more often harkened back to the lush, classic Philadelphia soul sound. There are smooth soul harmonies on “Games, Games,” dramatic, signature strings on the title track (“I can’t let you get away/I have got to catch you…”) and a sleek yet funky gloss on the lead single, “Never Had a Love Like This Before,” which went to No. 5 R&B. (The album went to No. 13 R&B, faring less well on the Top 200 with a No. 92 placement for the LP.) The Tavares brothers split up the lead vocal chores; Butch, Chubby and Pooch share “Never Had a Love,” Chubby and Butch savor the charms of “Madam Butterfly” and Chubby and Pooch trade off on the up-tempo “Only a Telephone Call Away.” Pooch takes the lead on “Love Calls,” a sweet, pleading ballad that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Philadelphia International album earlier in the decade. There’s even a brief, spoken rap.
SoulMusic’s expanded edition of Madam Butterfly gains three tracks: the 12-inch vocal and instrumental mixes of “Never Had a Love Like This Before,” and the single mix of second single “Straight from Your Heart,” the album’s opening track with Pooch on lead. The instrumental version particularly allows the the arrangement by Martin and Hanks to shine on its own considerable merits. Alan Wilson has remastered the album. Hit the jump for a Love Uprising! Plus: track listings and order links!
Bobby Martin was among those surprised that he wasn’t asked to helm a second album for Tavares; Tiny Tavares recalls that Capitol wished to align the group with Blood, Sweat and Tears’ Bobby Colomby as he had just come off a success with The Jacksons’ Destiny for Epic Records. Colomby produced Supercharged, handing off a couple of its songs to their writer, Benjamin Wright, and Wright in turn produced Love Uprising. Wright, like Martin, had distinct ideas as to how to restore the group to R&B supremacy. As he tells Kevin Goins in the new liner notes, “What I did with them was show them how to get results using different [vocal] techniques. Such as singing through clenched teeth so that they wouldn’t pop certain letters such as ‘p’ and ‘t’ and sing arrangements that were closer in certain keys.” (Some material is identical in both sets of notes, but there are new segments pertaining specifically to each album.)
With the Phenix Horns supplying a high energy quotient, Love Uprising couldn’t sound further afield from the Philadelphia sound. The horns aren’t providing subtle accents, but rather big blasts of brass, and “pure” R&B has given way to pop-funk in the style of Earth, Wind and Fire on tracks like Steve Kipner’s “Knock the Wall Down.” Wright’s slickly-produced album, though, has plenty to offer in SoulMusic’s reissue. Songs were sourced from a variety of writers, rather than the relatively few who provided a unified sound for Madam Butterfly. Angela Winbush and Rene Moore supplied the title track, and Jerry G. Taylor and Geoffrey Leib each offered a couple songs. Leib’s “She Can Wait Forever” is another track with all the hallmarks of the EWF sound replicated by Wright, and Taylor’s “In This Lovely World” features wistful, Bacharach-style horns. Motown vet Kathy Wakefield (The Supremes’ “Nathan Jones”) and producer Wright co-wrote songs with Butch and Tiny Tavares, individually and collectively, including the up-tempo rouser “Hot Love.” In another connection with the Sound of Young America, James Jamerson, Jr. – son of the legendary Funk Brother – handled bass, while Paulinho da Costa sat in on percussion. Wright’s ballad “Loneliness,” co-written with Louis Price, echoes the classic soul sound with a modern production idiom. Paul Smith’s synthesizer burbles through tracks like “Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight.” For Tavares, the 1980s had officially begun!
The SoulMusic reissue, remastered like Madam Butterfly by Alan Wilson, adds one bonus track, the single edit of first single “Love Uprising,” which went to No. 17 R&B. The single version cuts the song down by over two minutes’, for a distinct listening experience. Chubby and Tiny Tavares, as well as Benjamin Wright, were interviewed for the liner notes. (Daft Punk fans take note: the duo sampled “Break Down for Love” on the track “High Life” from their second studio album, Discovery!)
Both Madam Butterfly and Love Uprising are in stores now, and can be ordered below!
Tavares, Madam Butterfly (Capitol LP SW-11874, 1979 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5064, 2012)
- Straight from Your Heart
- Games, Games
- Madam Butterfly
- Let Me Heal the Bruises
- Never Had a Love Like This Before
- One Telephone Call Away
- My Love Calls
- Positive Forces
- I’m Back for More
- Never Had a Love Like This Before (12-Inch single – Vocal) (from Capitol single 8505, 1979)
- Never Had a Love Like This Before (12-inch single – Instrumental) (from Capitol single S-95388, 1979)
- Straight from Your Heart (Single Mix) (from Capitol single P-4703, 1979)
Tavares, Love Uprising (Capitol LP ST-12117, 1980 – reissued SoulMusic Records SMCR 5065, 2012)
- Only One I Need to Love
- Break Down for Love
- Love Uprising
- Knock the Wall Down
- Hot Love
- Don’t Wanna Say Goodnight
- Do You Believe in Love
- She Can Wait Forever
- In This Lovely World
- Lifetime of Love
- Love Uprising (Single Mix) (from Capitol single P-4933, 1980)