Big Break has a pair of releases from 1976 including an expanded edition of Earth, Wind and Fire’s Spirit. The 1976 LP was a major turning point for the band – with leader Maurice White assuming the producer’s chair following the death of Charles Stepney during its sessions – as well as one of its most successful records, peaking at No. 2 Pop and R&B on the Billboard charts and eventually going Double Platinum. Spirit followed the back-to-back smashes Gratitude and That’s the Way of the World, both of which went to No. 1 Pop and R&B and established EWF’s brassy soul-funk supremacy. Yet Spirit’s success is even remarkable considering that the tight (9 tracks in 36 minutes!), soaring and incredibly musical album didn’t produce a hit Pop single on the order of “Shining Star” or “Sing a Song.”
Its title track honored Charles Stepney, whose innovative work with Rotary Connection, Minnie Riperton and EWF (among others) brought a hip and psychedelic, yet musically sophisticated, sensibility to R&B and funk. Stepney’s completed charts were joined by those of Jerry Peters and Tom Tom 84 for the LP. The single “Getaway” arrived in advance of the album’s release and rewarded EWF with a No. 12 Pop/No. 1 R&B hit; “Saturday Nite” made a big splash on R&B (No. 2) but stalled just outside of the Pop Top 20. Spirit today remains one of the most perfect examples of EWF’s art, combining pop, soul, funk and spirituality into a stirring whole. BBR’s new edition features comprehensive liner notes from Christian John Wikane (drawing on interviews with Maurice White, Larry Dunn and Philip Bailey), remastering from Dickson, and a full complement of nine bonus tracks. All five bonuses from Columbia/Legacy’s 2001 U.S. reissue have been happily retained, and four more have been newly added: the 12-inch mix and instrumental version of “Getaway,” and the single edits of “Saturday Nite” and “Departure.” Spirit is housed in a Super Jewel Box.
From the same year, BBR has a reissue of Misty Blue from southern soul great Dorothy Moore. The album’s title track took the Mississippi-born vocalist to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 3 on the Pop countdown, crowning a career that had already found her as part of an Epic Records girl group (The Poppies) and singing backgrounds for Jean Knight and King Floyd on “Mr. Big Stuff” and “Groove Me,” respectively. Those two hits were recorded by Jackson, Mississippi’s own Malaco Productions team, and it was the Malaco label which would release “Misty Blue.” Moore promoted the smoldering slab of R&B on American Bandstand, Soul Train and The Midnight Special, and three months after the 45’s January 1976 release, Malaco issued the Misty Blue LP.
After the jump: more on Dorothy Moore, plus Phyllis Nelson, Yarbrough and Peoples, and The Waters!
Moore brought her gospel-reared pipes to tracks by southern soul titans like Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham (the ubiquitous “The Dark End of the Street”) and “Prince” Philip Mitchell (The Only Time You Ever Say You Love Me”) as well as Stax alumni like Carson Whitsett and the one and only Eddie Floyd; two of Floyd’s songs and two of Whitsett’s appeared on Misty Blue, along with one joint composition from the two men. Moore even took Willie Nelson’s country standard “Funny How Time Slips Away” into the R&B Top 10. One of New Orleans’ most renowned arrangers, Wardell Quezergue, handled the smoking arrangements for producers Tommy Couch, James Stroud and Wolf Stephenson. BBR’s reissue adds one bonus track, “Misty Blue” B-side “Here It Is,” plus new liner notes from Steven E. Flemming Jr. Reissue producer Wayne A. Dickson has remastered.
Like Dorothy Moore, Phyllis Nelson had one major chart hit. Born in Indiana and based in Philadelphia, Nelson took to studios in New York, Los Angeles and Philly to record the album Move Closer in 1984 with French producer Yves Dessca. Though Nelson had racked up major dance hits like “Don’t Stop the Train” (1980), “I Don’t Know” (with actor Alain Delon) and “I Like You” (both 1985), the ballad “Move Closer” took her straight to the top of the U.K. Pop chart – even when it barely registered in her home country. Carrere Records surrounded the soprano’s title track, which she penned herself, with seven more cuts including her song “Happy to See You.” Despite the album’s tasteful application of then-contemporary electronic textures, it failed to gain any attention the U.S.; the LP reached No. 29 on the U.K. chart. It proved her only album to chart; Nelson passed away from breast cancer in 1998. She did live long enough to see “Move Closer” reach the U.K. Pop chart a second time in 1994 when it was used in a television advertisement. BBR’s reissue of Move Closer adds the 12-inch New Mix of the hit song. The album has been remastered by Dickson and features a brief introductory liner note from Flemming.
BBR returns to the catalogue of Yarbrough and Peoples with the duo’s 1980 debut The Two of Us. Dallas, Texas natives Cavin Yarbrough and Alisa Peoples came to the attention of Total Experience Records through their friends in The Gap Band, and were paired with producer/songwriters Jonah Ellis (The Dells, Brass Connection) and Total Experience founder Lonnie Simmons. Yarbrough and Peoples hit it off with the team, rewriting the lyrics and reshaping the song Ellis had brought to their attention called “Don’t Stop the Music.” The collaboration was a more than fruitful one. The tune would climb to No. 1 R&B, No. 19 Pop, No. 26 Disco in the U.S., and No. 7 Pop in the U.K.; ironically, the song it displaced on the U.S. R&B survey was The Gap Band’s own “Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)!” The Gap Band personnel had actually played on The Two of Us, alongside session stalwarts like percussionist Paulinho Da Costa and background singers The Waters.
Yarbrough and Peoples rode the success of “Don’t Stop the Music,” appearing as the last act to perform on The Midnight Special and appearing with Dick Clark and Merv Griffin. Married since 1987, the duo went on to record a further trio of albums for Total Experience, notching another six R&B Top 20 singles, most notably the Jonah Ellis-composed chart-topper “Don’t Waste Your Time” in 1984; it also reached the Top 50 Pop. BBR’s expansion of The Two of Us features generous liner notes from J. Matthew Cobb drawing on the participation of Yarbrough and Peoples. Three bonus tracks have been appended for this edition remastered by Nick Robbins – the 12-inch Disco Mix of follow-up single “Third Degree” and the single versions of “Third Degree” and, of course, “Don’t Stop the Music.” The Two of Us is packaged in a Super Jewel Box.
The Waters – siblings Julia, Maxine, Oren and Luther – stepped out of the background and into the spotlight for a solo career beginning with 1975’s Blue Note LP Waters. A 1977 set for Warner Bros. Records followed before the veteran singers (whose vocals have graced key titles from Carole King, Michael Jackson, The Bee Gees, Barbra Streisand, and Yarbrough and Peoples, to name a few) signed to Arista for 1980’s Watercolors. The Waters had the versatility demanded by the career of a background vocalist; there was simply no style of music their four-part harmony couldn’t organically enhance. (See the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom for definitive proof!) For Watercolors, they were initially paired with Skip Scarborough, but when it became clear that he wasn’t steering the album in a manner with which the band was happy, they joined with their manager David Rubinson (Herbie Hancock, The Pointer Sisters, Patti LaBelle) as co-producers.
Scarborough’s stamp remained on Watercolors via his co-writes “I Can Make You Smile,” “Come to Me” and “Dance the Night Away,” and the Waters had credits on four songs on the eight-song LP. Guitarist/songwriter/producer Jay Graydon contributed “Throw a Little Love My Way,” co-written with Harry Garfield and David Foster, which had previously been recorded by Bloodstone and others. Encompassing pop, R&B and disco, Watercolors featured Los Angeles’ A-list session players and a guest appearance on percussion by Sheila E, but despite its strengths, it failed to notch any hits for Arista. The Waters resumed their phenomenally successful careers singing with Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Diamond and even Barry Manilow, who had given the recommendation to Clive Davis which yielded their Arista contract. BBR’s edition has been co-produced by Wayne A. Dickson and Christian John Wikane, and the latter has also written the copious liner notes chronicling both the group’s career and the album. Nick Robbins has remastered, and two bonus cuts have been added: the single versions of “Dance with Me” and “Heart Lead the Way.”
All of these titles are available for order now at the links below!
- On Your Face
- Saturday Nite
- Earth, Wind and Fire
- Burnin’ Bush
- Saturday Nite (Alternate Mix)
- Imagination (Angels Mix)
- Departure (The Traveler)
- African Symphony
- Getaway (12-Inch Version) (Columbia 12-inch single AS 243, 1976)
- Saturday Night (Single Version) (Columbia single 3-10439, 1976)
- Departure (Single Version) (Columbia single 3-10439, 1976)
- Getaway (Instrumental Version) (Columbia single 3-10373, 1976)
Tracks 10-14 first released on Columbia/Legacy CK 65739, 2001
- The Only Time You Ever Say You Love Me
- Dark End of the Street
- Funny How Time Slips Away
- Laugh It Off
- Misty Blue
- Enough Woman Left (To Be Your Lady)
- I Don’t Want to Be with Nobody But You
- Ain’t That a Mother’s Luck
- Too Much Love
- It’s So Good
- Here It Is (Malaco single M-1029-B, 1976)
- Move Closer
- Somewhere in the Sky
- In a Cadillac
- Stop, Don’t Do This to Me
- Take Me Nowhere
- Happy to See You
- Heartbeat to Heartbeat
- Never Love a Rock Star
- Move Closer (12-Inch New Mix) (Carrere CART 337, 1984)
- Don’t Stop the Music
- Third Degree
- Easy Tonight
- Want You Back Again
- Come to Me
- You’re My Song
- Two of Us
- I Believe I’m Falling in Love
- Third Degree (12-Inch Disco Mix) (Mercury 12-inch single MK 176, 1980)
- Don’t Stop the Music (Single Version) (Mercury single 76085, 1980)
- Third Degree (Single Version) (Mercury single 76111, 1981)
- Dance with Me
- Heart Lead the Way
- I Can Make You Smile
- Throw a Little Bit of Love My Way
- Party People
- Come to Me
- Dance the Night Away
- Let Him Prove It
- Dance with Me (Single Version) (Arista single AS-0493, 1980)
- Heart Lead the Way (Single Version) (Arista single AS-0517, 1980)