This song popped into my head today for no particular reason, but got me thinking about the role of the late Teddy Pendergrass in my life. (Sorry Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, but you knew that man had to go solo.)
There are certain artist that I remember directly from my early childhood, and when I say that I’m talking about around ages 3-5. Artists that dominated my consciousness were Michael Jackson, Jackson 5, anyone from Motown, Teddy Pendergrass, and Barry White. For some reason, it was very important to my father that his children (ages 4 and 6 at the time) knew the difference between Pendergrass and White. You may think that sounds simple, but to the musically unaware it becomes a terrible misunderstanding.
Example: A girl in my brother’s sixth grade class once tried to refer to “you know, that one singer with the really deep voice??” The answer which came to her (and that she was sure was correct) was “Marvin Gaye”. She meant Barry White, it was quite a mistake, and our entire family felt very sorry for her after hearing the story at dinner that night. Kids these days.
Many often also confuse Pendergrass and White with Isaac Hayes. Again, common mistake, but a little time spent with each artist would demonstrate the clear difference. As far as similarities, they are all (1) Black men, with (2) deep voices, who were (3) highly popular in the 1970s, and (4) featured soul/R&B music with pleasantly orchestrated string arrangements. However, they are not all the same man in overall sound, style, or appearance.
Anyway, this song, which is by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes is one of the first that comes to mind when I think about Teddy Pendergrass. Many people forget that he was a part of this group because this was the last album he did with them before embarking on a solo career, which was a smart move. Melvin was controlling the band’s money and refusing to acknowledge how much Pendergrass was bringing to the table. I mean look at that video, the guys in the back didn’t even have to sing. Pendergrass was clearly the star of the group, with his deep, mellow, but sensitive voice. He had a style that reflected well with listeners. Unlike Barry White’s wall-of-sound disco-esque songs, I always felt that Pendergrass’s style was more laid back allowing a distinct focus on his vocals. Pendergrass made “sit down and relax” music, while White made music to get you moving. Isaac Hayes was in a whole different ballgame…
Here’s a lovely cover featuring John Legend, The Roots, Melanie Fiona, and Common: