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Soul Express Classic Soul CD of the Month - November 2008

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Life Is a Song Worth Singing
US Philadelphia International / Sony BMG, 2008
The original release on Philadelphia International, 1978
1) Life Is a Song Worth Singing  2) Only You  3) Cold, Cold World  4) Get up, Get down, Get Funky, Get Loose 5) Close the Door  6) It Don’t Hurt Now  7) When Somebody Loves You Back

Produced by Jack Faith, Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff; John Whitehead, Gene McFadden & Victor Carstarphen; Sherman Marshall

Teddy’s second album definitely has its moments, but as is so often the case with sophomore efforts, it doesn’t reach the overall level of its predecessor.

In my book the best uptempo cut on the album is the solid title track. The instrumental first minute of the song demonstrates the stylish yet effective string and horn arrangement, which perfectly complements the sombre Thom Bell-Linda Creed melody and Teddy’s suitably restrained vocals. There’s an interesting contrast between the overall atmosphere and the uplifting lyrics.

The second single release, Only You, and Get up, Get down, Get Funky, Get Loose try to introduce a harder funk edge to Teddy’s style with somewhat lacklustre results. Teddy’s vocal style and the (attempted) funky backgrounds do not find common ground and thus we are left with monotony and no real groove. By the way, Only You was the song Eddie Murphy used in his stand-up routine in Delirious, when he described Teddy’s singing style: “I like dudes with masculine voices, like Teddy Pendergrass. Teddy just come out, take the lyrics and go (in a super-gruff voice) ‘You got you got you got what I need’, and scare the bitches into loving him.” Of course, Delirious also featured other hilarious music-related skits, like Eddie doing an impersonation of Michael Jackson crying his way through a love song (”Tito, give me some tissue. Jermaine, stop teasing!”) and reflecting on the unintelligibility of James Brown’s funk vocalising (”James Brown’s been singing twenty years. I don’t know what the fuck James is talking about!”).

Cold, Cold World is a mellow mid-ballad that didn’t strike me as a particularly memorable composition, but, as usual, Teddy’s vocalising makes it highly soulful.

The standout cut of the album is of course the ballad classic Close the Door, which rose to the top of the R&B charts. It was actually Teddy’s sole number one single on PIR, as he was more of an album artist.

Close the Door and its successor in 1979, Turn off the Lights, became the epitomes of the ”bedroom ballad”. For some the term might represent the debasement of soul music, ”wet-crotch music” as somebody called it, but I would disagree. When we’ve got a deep Gamble & Huff composition, a classy Thom Bell arrangement, and Teddy interprets the tune in his warm and 100 per cent soulful manner, I have absolutely no complaints. Besides, while soul music naturally deals with all kinds of subjects in its lyrics, love and sex have frequently inspired black artists to their most heart-felt interpretations, for which Teddy provides further testimony by his growling on Close the Door. Teddy himself stressed that their were other sides to him apart from the ladies’ man image, but seemed at ease with the romantic role Close the Door created for him: ”That song helped establish the concept people had about me, who they felt I really was, and what they felt I was really about.” (The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits). Around this time his sexy ”Teddy Bear” image was milked for all it was worth, with concerts under the theme of For Women Only, and panties literally flying onstage from the audience. Not unexpectedly, all of this resulted in some unpleasant incidents, too, with deranged fans stalking Teddy or spreading unfounded allegations to the press.

Penned by Sherman Marshall and T. Wortman, the same duo that was responsible for The Whole Town’s Laughing at Me, It Don’t Hurt Now is yet another warm and soulful pearl of a ballad around which Teddy weaves his magic while the female choir repeats the title. The album is brought to a close with When Somebody Loves You Back, a buoyant easy-on-the-ear swayer with a very attractive melody.

- Petteri Ruotsalainen

Teddy Pendegrass Album Discography

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