The Blue Notes got their start in 1954 as a Philadelphia-based doo-wop act fronted by vocalist Harold Melvin. Two years later the group signed their first record deal, but would have to wait four years before they enjoyed a brush with success on the strength of “My Hero”, which was a minor hit on the R&B charts. Though the band enjoyed another Top 40 hit in 1965 with “Get Out”, it would be seven years before Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes would again see chart success.
In 1972 the Blue Notes underwent several changes. Teddy Pendergrass, who had served as drummer in the group’s backing band, was elevated to featured vocalist replacing John Atkins, while a fifth vocalist, Lloyd Parkes, was also brought in to complete the quintet. With this lineup intact, the band was signed to Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International label. Behind Gamble and Huff’s expert songcraft and superior production skills coupled with the expressive, sensual vocals of Pendergrass, the Blues Notes would record unforgettable, chart-topping music. The Ultimate Blue Notes collection features timeless classics like “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, “The Love I Lost”, “Bad Luck” and the optimistic call-to-change “Wake up Everybody” — all of which showcase Pendergrass’ soulful voice, as well as his trademark improvisational vocal inflections. Also covered here are gems like “Where are All of My Friends”, “I Miss You” and “I’m Weak for You”.
In 1975, Teddy Pendergrass’ star was on the rise and his importance to the group was obvious. As a result, he demanded equal billing and Melvin’s refusal would result Pendergrass’ departure — a move that would prove disastrous for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Though the band would score a U.K. Top 5 hit with their original version of “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, a song that became a disco smash for Thelma Houston in 1977, without Pendergrass the magic was gone and so was any hope of subsequent chart success.
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes were a fine example of the great Philadelphia soul tradition started by the Delfonics and Stylistics, and carried on by Hall & Oates. It’s lamentable that the “sound of Philadelphia” died out despite Hall & Oates’ torch-bearing efforts. Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes represent that tradition at its most polished level of production. The interested reader is encouraged not to stop here, but to investigate the aforementioned groups.