With a trio of recent releases from Labelle, Cheryl Lynn and Johnnie Taylor, Cherry Red’s SoulMusic Records imprint turns its attention once again to bona fide R&B royalty.
When Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles transformed into Labelle, the change was more than merely cosmetic. The quartet was reduced to a threesome when Cindy Birdsong headed to Hitsville USA to replace Florence Ballard in The Supremes. Moreover, under the direction of British manager, producer and songwriter Vicki Wickham, the girls ditched their traditional repertoire to pursue a gutsy new direction. Their first album as Labelle, a 1971 self-titled effort for Warner Bros., had songs written by all three members – Patti LaBelle, Sarah Dash and Nona Hendryx - as well as Carole King, Laura Nyro and The Rolling Stones. 1972’s Moonshadow saw Hendryx’s songwriting talent blossom alongside compositions from Dash, Pete Townshend (a searing cover of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) and Cat Stevens (the title track). Post-Moonshadow, Wickham and Labelle decamped for RCA. SoulMusic has just reissued Labelle’s first and only RCA album, 1973’s Pressure Cookin’.
Nona Hendryx continued to shine on seven of the album’s nine tracks, and she was particularly concerned with social issues of the day. In A. Scott Galloway’s fine essay which accompanies this reissue, Hendryx relates, “I was inspired by artists…like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell. There was so much racism, sexism, drugs…there needed to be a revolution of the mind.” Hendryx and Labelle provided one with the scorching title song, and even the album’s cover material reflected that raised consciousness. A medley melded Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” with Gil Scott-Heron’s spoken-word “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” with all three women taking raps. Hendryx found room for the personal, too. “(Can I Speak to You Before You Go to) Hollywood” took aim at the people who might later have been deemed poseurs: “There were many people we knew who went from being new to major stars, i.e. divas, and things went to their heads...These were the same people that at one time you’d shared dressing rooms and chicken legs with on the chitlin circuit!” (Some have suggested Cindy Birdsong was a possible inspiration for the song.) On “Mr. Music Man,” Hendryx addressed the rapidly-changing musical climate, specifically the marginalization of certain artists from Top 40 radio. (The more things change…!) The funky “Goin’ on a Holiday” was co-produced by Wickham and an uncredited Stevie Wonder, and Wonder also wrote “Open Up Your Heart” for Labelle.
After the jump: more on Pressure Cookin’, plus Cheryl Lynn and Johnnie Taylor!
Though Pressure Cookin’ failed to ignite Labelle’s career – that would come with their very next album, Nightbirds, and a certain Bob Crewe/Kenny Nolan-written, Allen Toussaint-produced tune called “Lady Marmalade” – it’s gained a cult cachet over the years. SoulMusic’s reissue has been remastered by Alan Wilson. Galloway’s extensive notes feature new reflections from Hendryx, Dash, Wickham and Maxayn Lewis, whose band backed Labelle on the LP.
Cheryl Lynn may have burst onto the scene with 1978’s “Got to Be Real,” but she was hardly an overnight sensation, having paid her dues onstage (the national touring company of The Wiz) and even on television (a star-making appearance on, of all things, The Gong Show). SoulMusic has a newly-remastered and expanded edition of her debut Cheryl Lynn featuring the No. 1 R&B/No. 12 Pop “Got to Be Real” as well as No. 16 R&B/No. 62 Pop hit “Star Love.”
Cheryl Lynn was long in the making. Signed to Columbia Records, the label tried a number of producers for the young singer with the five-octave range, among them Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan) and the team of Jerry Peters (Earth, Wind and Fire) and Charles Veal. But the magic happened when Columbia paired her with the father-and-son team of Marty Paich and David Paich. Marty was a legendary jazz arranger for the likes of Mel Torme and Sammy Davis, Jr., who also contributed arrangements to pop hits by The 5th Dimension and Seals and Crofts. (He also arranged and conducted the cult classic solo album by Mod Squad star Peggy Lipton, recently reissued on CD.) David was an up-and-coming session keyboardist in the business, co-writing three smash hits for Boz Scaggs’ Silk Degrees and co-producing Aretha Franklin. The Messrs. Paich enlisted top session personnel from New York (Bernard Purdie, Richard Tee) and Los Angeles (James Gadson, Ray Parker Jr.), and drew on songs from Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager (“Come in from the Rain”) and David Pomeranz and Spencer Proffer (“Daybreak (Storybook Children)”).
Lynn also contributed her own songs including “Give Me Love,” co-written with Ray Parker jr., solo compositions “All My Lovin’” and “Nothing You Say,” and, crucially, “Got to Be Real.” The latter was penned with David Paich and David Foster, another star on the ascendant. As Paich recalls in A. Scott Galloway’s excellent liner notes, everybody involved with the song knew that “Got to Be Real” would be a hit; the brassy disco anthem unseated Chic’s “Le Freak” atop the U.S. R&B chart. A sassy, sophisticated and funky high-energy debut, Cheryl Lynn has been expanded with four bonus tracks – the single edits of “Got to Be Real” and “Star Love” plus the 12-inch mixes of “Star Love” and “You Saved My Day” (but not “Got to Be Real”). Galloway’s notes feature new reflections from Cheryl Lynn, David Paich and James Gadson; Alan Wilson has again remastered.
The final release in our SoulMusic trio comes from Johnnie Taylor and two albums the soul man recorded for Columbia in 1979 and 1980, respectively: She’s Killing Me and A New Day. These albums concluded his run with the label which had begun in 1976 with Eargasm. That effort was bolstered by the success of the No. 1 Pop and R&B hit “Disco Lady,” and proved that Taylor could thrive outside of the comfort of his longtime label Stax. The so-called “Soul Philosopher” had worked at Stax, Columbia and RCA (the latter for a one-off 1977 LP) with producer Don Davis who was also at the helm of She’s Killing Me. Other tracks for the album were produced by the team of Taylor and Frank Johnson, and still more tracks by Muscle Shoals’ Brad Shapiro (Millie Jackson, Wilson Pickett). She’s Killing Me could be considered in a soul-disco bag, with Taylor’s silky yet bluesy pipes wrapped in uptempo disco grooves. A lot could change within one year, though, and by 1980, the disco boom was receding. Taylor returned to Shapiro’s camp for Side One of A New Day and Davis for Side Two. But both sides shared a similar approach, keeping the production modern but in the vein of Taylor’s classic southern soul with post-disco floor-fillers and slow-burning cuts (like the suggestive “I Wanna Get Into You”) as well. Matt Bauer provides the copious new liner notes for the return of these long out-of-print albums, and Alan Wilson has remastered.
All three titles are available now and can be ordered at the links below!
Labelle, Pressure Cookin’ (RCA APL1-0205, 1973 – reissued SoulMusic SMCR 5123, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )
- Pressure Cookin’
- Medley: Something in the Air/The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
- Sunshine (Woke Me Up This Morning)
- (Can I Speak to You Before You Go To) Hollywood
- Mr. Music Man
- Goin’ on a Holiday
- Let Me See You in the Light
- Open Up Your Heart
- Last Dance
Cheryl Lynn, Cheryl Lynn: Expanded Edition (Columbia JC 35486, 1978 – reissued SoulMusic SMCR 5122, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Got to Be Real
- All My Lovin’
- Star Love
- Come In from the Rain
- You Saved My Day
- Give My Love to You
- Nothing You Say
- You’re the One
- Daybreak (Storybook Children)
- Got to Be Real (Columbia single 3-10808, 1978)
- Star Love (Columbia single 3-10907, 1978)
- Star Love (Columbia 12-inch single AS 562, 1978)
- You Saved My Day (Columbia 12-inch single AS 651, 1978)
Johnnie Taylor, She’s Killing Me/A New Day (SoulMusic SMCR 25124, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
- Little Dancin’ Queen
- Play Something Pretty
- (Ooh-Wee) She’s Killing Me
- The Users
- Love Account
- Pulling the Train
- I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone
- The Heart Break Kid
- I’d Rather Hurt Myself
- I Got This Thing For Your Love
- Signing Off with Love
- Baby Lay Down
- Sneakin’ Sneakin’
- I Wanna Get Into You
- Baby Don’t Hesitate
Tracks 1-7 from She’s Killing Me, Columbia JC 36061, 1979
Tracks 8-16 from A New Day, Columbia JC 36548, 1980
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