Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Gladys Knight & The Pips




"We all have a responsibility, and since I've been so wonderfully blessed, I really want to share and to make life at least a little better" -Gladys Knight

Everybody Needs Love (1967)


I Heard It Through The Grapevine/I'll Be Standing By/Just Walk In My Shoes/Since I've Lost You/Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone/Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me/He's My Kind Of Fellow/My Bed Of Thorns/Yes I'm Ready/Everybody Needs Love/Do You Love Me Just A Little, Honey/You Don't Love Me No More    
              
This was Gladys Knight & The Pips’ first album, from 1967, and it is not a bad first outing at all. It is full of Motown originals, as opposed to the covers of middle of the road “standards” that appeared on many Motown albums of the period.

It kicks off with what actually was the original version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Gladys’s version is upbeat and soulfully delivered, but Marvin Gaye’s version is now so iconic that you can’t help but compare it unfavourably to his one. I'll Be Standing By is a confidently sung, mid-pace soul ballad from the pen of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie SimpsonJust Walk In My Shoes is funky, vibrant shuffling pot-boiler of a track that has become quite an appreciated “rarity”, garnering some popularity in the seventies on the Northern Soul circuit.

Since I've Lost You is a sweet soulful number with a killer hook that was also covered successfully a couple of years later by The Temptations. Another song done by them was the funky, driving down ’n dirty soul of Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone, which features a thumping, urgent drum backing and one of Gladys’s best vocals. She commands this song from the very start. Still a young girl, she had a vocal attack that belied her age. This track cooks.

Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me is her finest moment on the album. It is another supremely confident vocal over a solid backing with an instantly recognisable keyboard part. Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua’s He's My Kind Of Fellow is a melodic, pretty conventional piece of standard soul, while Smokey Robinson’s My Bed Of Thorns is delivered in a very Aretha Franklin style by Gladys.

Yes, I'm Ready is a beautiful, well-sung ballad, but not one that sticks in the memory. Everybody Needs Love is a sumptuous typical mid-sixties Motown slowie, great backing, orchestration and soulful vocals. Mary Wells did this earlier and you can tell how it suited her. Do You Love Me Just A Little, Honey is another very laid-back slice of classic soul. The real catchy tunes are in the old “side one” of the album. The latter half of it is more highly competent but unremarkable soul (comparatively). You Don't Love Me No More was also subsequently covered by The Temptations, probably slightly more convincingly. Nice bass line underpinning this version, though.

The sound on this release is a full, bassy stereo mix. Overall, this is a solid sixties Motown album.

Feelin' Bluesy (1968)


The End Of Our Road/That's The Way Love Is/Don't You Miss Me A Little Bit Baby/The Boy From Crosstown/Ain't You Glad You Chose Love/I Know Better/Don't Let Her Take Your Love From Me/It Should Have Been Me/Don't Turn Me Away/What Good Am I Without You/Your Old Standby/It's Time To Go Now               

Feelin’ Bluesy was an excellent Motown album from Gladys Knight, full of Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong material, as opposed to covers of standards. Not all sixties Motown albums cut the entirety of the mustard, but this one did.
                            
The End Of Our Road is a bass-driven, funky slice of Franklin-esque blues with a great, soaring vocal from Gladys and the boys on back up. That's The Way Love Is has a killer, upbeat horn intro that Southside Johnny would have loved, a thumping beat and, of course, a superb vocal. Some wonderful vocal harmonies again. Gladys own this track, though, her vocal riding high over the Stax-y backing. Don't You Miss Me A Little Baby is a bassy, rumbling piece of Motown blues. I just love this album, it is one of the best Gladys did for Motown. There is no filler on the album, in comparison with several other Motown albums of the time, which often suffered by a desire to reach an “adult mainstream” audience. Not this album. It is solid bluesy soul from beginning to end.

My favourite track is the red hot Boy From Crosstown - killer percussion, horns, bass, drums and voice. Wonderful stuff. Motown was not all about its excellent singles. Stuff like this stayed in vaults for years. God knows why. Ain't You Glad You Chose Love has a sumptuous bass line and a real Northern Soul beat. A classic “rarity”. I Know Better has some typically beautiful Motown strings orchestration. To think all these tracks were, in many ways, rejects, is incomprehensible. There are some corkers on here. Don't Let Her Take Your Love From Me has another big, rumbling bass line and, my God, Gladys’s vocal does it. One of the great soul voices of all time. Diana who? Such a shame Gladys was so far down in the Motown pecking order.

It Should've Been Me was, of course, a huge hit for Yvonne Fair in 1976. This was the original that nobody paid much attention to for years. The hit version had that sparse, metronomic backing that isolated the vocal. This one, however, has an absolute belter of a bass line and some great harmonies. Don't Turn Me Away has that guitar sound used a lot on Temptations recordings at the time. A superb piece of soul across the board. The final three tracks pretty much follow the same pattern of high quality. This is simply an outstanding bluesy soul album.

Once again, as on her debut album, the stereo sound is excellent.

Silk 'n' Soul (1968)


I Wish It Would Rain/The Look Of Love/Goin' Out Of My Head/Yesterday/Groovin'/You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'/Theme From "Valley Of The Dolls"/Baby I Need Your Loving/Together/The Tracks Of My Tears/You're My Everything/Every Little Bit Hurts   

This is an excellent album of covers of other artists' soul/Motown songs from the rapidly developing, but still contemporarily underrated voice of Gladys Knight. Recorded in excellent Motown stereo sound (for 1968), it is an eminently listenable album. Gladys makes every song her own, to an extent. They are not just note-for-note covers, far from it.
                    
The TemptationsI Wish It Would Rain is marvellously soulful, and features a big, rumbling bass underpinning the whole thing. Gladys's Aretha/churchy soulful vocal is sublime. The Look Of Love is sumptuous, of course, and has become one of her best known songs. Going' Out Of My Head is upbeat, horn-driven and slightly funky, while The BeatlesYesterday is given a soul makeover. Groovin' also becomes quite funky, while You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin' has a bit of a Latin feel in its intro, and Gladys's vocal is awesome, as it is too on Smokey Robinson's The Tracks Of My TearsThe TemptationsYou're My Everything and The Four TopsBaby I Need Your Loving are both excellent too.

As I said, this is a really enjoyable album, with great sound and Gladys's voice is just superb throughout. She got a bit of a rough deal from Motown. At this time, she was firmly in Diana Ross's shadow. For me, she was by far the better singer.



Nitty Gritty (1969)


Cloud Nine/Runnin' Out/Didn't You Know (You'd Have To Cry Sometimes)/(I Know) I'm Losing You/The Nitty Gritty/Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone/All I Could Do Was Cry/Keep An Eye/Got Myself A Good Man/It's Summer/The Stranger/I Want Him To Say It Again/Billy, Come On Back as Quick As You Can/Friendship Train    

In 1969, psychedelic, funky, conscious material was where Motown was at. The Temptations led the way, followed by Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Even Diana Ross & The Supremes had put out the controversial Love Child single. Here, another of Motown's most competent, and comparatively underrated at the time, vocalists did the same, produced by the master of that genre, Norman Whitfield.
                                            
This is Gladys Knight & The Pips' heaviest, funkiest, most "aware" album. It kicks off with their powerful, funky take on The TemptationsCloud NineRunnin' Out is a big, thumping bassy number, while Gladys's vocal on Didn't You Know (You'd Have To Cry Sometimes) is positively Aretha Franklin-esque. This is just a monster of a soul song, just perfect. Their version of The Temptations'  I Know I'm Losing You has the most pulsating, powerful backing (great stereo sound,  by the way) and, again, Gladys' vocal is peerless. Any of these tracks that have been covered by her, you have to say that she does them superbly. Just listen to her voice (and those horns) on the impossibly funky, cookin' Nitty Gritty. Many people know Gladys for her seventies work on the Buddha label (Midnight Train To GeorgiaThe Way We Were etc), but this is where Gladys really cut her teeth. Some of the stuff she did for Motown was superb, and it never really got the credit it deserved.

Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone is another slice of pure funk. This is, in my opinion, up there with Aretha Franklin's I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You as one of the great sixties female soul albums. All I Could Do Was Cry is not quite as good as the others, but it is certainly more than acceptable. Keep An Eye is a soaring, upbeat punchy, pugnacious number as, too, is Got Myself A Good Man, with Gladys in Aretha mode once more. The TemptationsIt's Summer is covered soulfully.

The Stranger has a real Northern Soul feeling about it, with a pounding beat and killer saxophone in the middle. I Want Him To Say It Again is jam-packed with funky organ breaks and piledriving bass and drums. This really is a vibrant, energetic album, dripping with Motown pumping down'n'dirty funk. Billy, Come On Back As Quick As You Can is a bit of a Cloud Nine re-write, but it is still hot, and the social consciousness of Friendship Train, with its searing guitar intro is both rousing and uplifting. "This train stands for justice..." Gladys hollers - her voice on this is great, she is in total command. Singers like this had such a gift. She was definitely up there with the very best and should duly be acknowledged as such.


If I Were Your Woman (1971)


If I Was Your Woman/Feelin' Alright/One Less Bell To Answer/Let It Be/I Don't Want To Do Wrong/One Step Away/Here I Am Again/How Can You Say That Ain't Love/Is There A Place (In This Heart For Me)/Everybody Is A Star/Signed Gladys/Your Love's Been Good For Me   

Gladys Knight's time at Motown still had a few years left and she was going to carry on putting out solid, quality soulful albums.
          
If I Was Your Woman (this time using "was" in the title instead of the "were" of the album's title) is an excellent, bassy piece of slow-burning soul. Some great stereo sound and percussion ushers in a muscular cover of Traffic's Feelin' Alright. Great piano break near the end too. One Less Bell To Answer is another cover, from The Fifth Dimension, but it is done so soulfully, with Gladys's vocal on top form, that you feel it is her own song. Covers of The BeatlesLet It Be are not always what one needs, but in the hands (and voice) of Gladys you simply can't go wrong. It is superb. I Don't Want To Do Wrong is one of those typical Gladys soulful ballads. The bass is outstanding on it as well. That and the title track were the two big soul singles that made this a popular album.

One Step Away is horn-driven, Gladys soul-by-numbers. She can handle songs like this in her sleep. You can pretty much say the same for the rest of the numbers on the album. They don't really need analysis, other than that the class of Gladys, her Pips and her quality Motown backing band raises standard soul songs to a higher grade than maybe they are. How Can You Say That Ain't Love shows that Gladys can handle faster material as well. It is one of the better of the second side of songs. Check out her voice on Everybody Is A Star  too. It is a nice album, I have to say, and the sound quality is excellent.

Neither One Of Us (1973)


Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)/It's Gotta Be That Way/For Once In My Life/This Child Needs Its Father/Who Is She (And What Is She To You)/And This Is Love/Daddy Could Swear, I Declare/Can't Give It Up No More/Don't It Make You Feel Guilty  

After seven impressive but underrated years with Motown, Gladys Knight & The Pips decamped to Buddah Records. This was their last official studio album for Motown (late in 1973 the label released All I Need Is Time, made up of unreleased material). It is a good album, with excellent sound quality as well. It was a shame Motown never seemed to push the group forward as much as they may have done. All the material they recorded for Motown was of high quality.
                        
Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) is a classic and needs no introduction, with superb vocals from both Gladys and The Pips. It's Gotta Be That Way is a supreme soul ballad of the style that would be so successful in subsequent years. Lovely bass and orchestration on it. Gladys has always been great at interpreting other Motown artists' songs (and all artists for that matter), and she does it here with a slowed-down, soulful cover of Stevie Wonder's For Once In My LifeThis Child Needs Its Father is a socially aware, Temptations-style slow piece of "message" funk/soul. The vocal is once again top notch.

Bill WithersWho Is She (And What Is She To You) is covered in full, bassy, kick-ass funky fashion. Great stuff. And This Is Love is a heartbreaking, muscular, punchy soul number which again delivers a solid message. Daddy Could Swear, I Declare saw Gladys in full-on funky attack in praise of her pugnacious father. It is three minutes of pounding soul. "Daddy couldn't read, daddy couldn't write, but one thing he could do right was swear... Lord have mercy....". You tell 'em how it was, Gladys. Can't Give It Up No More is another wonderful slice of classic seventies soul. Don't It Make You Feel Guilty ends the album and says goodbye to Motown with another high quality slow tempo soul groove. Things would get better and better for Gladys Knight in the next few years. This album should be viewed as up there with the best of her seventies work.



All I Need Is Time (1973)


I'll Be Here (When You Get Home)/All I Need Is Time/Heavy Makes You Happy/The Only Time You Love Me Is When You're Losing Me/Here I Am Again/There's A Lesson To Be Learned/Oh! What A Love I Have Found/The Singer/Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)   

After Gladys Knight left Motown in 1973, the label released this album of previously unreleased material.

I'll Be Here (When You Get Home) is a big, brassy ballad typical of Gladys Knight's subsequent Buddah Records work, as indeed is the slow tempo, romantic All I Need Is Time. As always, her voice is superb on these recordings. She is impressive on these soulful ballads, just as she is on the upbeat percussion-driven funk of The Staple SingersHeavy Makes You Happy and Sly & The Family Stone's Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again). She really was a most versatile soul singer. The unfortunate thing about her future Buddah material was the while the big, soul ballads remained, she cut back on the funky stuff, which was a pity as she did a great job on those numbers.

The Only Time You Love Me Is When You're Losing Me is a big production, orchestrated, Philadelphia-sounding ballad. Again, this is a pointer to the type of material that the Buddah years would yield. The same applies to Here I Am Again. The remaining tracks apart from Thank You are similar, grandiose ballads. Personally, I prefer Gladys when she gets funky, so, while this is a good album in many ways, I much prefer her last "proper" Motown album in Neither One Of Us. This is still worth a listen, though, and the sound quality is excellent.



Gladys Knight & The Pips: Gold


This excellent Motown compilation covers all of Gladys’ Motown career and has the usual fantastic sound quality that all these “Gold” releases have.

It stops in 1973, when she switched to Buddah Records, but it is often forgotten just what great material she put out on Motown and she was often unfairly overlooked. Highlights are Just Walk In My Shoes, Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me, Since I’ve Lost You, the original of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Neither One Of Us and The Nitty Gritty. There are also Gladys’s versions of Cloud Nine, I Wish It Would Rain, It Should Have Been Me, The Tracks Of My Tears, (I Know) I’m Losing You and For Once In My Life.

It was quite amazing just how many songs there were that came out of the Motown songwriting factory, many of which didn’t get much attention. Invariably they are all top quality. You could take any of the tracks on here and make a case for them. There really isn’t a duff track on here. You can hear the progression from gospelly beginnings through catchy pop/soul to smooth, polished ballads as the album plays. It is certainly a fine listen.

The Best Of Gladys Knight & The Pips (Buddah Years)


Make Yours A Happy Home/The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me/I Feel A Song In My Heart/Part-Time Love/The Going Ups And The Going Downs/Midnight Train To Georgia/On And On/Where Peaceful Waters Flow/I've Got To Use My Imagination/I Can See Clearly Now/Try To Remember/The Way We Were   

This was the first post-Motown Gladys Knight compilation, containing material from her immediately post-1973 output on Buddha Records. It was the first compilations of hers that I bought. I soon followed it up with a collection of her earlier Motown singles, but this one had very much the sound of 1977 on it. Gladys had considerable chart success at this time and seemed to be a constant fixture in the singles charts.

It is a typical seventies "best of" album in that it contains only eleven tracks, but it was very successful and all the tracks are top class examples of polished, well-produced, catchy soul. It is a very nostalgic album for me and was the first one I played after receiving my first pair of big hi-fi round ear headphones for Christmas 1976, along with Motown Gold and Queen's A Day At The Races, it became my soundtrack for late December/early January 1977. Just looking at the cover takes me right back.
                  
It kicks off with the sumptuous, laid-back brassy disco soul groove of Make Yours A Happy Home. Gladys's voice soars on this one, rising above the smooth, quality easy listening brass backing. The Pips are on top harmony form behind the "we can do it" refrain. The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me is simply a beautiful example of a sophisticated soul ballad. It was a huge hit and has a great chorus and a lovely deep, melodic bass line too. It is a classic example of quality seventies soul. The same can be said for the slightly funkier but still soulful I Feel A Song In My Heart which features another killer chorus.



Part-Time Love is a short but typically seventies Gladys sort of number - slow build up, big belting chorus, you know the sort of thing. The Going Ups And The Going Downs is a beautifully harmonious, slow burning piece of sweet late night soul. Then we get the glory of Midnight Train To Georgia, with its iconic drum intro followed by that brass riff. Gladys's vocal is wonderful and, along with Help Me Make It Through The Night, is probably her most famous song. There is no praise high enough for it, it is simply magnificent. The vocals, the brass, the rumbling bass, everything. Just listen to Gladys's vocals on the fade out for proof.

Gladys's funky cover of Curtis Mayfield's On And On is impressive and shows a different side to her delivery - she can do gritty funk too. It is by far the funkiest cut on the album. Another fine Jim Weatherley song (there are four on the album) is the lovely Where Peaceful Waters Flow. It was always a favourite of mine.

A thumping, Native American type drum and brass introduces Goffin/King's I've Got To Use My Imagination. It is a rhythmic soul stomper. Johnny Nash's pop reggae hit I Can See Clearly Now is given a soul makeover with a reggae lilt to the backing and one of The Pips on lead vocals. The final track is another well-known one - The Way We Were/Try To Remember. Gladys covers the song made famous by Barbra Streisand most impressively, although it was never as much of a favourite of mine as some of the others. You have to love that spoken intro though. It has some live crowd noise on it, but I am not sure if it was a live recording. It may have been of those strange superimposed "live" things that were quite popular in the seventies.

Overall, it is a short collection, but one of top quality.

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