HAROLD MELVIN and the BLUE NOTES Be For Real (SoulMusic Records)

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Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were in the vanguard of the upward advance of the mighty Philadelphia International Empire. Fans, though, will know that the group has a history that begins long before Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s ascendancy. Indeed they were formed way, way back in 1954 as the Charlemagnes then, after becoming the Blue Notes, they made their recording debut in 1956. Internal group disputes led to member Harold Melvin breaking away with his own “Blue Notes” as rivals to the remaining “Original Blue Notes”. It was the Melvin-led combo though that enjoyed more success, recording for labels like Landa and TK whilst making a reasonably lucrative living on the cabaret circuit. Indeed it was at a supper club show that Gamble and Huff saw the band and decided to sign them to their fledgling PIR label. Soul myth has it that the duo was mightily impressed by the group’s drummer/singer, Teddy Pendergrass. Philly histories tell us that Kenny and Leon always wanted to sign the Dells to work with the mighty Marvin Junior and in Pendergrass they thought they’d found the next best thing!

Whatever… Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes signed to PIR in 1972 and there and then started a remarkable run of success… four wonderful albums and a slew of hit singles and now that entire PIR repertoire has been brought together in this wonderful 3 CD box set from SoulMusic Records.

The collection begins with one of the greatest soul group albums of all time… the seven tracker that was originally issued as ‘Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ before being hastily renamed ‘I Miss You’ after the epic 8 minute plus opening track which became a smash hit. If you doubt the aforementioned Dells envy – take a real good listen to ‘I Miss You’ and though the LP’s other big tune, ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, is often cited as the group’s anthem, it’s ‘I Miss You’ that remains the Blue Note’s masterpiece. Never mind remembering where you were when Kennedy was assassinated (yes, I’m that old!) every proper soul fan can remember exactly where they where when they first heard ‘I Miss You’ – and it will still make those neck hairs stand on end!

After that, I suppose, everything else was bound to be something of an anti-climax but Harold and the boys (soon billed as “featuring Teddy Pendergrass”) recorded plenty more classics – ‘The Love I Lost’, ‘Satisfaction Guaranteed’, ‘Where Are All My Friends’, ‘Bad Luck’ , ‘Wake Up Everybody’ and many more. They’re all here – alongside plenty of magnificent LP tracks (listen up to  ‘Be For Real’ – almost as good as ‘I Miss You’) and as bonuses, the third CD in this pack offers 6 “rarities” – their version of ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ (from the ‘Clean Up The Ghetto’ album), two Tom Moulton mixes and three live recordings. One of them, I need to mention, is ‘I Miss You’ – this time around 11 epic minutes!

(BB) 4/5