Review by RDTEN1
Rip, posting & additional infos by Nikos
From a 70s group harmony soul perspective, single lp choice, as difficult as choosing, “The Champ” lp, this album is “last man standing” when the smoke finally clears. There are a number of finalists who make the cut to the “Battle Royale” finals, but when the “points” or “knockout” decisions are in, from a pure “sweet soul” persepctive, this lp ekes out victory over heavyweight albums by The Delfonics, Soul Generation, The Stylistics, Jimmy Briscoe & The Little Beavers & others. The pairing of the legendary Theodore “Ted, The Wizard” Mills, with the production legends at Sigma Sound (Philly), Vince Montana, Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, Earl Young, and the like, created a ballad and uptempo masterpiece album that presents extreme difficulty when seeking to get by, on the road to the Championship. On a singular lp, ballad & uptempo, matching blows with “The Wizard” and group against “Spell”, “What’s Come Over Me”, “Stop To Start”, “Tear It Down”, and “Answer To My Prayer”, “Look Me Up”, “Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely”, “Welcome To The Club”, in the writer’s opinion, leaves even the known, and not so well known heavyweights looking up at the lights, after having “jabbed” and “hooked” through all the “rounds”.
An all time classic lp!
A1 Sideshow 4:06
A2 Look Me Up 5:54
A3 What’s Come Over Me 4:09
A4 Just Don’t Want to Be Lonely 7:00
B1 Stop to Start 3:18
B2 Welcome to the Club 5:05
B3 Spell 4:15
B4 Answer to My Prayer 3:15
B5 Tear It Down 5:27
It’s amazing how many great soul groups came out of Philadelphia during the early and mid-1970s. Even more amazing is the number of groups that should have been massive stars, but for whatever reason, weren’t. In spite of occasional brushes with success, Blue Magic fits into that latter pool perfectly.
Formed in 1972, Blue Magic featured the talents of Keith Beaton, Theodore Mills, Richard Pratt and brothers Vernon and Wendell Sawyer. Mills had previously attracted some attention as a singer/songwriter, while the others had been in the Philly group Shades of Love. When Shades of Love auditioned for WMOT, the label decided they’d make more of an impression with a stronger lead singer. Preston; Mills was recruited for the job and the revised line-up dubbed Blue Magic.
Promptly signed by ATCO, 1974’s cleverly titled “Blue Magic” was produced and arranged by Norman Harris (he also co-wrote about half of the material. Musically the album was heavily geared towards conventional soul group ballads with a few up-tempo tracks thrown in as a change of pace. Built around Mill’s likable falsetto, these guys didn’t have the most distinctive style you’ve ever heard, which made them completely dependent on Harris and others for their sound and direction. As you’d expected, when paired with quality material such as the ballads ‘Sideshow’ and ‘Answer To My Prayer’ the performances were striking. The good news was that Harris and company had saved up enough quality tunes so that song-for-song their debut was seldom less than enjoyable. The main problem here was that having so many ballads packed onto the album meant they quickly began to suffer from a sounds-the-same feeling. The group’s heavy dependence on big, old-school ballads didn’t leave a lot of room for growth which meant their “formula” would quickly run its course.
Yeah, the opening “carnival barker” segment was hokey beyond description, but when Theodore Mills’ lead kicked it, ‘Sideshow‘ morphed into one of those classic mid-1970s soul ballads that you can’t shake out of your head.
Powered by Mills falsetto and opening up with some tasty strings, the upbeat ‘Look Me Up‘ has always reminded me of something The Delfonics would have recorded. Perhaps the album’s most commercial number, it was tapped as the lead-off single, going top-30 R&B.
One of two Mills originals, ‘What’s Come Over Me‘ was a pretty ballad, but lacked a hook to kick into the same category as some of the other tracks. The heavy orchestration and cheesy spoken word segment actually made this one sound like a Thom Bell production. The humming segment that opened ‘Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely‘ bore a passing resemblance to ‘Sideshow’, but luckily the song quickly took on its own identity, in the process revealing what may be the album’s best composition and one of the strongest performances. Simply one of the sweetest slow dance numbers out there !
Side two started with another ballad – ‘Stop To Start‘ Selected as the group’s third single, this was another one that sounded a bit like a Delfonics performance.
Sporting a modest disco-tinged flavor, even with an extended album mix, ‘Welcome To the Club‘ was a surprisingly enjoyable track. Nice stutter-step chorus … Tapped as the lead-off single, ‘Spell‘ was a track with more than a touch of Thom Bell influences in the grooves. Showcasing their silky smooth multi-part harmony vocals and a cool electric sitar arrangement, this was one of the album’s overlooked classics.
With a breezy, almost tropical feel, ‘Answer To My Prayer‘ was the album’s most beguiling performance. Naturally it was also the album’s shortest track and the one you wish they’d recorded in an extended album format. I’ll readily admit that initially ‘Tear It Down‘ did nothing for me. It struck me as being fragile and shrill and kind of a disappointing way to end the album. So, in dismissing the song I somehow managed to overlook the fact it had a killer hook … One of Mills most effective performances !!!
Propelled by the singles, the album sold well (# 45 pop; # 4 R&B), but today it’s largely overlooked by everyone except hardcore collectors.