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  Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes 
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Bad Luck

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One of Philadelphia International’s most successful acts, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were one of the top vocal groups of the early 70s with several hits that are now recognized as standards.  Led by the captivating vocals of Teddy Pendergrass, they were also one of Philly’s most versatile artists, as comfortable on gut-wrenching ballads like “I Miss You” as on uptempo fare like “Bad Luck.” 

 

The mere fact that they became stars illustrates the combination of hard-work and luck that is usually involved in the entertainment industry.  The Blue Notes were formed in 1954 and had toiled in obscurity for decades, cutting the ocassional 45 but mostly earning their living as a cabaret act in supper clubs, casinos and cruise ships.  As the leader, Melvin (who controlled the group’s name and personnel) served as main singer, choreographer, writer, and manger.  But one night he decided to give his voice a break and allowed their current drummer, Pendergrass, to sing.


To say Melvin was overwhelmed by what he heard would be an understatement. Ever the savvy businessman, Melvin recognized he had unearthed a potential superstar and soon made Pendergrass the lead vocalist.


By the time they were signed by Philadelphia International, their membership consisted of Bernard Wilson, Lawrence Brown, and Lloyd Parks, Melvin, and Pendergrass. Like labelmates the O’Jays, they were a veteran act with Philly ties who had been waiting for the opportunity to work with established producers and writers like Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who were in turn on the lookout for hungry talent by launch their fledgling label.

Their first single was the overwrought “I Miss You,” whose lyrics were mostly repetition of of the title.  It was a hit, reaching #7, but Philly International and Clive Davis made a bold move with the second single.


Taking a full page ad in Billboard that stated “by this time next week the whole world will be singing 'If You Don't Know Me By Now',” the single was released in late 1972 and soon became a fast-rising hit. The song made brought them into the big time and has been revived via covers several times, most notably by Simply Red.  

With back-to-back ballads serving as the nation’s introduction to the group, Gamble and Huff decided to switch gears for the next single.  “The Love I Lost” was originally written as another slow number, but MFSB drummer Earl Young, who played on the session, decided that the tempo needed to be faster.  Taking his suggestion to heart, the song was transformed into an uptempo groove featuring an insistent hi-hat pattern that helped define early disco. They solidified their dancefloor appeal with the topical “Bad Luck,” the first of several Harold Melvin hits written by McFadden and Whitehead.

Through 1976, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were riding high with “Hope That We Can Be Together Soon,” “Wake Up Everybody,” “Where Are All My Friends,” and “Satisfaction Guaranteed.”  But beneath the surface, Pendergrass’s dissatisfaction was threatening to destroy their momentum. 

Although he was responsible for their newfound popularity, Pendergrass was still treated (and paid) like a regular Blue Note, often confused for Harold Melvin since he got top billing.  Melvin was not willing to concede anything and felt like Pendergrass should be grateful for his opportunity. 

The tension between Pendergrass and Melvin was temporarily remedied when they started being billed as the lengthy Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Teddy Pendergrass, but after 1975’s Wake Up Everybody, which was the final album owed to Philadelphia International Records under their contract, Pendergrass had decided to go solo and gave the label an ultimatum: him or Harold Melvin. Since he for all intents and purposes was Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (he was frequently the only member of the group to record), Gamble and Huff chose Pendergrass.   

    

Stung but figuring he had this was another obstacle to overcome, Melvin enlisted David Ebo as the new singer and signed the group to ABC.  Reaching For The World was another Philly production and even included material from McFadden & Whitehead, and was notable for the title single and “Cryin’,” their last club hit.

Ebo couldn’t inspire the kind of loyalty among fans that Pendergrass generated, and they failed to hit with their other releases, despite the novelty of releasing an “x-rated” version of their 1980 single “I Should Be Your Lover.”

Ebo left in 1982, clearing the way for Gil Saunders’ arrival.  This edition was signed to Philly World and cut the last known Blue Notes album, 1984’s Talk It Up.  A surprising comeback, the album contained the modern soul cuts “Don’t Give Me Up” and “Today’s Your Lucky Day.”  The record was particularly popular in the UK and is a cult item. 


The revolving door of Blue Notes continued until Melvin had a stroke and died on March 24, 1997. There is still a touring edition of Blue Notes, but none have any connection to the group’s glory days.

     
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' Deepest Grooves

"My Hero"/"A Good Woman" (Val-ue, 1960)
 
"Get Out"/"You May Not Love Me" (Landa, 1965)
 

I Miss You (Philadelphia International, 1972)


Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes  featuing “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (Philadelphia International, 1972)
A reissued I Miss You retitled to capitalize on their current hit.


Black And Blue
(Philadelphia International, 1973)

To Be True (Philadelphia International, 1975)


Wake Up Everybody
(Philadelphia International, 1975)


Reaching For The World
(ABC, 1976)


Now is the Time
(ABC, 1977)


The Blue Album (Source Records, 1980)

All Things Happen in Time (Source Records, 1980)


Talk It Up (Tell Everybody) (Philly World, 1984)

 


 

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