SoulMusic Records has certainly shown a lot of love for Ronnie Dyson (1950-1990) this year. Following its U.S. release in conjunction with Real Gone Music of the late soul man’s two final albums for Cotillion Records, the label is turning back the clock to Dyson’s very first recordings for Columbia Records. Lady In Red: The Columbia Sides Plus, from SoulMusic and the U.K.’s Cherry Red Group, is in actuality an expanded edition of Dyson’s 1970 debut album (If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You? This 23-track anthology collects that LP’s eleven tracks on CD for the first time, and adds twelve bonuses (many never before on CD) drawn from a selection of Dyson’s single releases issued between 1969 and 1974.
Dyson’s name first became familiar as a member of the Broadway cast of Galt MacDermot, Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s groundbreaking Broadway musical Hair. Appropriately, SoulMusic kicks off Lady in Red with the single version of “Aquarius” from the RCA cast recording of Hair. The 18-year old Washington, DC native introduced “Aquarius” in the musical, the song which would later go to the top of the charts for The 5th Dimension in a medley with another highlight of the score, “Let the Sunshine In.” Dyson’s distinctive tenor complemented the gospel fervor in his beyond-his-years voice, a quality which surely brought him to the attention of Columbia Records, then under the auspices of Clive Davis. Columbia signed Dyson, assigning him to producer Billy Jackson (The Tymes). His first single with the label – “God Bless the Children” b/w “Are We Ready for Love” – arrived in 1969; both sides are included here. Jackson also helmed the full Why Can’t I Touch You LP, named for a song from Dyson’s second theatre triumph, Salvation. Though the rock musical by Peter Link and C.C. Courtney only lasted 239 performances off-Broadway, it was another stepping stone for Dyson. Though the cast recording was on rival Capitol Records, Dyson recorded his showstopping “(If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?” as a single on Columbia. It scored him a Top 10 hit on both the Pop and R&B charts.
In addition to the Salvation tune – later recorded by artists as diverse as Johnny Mathis and Billy Paul – Dyson’s debut LP contained familiar covers rendered in pop-soul style overseen by Jackson and arranger-conductor Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner. Dyson brought his smooth but passionate sound to songs associated with B.J. Thomas (Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil’s “I Just Can’t Help Believin'”), Freda Payne (a rare male spin on “Band of Gold”), Laura Nyro (“Emmie”), Peggy Lee (“Fever”), Bread (David Gates’ “Make It with You”) and Simon and Garfunkel (the newly-minted Columbia hit “Bridge Over Troubled Water”). Another album track, Chuck Jackson’s “I Don’t Wanna Cry,” was selected as the follow-up to “Why Can’t I Touch You?” and also went Top 10 R&B. For the B-side of “Touch You,” Columbia picked an arrangement by a man who would figure prominently in Dyson’s later career: the on-the-rise Thom Bell. Billed as “Tommy Bell,” he arranged another male version of a song written for a female: the dramatic “Girl Don’t Come,” written by Chris Andrews for British pop starlet Sandie Shaw. Bell likely recognized the potential of Dyson as a male answer to Dionne Warwick, with a similar cool yet versatile quality to his voice. Bell’s work can also be heard on the frenetically funky version of “Fever.” Dyson’s debut LP may have been too stylistically eclectic – from MOR to spirited R&B with a dash of musical theatre panache – to attract a major audience. His next long-player would be somewhat more consistent.
But first, Columbia brought in producer Stan Vincent (The Five Stairsteps) to record a number of tracks. Five Vincent productions circa 1971-1972 are heard on Lady in Red: Dyson’s R&B hit version of Barry Mann’s oft-recorded “When You Get Right Down to It” and its B-side, Vincent’s own “Sleeping Sun;” Tony Davillo’s hard-driving “Abelene” (B-side of “A Wednesday in Your Garden,” not included here but available on the One Man Band album), and both sides of “Jesus Is Just Alright” b/w Dyson original “Love is Slipping Away.”
We have more after the jump, including the full track listing and order links!
Dyson’s second Columbia LP, 1973’s One Man Band, was built around the sound of Thom Bell. By the time of the album’s recording, Bell was a hot commodity thanks to his lush and memorable work with The Stylistics. Lady in Red features two of his productions from the album, both of which were released on 45: the dazzling, ironically-upbeat “One Man Band (Plays All Alone)” – its flipside, the lightly swinging “I Think I’ll Tell Her,” isn’t here – and the A-side of Dyson’s next single, Bell’s production of Bobby Eli, Vinnie Barrett and John Freeman’s “Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely.” “One Man Band” scored a Top 20 R&B and Top 30 Pop placement, while “Lonely” fared almost as well, reaching the Top 30 R&B and No. 60 on the Hot 100. (The B-side of “Lonely” was “Point of No Return,” a Bell/Linda Creed song produced by Stan Vincent. It, like “I Think I’ll Tell Her,” can be heard on One Man Band.)
One Man Band had four fresh Bell productions plus his “Girl Don’t Come” as well as “Point of No Return.” The album was rounded out with older material helmed by Vincent and Jackson. With Bell occupied, however, with turning out hits for The Spinners, Ronnie Dyson turned elsewhere for his subsequent Columbia recordings. Lady in Red concludes with its title track, an A-side produced, co-written and arranged by a Philadelphia colleague of Bell’s – MFSB (and later Salsoul Orchestra) guitarist Norman Harris of the Baker-Harris-Young production team. Its B-side, “Cup (Runneth Over),” can be found on Purpose Music Vaults’ One Man Band expanded reissue.
Lady in Red ends with the titular 1974 single, but Ronnie Dyson remained on Columbia for three more albums with various producers through 1979; only the final one, If the Shoe Fits, hasn’t yet been on CD. Lady in Red: The Columbia Sides Plus is a long-overdue reissue of his first album and a welcome overview of the early part of his vocal career. Rashod Ollison provides new, biographical liner notes, and Alan Wilson has remastered all tracks. After years of fighting his personal demons, Dyson died in 1990 of heart failure, leaving behind a lifetime of beautiful music. Lady in Red is available now and can be ordered at the links below!
- God Bless the Children
- Are We Ready for Love
- I Don’t Wanna Cry
- A Touch of Baby
- I Just Can’t Help Believin’
- She’s Gone
- Band of Gold
- (If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?
- Make It with You
- Do What Your Heart Tells You to Do
- Bridge Over Troubled Water
- Girl Don’t Come
- When You Get Right Down to It
- Sleeping Sun
- Jesus is Just Alright (Extended Version)
- Love is Slipping Away
- One Man Band (Plays All Alone)
- Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely
- Lady in Red
Track 1 from RCA Victor single SP-45-184, 1969
Tracks 2-3 from Columbia single 45-45025, 1969
Tracks 4-14 from (If You Let Me Make Love to You Then) Why Can’t I Touch You?, Columbia LP 30223, 1970
Track 15 from Columbia single 4-45110, 1970
Tracks 16-17 from Columbia single 4-45387, 1971
Track 18 from Columbia single 4-45496, 1971
Tracks 19-20 from Columbia single 4-45999, 1972
Track 21 from Columbia single 4-45776, 1973
Track 22 from Columbia single 4-45867, 1973
Track 23 from Columbia single 3-10211, 1975