We filled you in recently about Cherry Red and SoulMusic Records’ recent salute to songstress Vivian Reed, but the label has also offered a pair of titles from two more great ladies of song: Gladys Knight and the late Natalie Cole.
Gladys Knight’s The Solo Collection collects her first two Pips-less albums, from 1978 and 1979: the Buddah Records release of Miss Gladys Knight, and its Columbia follow-up, Gladys Knight. The second disc features eight bonus tracks associated with the latter album. Miss Gladys Knight arrived on Buddah in the midst of a drawn-out legal battle involving, at various points, Gladys, The Pips, and the Buddah, Arista, and Columbia Records labels. For her proper solo debut, Knight enlisted producers Gary Klein (coming off Barbra Streisand’s smash Streisand Superman and Songbird albums) and Tony Macaulay (the British tunesmith known for “Build Me Up, Buttercup,” “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” “Last Night (I Didn’t Get to Sleep at All)” and so many others).
The song selection emphasized pop, with Knight bringing her innate soulfulness to compositions by Carole Bayer Sager and Bruce Roberts (the dramatic ballad “I’m Coming Home Again,” also included on Sager’s 1978 album Too), The Bee Gees (“The Way It Was” from their 1976 LP Children of the World) and Randy Newman (the stirring, ironic “Sail Away” paired with Allen Toussaint’s “Freedom for the Stallion”). Toussaint recurred with two more tracks originated by Frankie Miller and Lou Johnson, respectively: “I’ll Take a Melody” and “With You in Mind.” Macaulay supplied three original songs, all of which he produced. All boast his easy melodicism, including a disco version of “It’s Better Than a Good Time,” which had appeared prior to the album on a single in a different mix, and the string-laden “We Don’t Make Each Other Laugh Anymore.”
By the time of the fall 1978 release of Miss Gladys Knight, however, the artist was no longer signed to Buddah. Knight had pacted with Columbia. Despite (or because of) its sleek pop polish, the LP peaked at No. 57 R&B in the United States. Columbia paired Knight with veteran producer Jack Gold, perhaps best known for his work with another pop-soul superstar, Johnny Mathis. Gold and Knight co-produced her eponymous Columbia debut, enlisting Gene Page to arrange with typically lush splendor. Gladys Knight wasn’t too dissimilar from its predecessor in that it tapped both R&B and pop veins as it alternated between big ballads and dancefloor stompers. It featured tunes from Motown veterans Ron Miller (“You Loved Away the Pain”) and Johnny Bristol (“If You Ever Needed Somebody”) as well as Michael Zager (“I Just Want to Be with You”) and Glen Campbell producer Al DeLory (“You Bring Out the Best of Me”). Knight also tackled Leiber and Stoller’s passionately anthemic “I (Who Have Nothing)” and recorded “My World” from southern soul’s Sam Dees; it would be the first of many Dees songs she would record. Despite the quality of the songs, vocals, and productions, Gladys Knight fared even less well than its predecessor, making No. 71 R&B. It barely averted the Billboard 200 at No. 201.
SoulMusic’s reissue has retained eight of the nine bonus tracks appended to Gladys Knight on its 2013 reissue from the Funky Town Grooves label. (A Gladys Knight and the Pips track has been dropped.) All eight songs are presented on Disc Two of this double-CD set, and both discs have been newly remastered by Nick Robbins. Charles Waring has supplied copious new liner notes pertaining to both albums in this collection.
After a long association with Capitol Records, the label of her late father Nat “King” Cole, Natalie Cole moved over to Columbia’s sister label Epic Records. Only one album emerged before Natalie continued to Modern Records, and then Capitol parent EMI. That lone Epic platter, 1883’s I’m Ready, has recently been reissued and expanded by SoulMusic.
A beaming Cole graced the cover of I’m Ready, a stark contrast to the personal demons she was fighting at the time. The album reunited her with the producers who had launched her career, Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy, and a bright, ebullient spirit graced such tracks as the opening floor-filler “Too Much Mister” and the bouncy “I Won’t Deny You,” which slightly recalled “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love).” As Justin Kantor relates in his compelling liner notes, Cole’s voice was facing the ravages of her drug abuse at the time, but she nonetheless brought grace and passion to tracks such as the shimmering declaration “I’m Ready” and the soulful ballad “Keep It on the Outside.”
Stanley Clarke, the venerable jazz bassist and composer, contributed three productions to I’m Ready including Natalie’s own co-written “Time (Heals All Wounds)” with its cutting edge-circa-1983 sheen; Greg Phillinganes and Allee Willis’ “Where’s Your Angel,” with its West Coast pop-rock vibe; and the soft, stately album closer, “I’m Your Mirror.” (Chuck Bynum, one of Cole’s co-writers on “Time,” co-produced the track with Clarke.) Four outtakes produced by Clarke didn’t surface until the 1990s; SoulMusic has restored all four of them to this expanded reissue.
Kantor’s liner notes make a case for I’m Ready as a lost gem in Cole’s timeless and diverse discography, and Nick Robbins has again remastered in sparkling fashion. Both Gladys Knight’s The Solo Collection and Natalie Cole’s I’m Ready are available now at the links below from SoulMusic Records and Cherry Red!
CD 1: Miss Gladys Knight/Gladys Knight
- I’m Coming Home Again
- Sail Away/Freedom for the Stallion
- I’m Still Caught Up with You
- It’s Better Than a Good Time (Disco)
- We Don’t Make Each Other Laugh Anymore
- The Way It Was
- I’ll Take a Melody
- With You in Mind
- Love Gives You the Power
- Am I Too Late
- You Bring Out the Best in Me
- I Just Want to Be with You
- If You Ever Need Somebody
- My World
- I (Who Have Nothing)
- You Don’t Have to Say I Love You
- The Best Thing We Can Do is Say Goodbye
- It’s the Same Old Song
- You Loved Away the Pain
- Am I Too Late (U.S. Columbia single)
- It’s the Same Old Song (Extended Single Mix)
- You Bring Out the Best in Me (U.S. Columbia single)
- You Bring Out the Best in Me (U.S. Columbia 12-inch single)
- It’s Me Again
- For All We Know
- Am I Losing You
- Maybe, Maybe Baby (1979 Version)
CD 1, Tracks 1-9 from Miss Gladys Knight, Buddah BDS 5714, 1978
CD 1, Tracks 10-19 from Gladys Knight, Columbia JC 35704, 1979
CD 2, Track 1 from Columbia single3-10922, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 2 & 5-8 first issued on Funky Town Grooves FTG 346, 2013
CD 2, Track 3 from Columbia single 3-10997, 1979
CD 2, Track 4 from Columbia 12-inch single 23-10996, 1979
- Too Much Mister
- I Won’t Deny You
- I’m Ready
- Keep It on the Outside
- Time (Heals All Wounds)
- (I’m Coming) Straight from the Heart
- Where’s Your Angel
- I’m Your Mirror
- Winner (Take All)
- Azz Iz
- Movin’ On
- How Can You Stop?
Tracks 9-12 first issued on Epic CD 471831 2, 1992