GLADYS KNIGHT and the PIPS; On and On (SoulMusic Records)

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The latest offering from David Nathan’s SoulMusic Records is an unusual “twofer” on the ever wonderful Gladys Knight (and the Pips, of course!) Unusual? Well, you see it combines material from her tenure with two big labels – Buddah and Columbia – and with licensing issues and other business machinations it’s odd that we have the collection – odd but wonderful…. 37 fabulous recordings across 2 CDs!

All soul fans know that Gladys and her brother and cousins began way back in 1963 as youngsters with hits like ‘Every Beat Of My Heart’. A ’66 move to Motown brought more success but autobiographies and interviews reveal that the family group never felt entirely comfortable as part of the Gordy empire. We’re told that despite some big, big hits Gladys and the Pips felt like Motown second stringers; so, when a chance came to move on, (in 1973), they jumped at it. Where they jumped to was Neil Bogart’s Buddah label and there they hit the ground running. Hit followed hit and Knight albums started to impact the charts – something that had only rarely happened at Motown. The first CD in this package offers 20 of those Buddah highlights and though “highlight” is one of those words bandied about all too easily in reviews, how else could you describe heart-stopping performances like ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’, ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened’, ‘Part Time Love’ and the Curtis Mayfield penned ‘The Makings Of You’.

In 1979 Ms Knight signed to Columbia Records and the big tunes kept coming and this pack’s second CD lines up 17 of the very best…. classics like ‘Landlord’, ‘Taste Of Bitter Love’, ‘You’re Number One In My Book’, ‘Bourgie Bourgie’, ‘Save The Overtime For Me’ and an early version of what has become a standard, ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ (here titled ‘Hero’) – a song perfectly suited to Gladys’ gospel-reared, emotion-tugging approach.

Most of this group’s Buddha and Columbia output has been reissued over the years but coupled like this it’s a reminder of what a huge talent Ms Knight is… very much present tense. She may not record that often these days but she still tours and many of the tracks on this collection are staples of her live shows…understandably so!

(BB) 4/5