One could call bassist Ronnie Baker, guitarist Norman Harris and drummer Earl Young unsung heroes, but it’s not quite accurate to describe the triumvirate of musicians, songwriters, producers and arrangers as unsung. Individually or collectively, Baker, Harris and Young helmed productions by Blue Magic, The Trammps, First Choice, Ben E. King, Eddie Kendricks, The Whispers, The Persuaders, and so many more. As part of its ongoing series restoring the Salsoul Records catalogue to R&B supremacy, Big Break Records has recently reissued four albums that, in part or in full, boast the Baker-Harris-Young imprimatur. All boast comprehensive liner notes in well-designed booklets loaded with photos and artwork, upgraded sound, original Salsoul-style labels, and numerous bonus tracks.
Earl Young’s unmistakable drums are often said to have invented the sound of disco as he infused the use of the hi-hat cymbal into his playing on such landmark tracks for Philadelphia International Records as Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost.” His trademark style is at the root of B-H-Y, the 1979 Salsoul release which put the production team front and center (CDBBR 0223). Recorded at Philly’s Sigma Sound with regulars Bobby Eli and T.J. Tindall (guitars), Larry Washington (congas), the Sweethearts of Sigma (backing vocals) and Don Renaldo’s Horns and Strings, B-H-Y is a coda of sorts to the team’s incredibly productive tenure at Salsoul. Baker, Harris and Young had all followed Vince Montana out of the halls of PIR and to the upstart New York label, challenging Gamble and Huff for dancefloor supremacy. But by 1980, naysayers had pronounced disco dead (not quite true!) and Harris had done the unexpected and returned to the Philadelphia International fold, releasing his one and only solo album, The Harris Machine.
For one of their final major flings at Salsoul, B-H-Y turned out a set of eight funk and disco-flavored originals tailored for both the disco and the bedroom. The compositions aren’t up to the standards of the team’s finest, but the production values are as strong as ever. Norman Harris, always a virtuosic talent whose best work can compare favorably to that of Thom Bell or Bobby Martin, was in charge of B-H-Y’s highlights. Produced, arranged and co-written by Harris, the melodic “Handle Me with Love and Care” has the signature Philly horns and strings over a pulsating, Love Unlimited-style track. Ron Tyson, of The Ethics and The Temptations, joins with the Sweethearts for the sexy “Take My Body Now,” produced by Harris and arranged by George Bussey. If Harris helmed the album’s two most soulful songs, Earl Young produced its two edgiest tracks. “I Just Want to Funk (With You)” and “We Funk the Beat” both take a page from the Parliament-Funkadelic playbook. Bruce Gray (songwriter of First Choice’s “Let No Man Put Asunder”) co-wrote and sings lead vocals on “I Just Want to Funk (With You)” as well as his own production of “Touch Me While I’m Touching You.” B-H-Y ends with the exclamation, “B-H-Y, flying high!” and even if B-H-Y isn’t their finest hour, it’s worth a listen for disco and Philly soul connoisseurs. Big Break has treated the album with love and care in this edition remastered by reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson and annotated by Stephen SPAZ Schnee. One bonus track has been added, the 12-inch mix of the brassy, grooving album opener “Come As You Are.” Bring your dancing shoes!
After the jump, we're spinning BBR's expanded reissues from Loleatta Holloway, First Choice and Love Committee! Plus: full track listings with discography, and order links for all four titles!
Just a few months earlier in 1979, Norman Harris’ Salsoul-distributed Gold Mind label (a successor to his PIR-distributed Golden Fleece) released First Choice’s Hold Your Horses (CDBBR 0232). It was the group’s second of three albums for Gold Mind; the first, Delusions, was wonderfully reissued last year by Big Break. Baker, Harris and Young’s association with the girl group, however, went all the way back to their earliest recordings for Stan Watson’s Philly Groove label, and Harris co-wrote, arranged and conducted their 1973 hit “Armed and Extremely Dangerous.” For Hold Your Horses, production duties were split between the Philly contingent (Harris and McKinley Jackson) and the hot team of Tom Moulton and Thor Baldursson, who laid tracks down at Munich’s Music Land Studios. The group’s fifth album, it was the first to feature Debbie Martin. Formerly of Brenda and the Tabulations, Martin replaced Ursula Herring alongside the returning Rochelle Fleming and Annette Guest. Salsoul chief Ken Cayre had originally intended the entire album to be produced under the aegis of Moulton and Baldursson, finally ceding two tracks to Harris and Jackson when concerns were raised that the European sound was too far-removed from the Philly-meets-disco style for which the group was known. Yet the taut, six-song Hold Your Horses manages to achieve cohesion.
The first side of the original vinyl was taken by a sidelong suite of “Let Me Down Easy,” “Good Morning Midnight” and “Great Expectations,” with each track segueing into the next. John Davis’ sleek saxophone takes a prominent spot on “Let Me Down Easy,” introduced in 1976 by Rare Pleasure. The track sets the tone for the different yet still urbane sound ahead. Baldursson co-wrote the latter two songs with Pete Bellotte and Mats Björklund, further pushing the sonic envelope. “Good Morning Midnight” lyrically nods at the up-all-night club ethos, musically blending the expected beats with flamenco style guitar and percussion. “Great Expectations” has a tough riff, a dramatic sweep, and sensual vocals from First Choice. Christian John Wikane's copious and comprehensive liner notes reveal much about the album's background, including that “Hold Your Horses” was the most controversial of Baldursson and Moulton’s four productions. Yet despite Rochelle Fleming's initial reticence to sing over the galloping, breakneck track recorded far from the group’s usual Philadelphia home base, the result inspired the album title and scored a Top 5 Disco hit.
McKinley Jackson’s production of “Love Thang,” co-written with Melvin and Mervin Steals (“Could It Be I’m Falling in Love”), is far more down ‘n’ dirty than Moulton and Baldursson’s gleaming tracks. It’s not only one of the funkiest songs on Hold Your Horses, but one of the funkiest ever committed to vinyl by First Choice. (The song has since found further life as a sample, contributing to the No. 1 Rap success in 1991 of Chubb Rock’s “Treat ‘Em Right.”) Norman Harris produced the album’s finale, “Double Cross,” co-writing the song with Ron Tyson. With Harris’ own guitar out front in Moulton’s mix, it’s a triumphant conclusion to a game-changing LP. (Moulton’s original planned sequence – including three outtakes – is also revealed in Wikane’s essay.)
Big Break has expanded Hold Your Horses, remastered by Dickson and Nick Robbins, with seven bonus tracks – one more song than the original album had! Walter Gibbons’ beat-heavy “Disco Madness” Remix of “Let No Man Put Asunder” (from Delusions) takes a spot alongside six cuts associated with Horses: Baldursson and Bellotte’s mellow ballad B-side “Now That I’ve Thrown It All Away,” the single version of “Hold Your Horses,” three 12-inch remixes of “Double Cross” by Tom Moulton, Larry Levan, and Bobby “DJ” Guttadaro, and Tee Scott’s 12-inch Disco Mix of “Love Thang.” (Unidisc’s previous CD reissue lacked other bonuses on BBR’s edition but added Danny Tanaglia’s “Double Cross” and David Morales’ “Love Thang.”) “Now That I’ve Thrown It All Away” is a particularly wonderful inclusion, and is a strong enough song to have warranted inclusion on the original album. BBR has delivered a truly luxe Hold Your Horses.
The 1976 Gold Mind debut of Chicago’s Loleatta Holloway is one of the crown jewels of the Salsoul catalogue, and in its long-awaited CD upgrade, it becomes one of BBR’s premier releases, as well. Like Hold Your Horses, Loleatta (CDBBR 0108) was assembled from two disparate groups of recordings. Two tracks hail from her hometown of Chicago, produced by her manager and future husband Floyd Smith, with the remaining six the work of Norman Harris and his Philadelphia crew including Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey and the other two-thirds of B-H-Y, Ronnie Baker and Earl Young. When Holloway joined Salsoul/Gold Mind, she had already accrued an impressive C.V., including singles for labels Apache, Aware and Galaxy (a subsidiary of the Bay Area’s Fantasy Records) and a stint in a Chicago production of the musical Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. Harris and co. crafted a record that allowed the church-reared, big-voiced singer to shine in a variety of R&B settings, making it all the more confounding that these songs didn’t cross over to pop success. (While reigning supreme on the disco chart, Salsoul had greater difficulty duplicating the Top 40 track record of Philadelphia International – despite employing much of the same personnel.)
It’s hard to imagine a more exciting opening salvo than Allan Felder, Ron Tyson and Norman Harris’ “Hit and Run,” arranged and produced by Harris in pull-out-all-the-stops mode. With the Baker-Harris-Young rhythm section in place (part of the Philadelphia team also including Ron Kersey, Bobby Eli, T.J. Tindall, T.G. Conway, Roland Chambers, Vince Montana and Larry Washington) and Harris scoring the swoop of the strings and the blare of the horns, Holloway brings a defiant roar in her voice: “When it comes to loving you, honey, I know what to do!” There was, simply, no doubt that she did. Two more upbeat tracks from the Felder-Tyson-Harris trio, “We’re Getting Stronger (The Longer We Stay Together)” and “Dreamin’,” afforded Holloway spoken monologues to which she committed the same level of fervor as she did singing. T.G. Conway arranged the and sassy “Dreamin’,” a Philly soul update of a girl group record – with prominent backup vocals – with Holloway confronting another woman with eyes for her man. “Dreamin’” should have gotten Loleatta to the top of the pops, but alas, the track only hit No. 72 on the U.S. Pop chart. Philly’s Ron Kersey helmed a slick revival of Baby Washington’s 1963 “That’s How Heartaches Are Made,” a supremely wistful song also recorded by Bette Midler and The Marvelettes.
Even on the grandly-arranged ballads, Holloway’s vocals are full-out. The Ron Kersey-arranged “It’s Just a Man’s Way” finds Loleatta in torch song mode, wringing each drop of emotion over a complement of strings, vibes, horns and subtle guitar fills: “He don’t bring me flowers like before/He doesn’t kiss me when he walks out the door/The things he used to say, he don’t say no more/Is it just a man’s way?” (Harris’ jazz-influenced guitar stands out on numerous tracks, recalling Wes Montgomery or Wes’ disciple George Benson.) Sam Dees’ “Worn Out Broken Heart,” a No. 25 R&B hit, was produced by Floyd Smith in Chicago, with Holloway’s impassioned vocal bringing deep “southern soul” to Salsoul. (Dees’ own rendition can be found on his 1974 album The Show Must Go On.) To close the original album, Smith and Holloway paid tribute to another Chicago legend with Curtis Mayfield’s “What Now,” elegantly delivered with prominent piano and a late-night supper club vibe.
Among the six bonus tracks is the single that contains perhaps Holloway’s greatest vocal. The Salsoul Orchestra’s “Run Away,” is a bolt of sheer energy and effervescence: “Yes, I’m gonna mess around,” Holloway authoritatively announces, “’cause that’s the way I want to be!” The impossibly catchy and eminently danceable opus not only boasts a strong hook but also flaunts the individual parts of the orchestral whole: tight guitar licks, symphonic strings, bold brass, flourishes of flute and, about three minutes in, a vibraphone solo from Montana. This grand production builds to a crescendo with a bit of vocal scatting and the string section at its most cinematic, swirling around those joyous vibes. “I’m just not the settling kind,” Holloway asserts; clearly, neither was the Salsoul Orchestra. “Run Away” is joined by 12-inch Disco Mixes of “Dreamin’,” “Hit and Run,” and “We’re Getting Stronger,” and single edits of “Worn Out Broken Heart” and “Dreamin’.” (The nine-minute disco mix of “Dreamin’” gives plenty more time to savor Holloway’s saucy ad libs and rap; “Hit and Run,” with its studio jam session ambience and some chatter, lasts a whopping eleven minutes.)
Loleatta Holloway went on to record four albums in all for Gold Mind; the second anointed her Queen of the Night, and indeed, she wore the crown of disco diva proudly. Loleatta can be viewed today as a transitional album, and also as one of Salsoul’s most purely soulful. It’s been worth the wait for this expanded edition, remastered by Nick Robbins and well-annotated by Rico “Superbizzee” Washington.
By the time Gold Mind released Love Committee’s Law and Order (CDBBR 0218) in 1978, the band was already a veteran act. Love Committee began its life in 1967 as The Ethics. Headed by Ron Tyson, The Ethics were an integral part of the Philadelphia soul scene since the sixties. They had cut singles on Vent, Wale and Lost Night Records, worked with the young Thom Bell, and eventually recorded for Philadelphia International, Golden Fleece (the label set up by Baker-Harris-Young under the PIR umbrella) and TSOP (another PIR imprint) in the seventies. Norman Harris was a boyhood friend of Tyson’s, and Harris and Bell even co-arranged one Ethics single (“Standing in the Darkness”). But when the owner of Wale Records claimed ownership of the group’s name, Tyson and Joe Freeman regrouped with new recruits Larry Richardson and Norman Frazier as Love Committee. Following a stint at Ariola, Love Committee came home to Philly and set up shop with B-H-Y’s new Salsoul residence. Tyson co-wrote every song on the album, with such familiar names as T.G. Conway, Bruce Hawes, Bruce Gray, Allan Felder and Norman Harris. The songs formed a loose concept album concerned with the “law and order” in a relationship, and the importance of doing what’s right in romance and in life. Tom Moulton was enlisted to mix the LP, recorded at Sigma Sound with Bobby Eli, Roland Chambers, Don Renaldo, and the usual suspects.
Law and Order is a quintessential Philadelphia-style group record circa 1978, and like Loleatta Holloway’s Gold Mind debut, Love Committee’s touched on numerous styles. The urgent title track and the biting “Pass the Buck” (both arranged by Harris) are prime Salsoul-style disco workouts, as is the album finale “Just as Long as I Got You,” arranged by Bruce Hawes. But the delicious four-part harmony vocals also shine on more atypical offerings. On “If You Change Your Mind,” Tyson’s stirring falsetto is the star, placing him in the good company of The Delfonics’ William “Poogie” Hart or The Stylistics’ Russell Thompkins, Jr. (In Rico “Superbizzee” Washington’s liner notes, Tyson recalls The Stylistics’ earliest Thom Bell-produced hits as having been originally intended for The Ethics!) “Cheaters Never Win” and “Put It in the Back of Your Mind” are both filled with swagger and yes, swing – a style frequently visited at PIR but not nearly as much at Salsoul by the ex-MFSB crew. Try not to snap your fingers while listening!
The role of Jack Faith on the record shouldn’t be underestimated. Flautist/saxophonist Faith was one of the few musicians who continued to work as part of MFSB for Gamble and Huff’s PIR while also playing for Salsoul, and indeed, when Vince Montana and Norman Harris led the exodus of MFSB Mk. I to Salsoul, Faith saw his role at PIR expand. He grew into one of the label’s most respected and busiest arrangers, credited with hits like The O’Jays’ “Used Ta Be My Girl.” While Harris and Ron Kersey handled the funkiest stuff on Law and Order, Faith was responsible for the charts of “If You Change Your Mind,” “Cheaters Never Win” and “Put It in the Back of Your Mind.”
Norman Harris, always a versatile musician, arranged another yearning ballad, “Give Her Love.” Freeman’s fiery, rough-hewn vocals give an edge to the lush orchestration which occasionally recalls Bell’s later-period Spinners work with a touch of MOR pop thrown in for good measure. With the lead vocals spread among the group members, Law and Order shows off the versatility of Love Committee. Tyson, of course, went on to join arguably the most famous R&B male harmony group of all time, The Temptations, but Law and Order can more than hold its own alongside any of the great Temps’ productions from the era. Bolstering the quartet’s strong vocals are choice contributions from the Sweethearts of Sigma, credited here as The Philadelphia Angels.
BBR has added four bonus tracks, all 12-inch Disco Mixes: “Cheaters Never Win,” “Law and Order,” “Just As Long As I Got You,” and B-side “Where Will It End.” (The 7-inch single versions of “Law and Order” b/w “Where Will It End” are absent.) Even in its disco mix, though, there’s not much disco in “Cheaters Never Win,” which gets expanded with some jazzy solos from the orchestra members. Walter Gibbons’ remix of “Law and Order” emphasizes multiple musical aspects of the densely-arranged album version, making it another valuable addition. Nick Robbins has remastered. Washington’s fine liner notes indicate that Joe Freeman remains “convinced that the album has yet to reach its proper audience and its full potential.” With any luck, BBR’s splendid reissue will allow soul aficionados to bring Law and Order back.
Baker-Harris-Young, B-H-Y (Salsoul LP SA-8524 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0233, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Come As You Are
- Handle Me with Love and Care
- We Funk the Best
- Marathon Dancer
- Touch Me While I’m Touching You
- Take My Body Now
- I Just Want to Funk (With You)
- Opus B-H-Y
- Come As You Are (12” Disco Mix) (A Bobby “DJ” Guttadaro Mix) (Salsoul SG-307, 1979)
First Choice, Hold Your Horses (Gold Mind LP GA-9502, 1979 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0232, 2013) (Amazon U.S./Amazon U.K.)
- Let Me Down Easy
- Good Morning Midnight
- Great Expectations
- Hold Your Horses
- Love Thang
- Double Cross
- Now That I’ve Thrown It All Away (Gold Mind single 4017, 1978)
- Let No Man Put Asunder (12” Disco Madness Remix) (Salsoul LP 8518, 1979)
- Double Cross (12” Promotional Disco Remix) (Gold Mind GG 405 DJ, 1979)
- Love Thang (12” Disco Mix) (Gold Mind GG 502, 1979)
- Hold Your Horses (Single Version) (Gold Mind single 4017, 1978)
- Double Cross (12” Extended Disco Mix) (A Tom Moulton Mix) (TBD)
- Double Cross (12” Larry Levan Remix) (Salsoul SA-8533 DJ, 1980)
Loleatta Holloway, Loleatta (Gold Mind LP GZS-7500, 1976 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0108, 2013) (Amazon U.S. TBD / Amazon U.K.)
- Hit and Run
- Is It Just a Man’s Way?
- We’re Getting Stronger (The Longer We Stay Together)
- Ripped Off
- Worn Out Broken Heart
- That’s How Heartaches Are Made
- What Now
- Run Away – The Salsoul Orchestra feat. Loleatta Holloway (Album Version) (Salsoul single SZ-2045, 1977)
- Dreamin’ (12” Disco Version) (A Carl Paroulo Mix) (TBD)
- Hit and Run (12” Disco Version) (A Walter Gibbons Mix) (Salsoul 12G-4006, 1977)
- We’re Getting Stronger (The Longer We Stay Together) (A Walter Gibbons Mix) (Salsoul 12G-4006, 1977)
- Worn Out Broken Heart (Single Version) (Gold Mind single GM-4000, 1977)
- Dreamin’ (Single Version) (Gold Mind single GM-4000, 1977)
Love Committee, Law and Order (Gold Mind LP GA-9500, 1978 – reissued Big Break CDBBR 0218, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Law and Order
- Tired of Being Your Fool
- If You Change Your Mind
- Cheaters Never Win
- Pass the Buck
- Put It in the Back of Your Head
- Give Her Love
- Just as Long as I Got You
- Where Will It End (12” Disco Version) (A Walter Gibbons Mix) (Gold Mind single 12G-4003, 1977)
- Cheaters Never Win (12” Disco Version) (A Walter Gibbons Mix) (Gold Mind single 12G-4003, 1977)
- Law and Order (12” Disco Version) (A Walter Gibbons Mix) (Gold Mind single GG-4011, 1977)
- Just as Long as I Got You (12” Disco Version) (A Walter Gibbons Mix) (Gold Mind single GG-4011, 1977)
I just got the First Choice "Hold Your Horses" remaster. Sound is bass-heavy and slightly maximized like BBR's other remasters. The previous Salsoul reissue sounds cleaner but "different". I can't quite figure it out; it's like a different mix.