Blame it on “Bad Luck.” Inexplicably, a proper, wide-release CD reissue has long eluded To Be True, the third of four LPs released by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes on Philadelphia International Records. Happily, Cherry Red’s Big Break imprint has come to the rescue with a remastered and expanded edition of the 1975 chart-topping album that introduced the hit “Bad Luck.”
To Be True followed I Miss You and Black and Blue, both of which have already been reissued in expanded CD editions by BBR. Indeed, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes – crucially billed for the first time on an album cover as “Featuring Theodore Pendergrass” in an admission of the lead singer’s importance within the quintet – remained true to themselves on this taut 8-song album produced and largely written by Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. The two PIR leaders wrote four of the tracks themselves, with a fifth bearing a co-writer’s credit for Huff. The album also continued the group’s relationship with writers Gene McFadden, John Whitehead and Victor Carstarphen; McFadden and Whitehead had teamed with Huff for two tracks on Black and Blue. The sound of To Be True was largely shaped by an all-too-unsung hero of Philadelphia soul, Bobby Martin. Though Martin shared duties on previous Blue Notes albums with Norman Harris, Thom Bell, Vince Montana and Lenny Pakula, he was responsible for arranging the group’s two major crossover hits, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “The Love I Lost.” He knew how to write to the strengths of the talented and inventive players in MFSB including Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Ronnie Baker and Earl Young.
The opening salvo “Where Are All My Friends,” by the McFadden/Whitehead/Carstarphen team, epitomizes the album’s compelling blend of grit and velvet. Over a typically lush backing courtesy of Martin, MFSB and producers Gamble and Huff, Pendergrass is all fire as he questions the direction his life has taken and all of the false friends surrounding him. The track is powerful on every level, as Pendergrass’ wounded vocal glides over the urgently danceable rhythm.
Considerably lighter is the same team’s ode to a “Pretty Flower,” set by Martin with gently tinkling piano and sympathetic strings, but best of all is, of course, the epic floor-filler “Bad Luck.” Building on the sound and style of “The Love I Lost,” the infectious “Bad Luck” is quintessential Philly soul. Every sophisticated element coalesces in vibrant and immediate fashion: from the dramatic intro by Ronnie Baker (whose bass drives the song’s momentum) and Earl Young to the swelling blasts of orchestration, passionate vocals, and proto-disco rhythm. Tom Moulton’s subsequent extended remix is included as one of the two bonus tracks on this new reissue. Leon Huff teamed with McFadden and Whitehead for “It’s All Because of a Woman,” an atypical, blues-based ballad that soars into a new dimension thanks to Pendergrass’ impassioned lead and Martin’s big, luxe chart.
Gamble and Huff’s contributions include the temptation drama of the title track, masterfully arranged by Martin with surging strings, horns and lightly Latin percussion. “To Be True” is just one of the many showcases of the group’s distinctive vocal harmonies as they complemented Pendergrass’ lead which imbues lyrics like “To be true is such a hard thing to do/Especially as there’s so many girls…” with the right mix of frankness and vulnerability. Pendergrass is more devoted to one lady on the dynamic, uptempo “Nobody Could Take Your Place.” MFSB stalwart Zach Zachary gets a spotlight on this track with a wending saxophone solo in the coda.
Sharon Paige provided the expressive lead on the amorous “Hope We Can Be Together Soon,” trading lines with the smooth-voiced Harold Melvin himself. (Melvin also co-produced the track with its authors Gamble and Huff.) Dusty Springfield had introduced the song as “Let’s Get Together Soon” on her 1970 G&H-produced album A Brand New Me with a very different, leaner arrangement by Roland Chambers suiting Springfield’s smoky vocals. Coincidentally, Martin had orchestrated part of that LP, as well. Paige would remain in The Blue Notes’ fold, taking an even larger role after Teddy Pendergrass’ departure from the lineup later in 1975. The attractive ballad “Somewhere Down the Line” (“We’ll be together again…”) finds Teddy admitting that his relationship is doomed (“You’ve got your thing to do/And so do I…”) but remaining optimistic.
In addition to the Tom Moulton mix of “Bad Luck,” BBR’s reissue also adds the single version of the Sharon Paige duet “Hope We Can Be Together Soon.” Moulton adds lively commentary on the song and album in Christian John Wikane’s excellent new liner notes. Nick Robbins has done his customarily exemplary job in remastering To Be True. It’s all housed in a Super Jewel Box matching BBR’s previous Blue Notes releases. For ample proof as to why The Sound of Philadelphia remains one of the most enduring sounds in all of R&B, soul and pop, look no further than To Be True.
- Where Are All My Friends
- To Be True
- Pretty Flower
- Hope That We Can Be Together Soon – Sharon Paige with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes
- Nobody Could Take Your Place
- Somewhere Down the Line
- Bad Luck
- It’s All Because of a Woman
- Hope That We Can Be Together Soon – Sharon Paige with Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes (Single Version) (Philadelphia International single ZS8-3569, 1975)
- Bad Luck (A Tom Moulton Mix) (from Philadelphia Classics, Philadelphia International PZG 34940, 1977)