May 14 – At Times Staton’s Heart Ran Too Free

Happy birthday to a lady who’s been dubbed “the Queen of Southern Soul”, a disco superstar and a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. And at 82 and still active, Candi Staton‘s a survivor, which she says is the one title she’s proudest of.

She’s come through numerous changes to the music scene, being molested as a child, several abusive marriages and breast cancer…which she told NPR was her hardest fight. “Fighting a human is one thing, fighting something you can’t see is another.”

She was born in rural northern Alabama, but her family moved to Nashville while she was still quite young, and sent her to a Christian school where her great voice got noticed. By the early ’50s, she, her sister and another young woman had formed the Jewell Gospel Trio and toured churches and revivals in the South with the likes of Mahalia Jackson, beginning to cut records by 1953 – when Candi (born Canzetta) was just 13. They were quite popular, but by the mid-’60s, she’d transitioned more to mainstream R&B or soul music, eventually compiling a dozen top 20s on U.S. R&B charts, usually covers like “In the Ghetto” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man”, which was her first regular chart hit, getting to #24 in 1970.

Her big break was the disco hit “Young Hearts Run Free”, a catchy song of independence. She said it was rather a companion piece to her friend Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Staton said Gaynor broke the “glass ceiling” with that one. Before it, she figured DJs wanted songs by females to be “baby, please don’t leave me…I’m your slave.” “I Will Survive” and her hit made it OK for women to be headstrong. The song took her career several steps ahead quickly. Before it, she says “I was playing what they called the ‘Chitlin Circuit’…backwoods, R&B, juke joint clubs with women painted on the walls. Most nights you’d have to chase the promoter down to get paid.”

She says she recorded it in one take – “the hurt in my voice is real…I was singing my life.” She took her own advice, and “was smart enough to …get rid” of an abusive husband she said was a drug-abuser and pimp “and run to my Mom’s house.” Soon she could probably afford better accommodations for herself (and maybe her mother too!) with the single hitting the U.S. top 20, and #21 to the north in Canada. But it was Britain where it really made a mark, getting to #2, going platinum …and re-charting again in both the ’80s and ’90s. It helped set her up as a star over there, with her recording four more top 40 hits in the decade that followed, including a cover of “Suspicious Minds.”

In the ’80s she became friends with Jim and Tammy Bakker and they helped her set up a ministry in Atlanta with her new husband; at that time she switched to mostly gospel music which has been well-received in that circuit and represents about half of her 30 studio album discography, although her most recent album, 2018’s Unstoppable is described more as “retro R&B”.

As smart as she is, she’s not had the best of luck picking mates. She’s been married six times, including to R&B star “Strokin’” Clarence Carter and even baseball player Otis Nixon. They haven’t always gone well, prompting her to begin a charity called A Veil of Silence, dedicated to helping women escape violent relationships and educating authorities about the issue….helping “Young Hearts Run Free.”

April 2 – Marvin Moved Motown Toward Music That Mattered

Today we mark the 83rd anniversary of the birth of one of the 20th Century’s most important and celebrated musicians – Marvin Gaye. Born this day in 1939 in Washington DC and tragically killed by his own father a day shy of his 45th birthday in L.A., he crammed a lot of great Detroit music in the time he had. According to Casey Kasem, Gaye was the most successful solo artist of “the Beatles years”, a time when groups reigned supreme. And yet, his best work was still to come at that point. We’ve looked at his life before, so today we’ll look a bit at why he’s so revered. After all, he’s one of very few artists to be enshrined in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

While Gaye ran off an impressive list of hit singles in the ’60s, like “How Sweet It Is” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, as well as duets with Tammi Terrell like “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, there wasn’t yet much to distinguish him from other popular Motown artists of the day, or many of the other pop singers on other labels for that matter. He had a great voice, but basically just sang what his record company bosses told him to. However, around the end of the decade, that began to change. Ironically, he’d written some hit singles, like Martha and the Vandellas “Dancing in the Streets”, but not recorded them himself.

Maybe it was letters from his brother serving in Vietnam. Maybe it was seeing footage of the race riots going on, many near his record company’s front doors. Maybe it was seeing the growing level of poverty in Detroit, or reading of one young performer after another dying from heroin. Whatever it was, he had an epiphany. “In 1969 or ’70, I began to re-evaluate what I wanted to say,” he told Rolling Stone. “I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.” So he set out to do that, and along the way probably came to realize that he needed more control over other aspects of the music. He was a professional drummer before joining Motown, and a competent enough keyboardist too, and he’d spent enough time in a recording studio to know how things worked. He began to play some of the music himself, produce the records himself and when he used other musicians, he was going to give credit to the session players and name them on his record notes.

None of this pleased his record company or its owner, Berry Gordy. As Rolling Stone put it, “the last thing Motown wanted its fans to do was think about what was happening in the world.” Motown had struck a gold mine in the ’60s with happy-sounding, easy-breezy love songs that made acts like the Supremes and Four Tops superstars. He didn’t want to rock the boat, even if he had to close his own offices and studio a time or two because the rioting on the streets outside made it too dangerous to get there. But Gaye persevered and recorded What’s Going On?, his 1971 masterpiece – which his boss hated. As the Songwriters Hall point out, with that album not only did he begin to take total control over his recordings but “he took on political and social issues like the Vietnam War, drugs, equality and the environment, while incorporating jazz, pop and classical styles.” It was as big a change from what he’d done before as The Beatles Abbey Road was from “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Not only did Gordy hate it, he wouldn’t allow the title track, nor “Mercy Mercy Me” to be put out as singles until Marvin threatened to go on strike and not record or tour again for the label unless they were. Of course, he was proven right. The song “What’s Going On?” became Motown’s biggest hit single to that point and the album sold millions. What’s more, it’s still critically-acclaimed, being named the greatest album of all-time by Rolling Stone recently (previous versions of their list had it ranked at #6) and by The Guardian in Britain back in 1997.

The Temptations had a similar problem getting there opus “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” released the following year, but Berry had seemingly learned to not argue against records his artists felt strongly about, even when he disagreed. And soon after, Stevie Wonder came into his own, taking a similar trajectory to Gaye, soon writing, playing and producing most all of his own records in the ’70s, many of them making pointed social commentaries on many of the same issues Gaye had. Some – and I would put us here as among those “some” – would say Wonder even did it better than Marvin… but it’s reasonable to wonder if he’d have had a chance to were it not for Gaye mapping the trail first.

Gaye of course kept recording after What’s Going On? with mixed results, producing some very good and popular and some not so well-received records and seemed to be just beginning a career rejuvenation when he was murdered. But if we remember him for just one thing, it would be that record… and his letting other artists know, by his example, to be their own men (and women) and if they were being forced to make music they didn’t feel, ask themselves “what’s going on?” 

*Tomorrow, I’m happy to be kicking off a new feature we hope to run periodically through the year. In addition to regular posts , we’ll be running a guest column each day for four or five, with great music fans talking about one topic . I hope you’ll like it and see one topic through various eyes – and ears.*

February 19 – The Voice That Made Motown

Happy 82nd birthday to one of the great voices – and minds – of 20th-Century pop- Smokey Robinson. William Jr. got the nickname “Smokey Joe” from an uncle who took him to cowboy movies as a kid, but as much as he liked the flicks, Robinson loved music more. Growing up in “Motown” (Detroit), near Diana Ross, he’d formed a doo-wop group called the 5 Chimes by age 13; they’d morphed into The Miracles by 1958. Soon after, he met Berry Gordy Jr. and The Miracles became one of the first acts signed to the then new Motown label. Their “Shop Around” became Motown’s first million-seller and before he was done, he’d contributed to 26 top 40 hits for them, writing many and singing lead on most.

But hits like “Tears of A Clown” and “I Second That Emotion” weren’t all Smokey gave to the record company. By the mid-’60s he was VP of the company and he thought so much of his boss he named his first two kids “Berry” and “Gordy.” The feeling seemed mutual; Gordy wrote that “he reminded me of me – so passionate about his music.” He briefly quit the performing side of music around 1972, to devote more time to his family and business career but quickly found that boring and launched a successful solo career which yielded ten more top 40s through the ’70s and ’80s, like “Cruisin'” and “Being With You”, a gold single which went to #1 in the UK in 1981. His career continues albeit it at a slowed rate; his most recent works being an album of duets with the likes of Elton John, Sheryl Crow and John Legend in 2014 and a Christmas album in 2017.

Robinson was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, among an elite group of early rock pioneers that included Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. In their words, he “put (Motown) on the map” with his “gorgeous” songs and his work as a talent scout. More recently, he was the recipient of the Library of Congress’ Gershwin Prize, their highest honor for musicians, in 2016.

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This marks post #3000 here at A Sound Day! I look forward to thousands more to come but would like to thank all of you for reading, especially the regulars like Max (Badfinger 20), Jim (New Epic Author), Obbverse, Deke and Lisa (Tao Talk) who seem to be daily visitors and commentators which is much appreciated. But whether this is your first visit to my site or your thousandth, thank you!

In the coming months I hope to have some more new artist interviews and record reviews in addition to the usual daily columns, and perhaps try to get an index going. With 3000 articles mentioning literally thousands of artists and records, that will be quite a task, as you might imagine, but it remains a goal. In the meantime, don’t forget you can search for your favorite artist or record through the search button (the magnifying glass) which appears on top of the site on mobile phones and around the bottom on computer web browsers. Or if using the computer, you can click on the 75 most popular topics for the articles related to them, as listed on the right side.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to let me know through the comments section.

February 4 – White Was R&B’s Shining Star

Somewhat lost in the clutter of high-profile celebrity deaths in early 2016 was a great who passed away six years ago today – Maurice White. To many, White was Earth, Wind & Fire. He was that, and quite a bit more too. He passed away at age 74 from complications of Parkinson’s Disease which had kept him from touring with (but not from working with in the studio) the band for two decades.

If White had soul, there’s little wonder. He was born into a musical family in Memphis, where he was a friend of Booker T. Jones, who’d be the “Booker T” mentioned in the name of the MGs. Maurice learned to play a bit of piano but exceled at drumming, and left the South to study at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. It was in the Windy City during the ’60s that he became Chess Records’ session drummer of choice, working on records for artists like Etta James, Chuck Berry and the great “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass. He worked in a jazz/blues combo, the Ramsay Lewis Trio, on the side and won the first of seven Grammys he’d have his name on with them in ’66. Later he formed a band called Salty Peppers, moved them to L.A. and changed their name. Enter Earth, Wind and Fire.

White was the only constant member through the band’s 21 studio albums between 1971- 2014 and the driving force behind them. Not only was he the drummer, he traded off lead vocal duties on their most popular releases with Phillip Bailey (White’s voice was the lower baritone, Bailey’s the higher, falsetto) wrote or co-wrote almost all of their hits including “September” and “That’s The Way Of The World”, and produced all of their hit albums. Those included four multi-platinum ones in the States; the popularity of their exuberant dance/R&B sound can be seen in that their Best Of compilation is 5X platinum. They scored a #1 single with 1975’s “Shining Star” – typical of the positive, upbeat message he tried to bring to his songs – and ten more top 20 hits. He said of the band’s success through positive lyrics, “that was the whole objective – to try to inspire young people to believe in themselves and follow through on their ideas.” A pretty good resume that; it got the band inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and White himself into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. But as they say on TV, “Wait – there’s more!”

White wasn’t limited to his own band during his prime years. Not by any means. Outside of EW&F, he spearheaded the career of EW&F’s “sister band” the Emotions, producing their hits including “Boogie Wonderland” which his band collaborated on, and produced records for artists ranging from Minnie Riperton to Barry Manilow to Barbra Streisand. On top of that, he’s helped out with his voice and drums on records from the likes of The Tubes, Stevie Wonder and Cher.

White left behind a wife and three kids.

October 30 – Windy City R&B Stars Blew Onto Scene 50 Years Back

We know Detroit – Motown – was the center of the vibrant R&B-crossed-with-pop sound of the ’60s and ’70s, with great artists like Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations. You might also know Philadelphia was also a mecca for that soul sound, with the likes of the O’Jays, Spinners and Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes. But they weren’t the only cities that were centers of Black music in the Vietnam era. Take for Chicago, for instance. At the time the second largest city in the country, it was no surprise they had an active music scene and was a center for soul and blues music. At the forefront, possibly the longest-running R&B band out there, the Chi-lites.

The Chi-lites were started by a bunch of high school friends in the city back in 1959. Remarkably, they are still active, with one of the originals from the ’50s, Marshall Thompson. They formed as The Chanteurs, but didn’t like that name for long. They wanted to change to The Hi-lites, but found there already was a group with that name so they modified it to give a nod to their hometown. Enter, The Chi-lites.

The harmonic soul singers put out their first single in 1964, and after signing to Brunswick Records, their first LP in 1969. They really got going though on this day in 1971, when their hit “Have You Seen Her?” made the American top 40. It was their first hit; they’d go on to score a chart-topper the next year with “Oh Girl” and notch seven more top 10s on the R&B charts by 1974.

Have You Seen Her?” was an unusual record in that it was a bit long for a single of that period – 5’08” – and that it began and ended with a spoken word bit. That part was inspired by something Isaac Hayes had done on a 1969 album, and was edited out by some radio stations who felt it slow and making the song too long. The spoken narrative, beginning with “One month ago today, I was happy as a lark…” before detailing how she’d gone away and now he couldn’t be happy no matter where he was or what he did, was spoken by Eugene Record, the group’s leader and also the main writer. He co-wrote this one with his girlfriend, singer Barbara Acklin.

Recently, the Chi-lites were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and they (including 79 year old Thompson) say they plan to be touring again soon.

October 27 – Ben Had A Royally Good Last Minute Add-on

All in a day’s work…and not a bad one at that! Ben E. King had recently quit his group, the Drifters (not to be confused with the British group The Drifters, of which Cliff Richard was a member) and was anxious to show Atlantic Records that he didn’t need them behind him to succeed. Turns out he was right. And on this day in 1960, he recorded one of pop/R&B’s greatest tunes…then had some spare time, so decided to record an even greater hit before calling it a day.

King had been born in rural North Carolina but moved with his family to the Harlem area of New York City by age nine. Soon he was singing in churches and in clubs there, joining the Five Crowns as a teen. They’d soon become the Drifters, and scored a #1 hit at home earlier in ’60 with “Save the Last Dance for Me”, on which King sang lead. He had disagreements with the others and went out on his own. On this day 61 years back, he was at the Atlantic Studios in the Big Apple, recording music for his debut album, Spanish Harlem, which was being produced by the power-duo of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller. They’d been in demand producers and songwriters for years, having written “Hound Dog” among other early rock hits. King lived near Spanish Harlem and as Rolling Stone put it “was eager to make an auspicious solo debut and insisted on cutting” the song of that name. It had been written by Lieber and then young-and-upcoming Phil Spector according to the record credits, though later on Lieber said Stoller also was largely responsible for the melody although not credited. Either way, the song about the Hispanic area of the city was catchy, and had strings and a Latin feel that was unusual for the day, especially in R&B or soul.

They were pretty satisfied with the take, but the day was still young. The producers asked if there was anything else King had or wanted to do. He told them there was a song he’d worked on as a member of the Drifters, but they’d told him “it’s not a bad song, but we don’t need it.” He began singing the basic form of “Stand by Me” , perhaps playing piano along with it (memories of the session seem to vary a little.) Whether it was King or Stoller who sat at the piano, what was clear was that they all thought it was a song worth doing, and they’d quickly filled in any gaps. The song of devotion and dedication can be interpreted many ways – one verse even reflects King’s church roots (psalm 46 talks of “we will not fear, even though the Earth be removed and the mountains be carried to the sea”) – but no matter whether to a lover, a good buddy or one’s God, it was a message that resonated. They called the session musicians back into the room and recorded the now classic before heading home for the night.

Spanish Harlem” was the title track of his first album. As a single, it hit #10… pretty good! Aretha Franklin later recorded an even more popular version, but King’s still managed to be listed among Rolling Stone‘s 500 greatest songs of all-time. But that paled beside “Stand by Me”, which didn’t even make the LP! Released in ’61 as a standalone single, it got to #4 in the States, and #27 in the UK. But it’s popularity never disappeared and it was reborn in 1986 when a movie based on a Stephen King story was named after it and used it in the soundtrack. King appeared in the video and the song rose back up the charts, back into the American top 10 and all the way to #1 in Britain. By the end of the 20th Century, BMI report it was the fourth most-played song of the 20th Century with over seven million radio spins. Rolling Stone rated it even higher than “Spanish Harlem” on their greatest songs list, and more significantly, just weeks before his death in 2015, Congress honored it by putting it on the list of Library of Congress “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” songs. It’s been recorded over 400 times since King’s original, by artists ranging from John Lennon to boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammed Ali) !

One day, one room, two of the best R&B songs ever recorded. Not a bad day for Atlantic Records, let alone Ben E. King.

June 15 – Soul, Philly Style-istic

Philadelphia had a great soul/R&B music scene in the ’70s, so much so that there’s even a “Philadelphia Sound”. However, put aside the Blue-eyed soul of Hall & Oates and you largely have the East Coast equivalent of Motown – the many talented artists under one big record company umbrella and close tutelage of its owners. That would be Philadelphia Intl., a company owned by Gamble & Huff, a pair of super-songwriters who wrote most of the hits for themselves, and produced many a hit artist from the O’Jays to Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes to Billy Paul. But there was an exception, and the exceptional exception, The Stylistics, had their moment of glory this day in 1974. Their great hit “You Make Me Feel Brand New” had hit #2 in the U.S., the best showing for any of their songs.

The Stylistics are a vocal group that merged out of two Philly groups of the ’60s. Surprisingly, they’re still around and have two of the original five members. They signed to the small Avco label in 1968. That was a Pennsylvania label run by the songwriters and producers “Hugo and Luigi.” No, they weren’t a pair of video game car racers apparently. Their sweet sound, lush love songs and great falsetto voice of Russell Thompkins Jr. were popular right away, and they’d got as high as #3 on the American charts before with “Betcha By Golly Wow.” This single, off their fourth album, Let’s Put It All Together, was written by Thom Bell (an Avco producer) and Linda Creed, and features the high voice of Thompkins on the main lead with the lower-voiced Airrion Love filling in the other parts.

By the time the single got here, to #2, it was already certified gold. It was their fifth and last gold single at home, and a hit worldwide getting to #2 in the UK as well and #3 in Australia and Canada. Although they’d keep recording for years, they’d have a hard time being noticed in North America after this, but in Britain they finally scored a #1 hit about a year later with “I Can’t Give You Anything.”

An interesting tie-in for the Stylistics. Besides them, there was really only one big hit on Avco Records – allmusic note “their run at Avco was one of the greatest in modern soul” – Van McCoy’s disco anthem “The Hustle.” McCoy was credited on “You Make Me Feel Brand New” as an arranger and “conductor”, presumably of the un-named string section.

In case you’re wondering what kept The Stylistics out of the #1 spot that week… it happened to be this one hit wonder.

April 12 – Aquarius Was Big In Aries Month

“Groovy man, that song is far out!” that no doubt was what a lot of people were saying 52 years ago today when they heard the new #1 song in the U.S., one of the Hippie culture’s classics. “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” by the 5th Dimension topped the charts this day in 1969 and would stay there until being deposed by The Beatles’ “Get Back” some six weeks later.

The 5th Dimension were an L.A. quartet with great voices (and perhaps looks as well… Lamont McLemore of the group was dubbed “Music’s Bronze Clark Gable”) who created an almost unique sound by blending together pop, soul, Broadway number type performances and even a few operatic elements. They referred to their sound as “champagne soul.” They’d come together after a couple of members of a group called the Hi-fis (who’d toured behind Ray Charles in 1964) had added in some other voices, including Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., become the Versatiles and then, the hipper 5th Dimension.

They’d come to the public’s attention and acclaim during that Summer of Love, with the Jimmy Webb-penned song “Up Up and Away.” Early in 1969, they tapped into the zeitgest perfectly, releasing an album called The Age of Aquarius, which used another Webb song (“The Hideaway”), a cover of Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love” and other appropriately zonked-out tunes including this breakout hit for them. “Aquarius” and “Let the Sunshine In” were both songs from the Broadway smash Hair, rather a tour de force of the counter-culture back then, and although they were two separate songs, the 5th Dimension managed to segue them together nicely in one 4:49” single. Even the recording was originally as disparate as the original songs: they recorded the vocals, Billy Davis singing lead, in Las Vegas. They did it “live” with just two mics for the five of them…possibly six as Webb was sitting in apparently, loving what he was hearing. Meanwhile, over in L.A., famed session musicians the Wrecking Crew put together the actual instrumental part of the music. Improbable as it all seems, it worked. The song was one of the high-water marks of the Hippie movement, and the 5th Dimension’s first #1 hit. They’d score another one later in the year with another song off The age of Aquarius: “Wedding Bell Blues written by Laura Nyro, which oddly enough hit #1 only three months after McCoo and Davis got married. Happily they are now just past their 50th anniversary (and had a hit of their own in the ’70s with “You Don’t Have To Be A Star”). their profile was helped along by being on the Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1969, performing “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” on their second appearance.

The song went on to be the #2 single of the year in the U.S. and won the five a couple of Grammys. They took home Record of the Year and best Contemporary Vocal Performance By a Group. As we’ve noted here before, that meant the 5th Dimension at that point in time had won as many Grammys as the Beatles.

By the way, if you’re not an Astrology type – and we here certainly are not – the “Age of Aquarius” is presumed to follow the Age of Pisces, which we are now in. Astrologers figure the Aquarius time will bring in a time when, like the song says, “peace will guide this planet.” Problem is, rather like politicians’ promises, they’re exceedingly foggy about just when the Age of Aquarius might begin. Estimates range from 2060 to 2680! At which point, the 5th Dimension might still be around. They’re still active, albeit with only one member of their 1960s lineup, Florence Larue.

March 24 – People Got On Board With O’Jays Message

Wishing for the best of times made it the best of times for the O’Jays 48 years ago. The established soul group scored their only mainstream #1 hit this day in 1973 with “Love Train.” By that time the band had been around for some 15 years (originally under the name the Triumphs) and had a little success on R&B charts prior to 1971, and a #1 hit on that chart in ’72 with “Back Stabbers” but widespread popularity had eluded them. This song changed all that.

The upbeat sounding-song had its upbeat lyrics about world peace written by K. Gamble, part of the Philadelphia Records writing super-team of Gamble & Huff, in “five minutes.” Said singer Walter Williams, “1972 was explosive, Vietnam…the rich were getting richer, so it was the right time to sing about social issues.” The song that calls out everywhere from England to Israel and China in a plea for peace and love not only got to #1 on Billboard but was also their only top 10 hit across the sea in the UK.

Apparently one of at least half a million fans (as the single went gold) is President Trump who used the tune during his 2016 campaign which angered the band. “We’re about unity, not division,” Williams explains, adding “Trump says he’s gonna make America great again. I would ask him ‘when was it not great for you?’” The O’Jays would go on to have eight more R&B chart-toppers through the ’70s and ’80s but only two more top 10 singles after 1973, “For the Love Of Money” and “I Love Music”.

Strangely, although this and all their hit records were on the Philadelphia Intl. label and they’re right there with MFSB and Harold Melvin as synonymous with “Philadelphia Soul”, the O’Jays are an Ohio band and even got their name as a tip of the cap to a Cleveland DJ, Eddie O’Jay. The O’Jays are still rolling, if a tad slower than during their heyday. Despite the pandemic problems, they have concerts lined up this spring and summer for Pennsylvania and Ohio and put out a new album, The Last Word, in 2019.

December 9 – If You Don’t Know Harold By Now

If you didn’t know them by then, you might not have ever known them…Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes got as high on the charts as they ever would on this day in 1972. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” hit #3 on Billboard and was also the first of four of theirs to top the R&B chart. As well, it was their only top 10 hit overseas in the UK and the first of a pair of gold singles for them.

The band were one of the pioneers of the “Philadelphia Soul” sound, a rival to Motown in the ’70s, characterized by a bit more funk and lavish production than the Detroiters. The O’Jays and Labelle were others in the city’s scene. The Bluenotes dated all the way back to 1954, when they were The Charlamagnes; although Melvin was the only original member, the singer on this one was Teddy Pendergrass who’d joined them in 1970. Pendergrass went on to some solo success (four platinum albums in the U.S.) later in the decade before being partly paralyzed in a 1982 car crash.

This great song had a second life of sorts the following decade when it became a worldwide hit for Simply Red, who took it to #1 in the States and #2 in their UK in 1989. That time around it won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song, surprisingly the first one won by the writing team of Gamble and Huff. That pair, who ran Philadelphia Intl. Records were responsible for a host of great ’60s and ’70s hits including “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “TSOP” and “Love Train.”