The Three Degrees
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For US soul music fans, it may be hard to believe, but they were the most popular Philly international label act internationally. This album was the begining of their Golden era with Sheila, Valerie and the sole original member Fayette.
Starting their music career in '63, they finally had a national hit "Maybe"(soulful remake of the Chantels' hit) in '70 on Roulette label. After a few other minor hits, they moved to Philly International and released this album produced by Gamble & Huff.
*Dirty Ol Man
In US, this gem written by Gamble & Huff surprisingly did not do much, but its remix by Tommy Moulton became a club hit. On the other hand, In Europe, especially Netherlands and Belgium, and in Japan it was a big hit. I think musically this is like a female version of O'Jays' "Back Stabbers", both of them feature very strong two lead vocals, Sheila & Valerie for this one. It is also infamous for being banned by BBC probably because its lyric seems to suggest that a middle aged married guy is seducing an under aged girl. It remaines as their fans favorite along with "When Will I see You Again."
*Can't You See What You're Doing to Me
This song features a very beautiful harmony and such a fluid melody, which sound very feminine along with MFSB's gorgeous strings. And I really believe that became the key to their international success. As there was almost no female act on Philly International before them, there is no doubt what Gamble & Huff tried to do with this album was to creat a feminine Philadelphia Sound, which unexpectedly had more appeal to average pop music fans in Europe & Japan.
*Woman Needs A Good Man
As the previous song, this features their tight harmony, but it has a much darker tone and a dramatic development. Towards the end, you hear a very soulful lead by Val.
*When Will I See You Again
This is the song, which was penned by Gamble & Huff, that gave them an international break through. In the early summer of '74, they won a Golden prize with this at Tokyo Music Festival, and soon after, it became a huge hit there. Then it spread like a wild fire all over the world. It made #2 in US in December of '74. The lyric echoes Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow", but the everything is much more sophisticated and sexy with a smooth lead vocal by Sheila.
*I Didn't know
On this follow up single to "WWISYA" in US, Val and Sheila shared the lead vocals. And they made an appearance on TV hit show "Sanford & Son" with singing this.
*I Like Being A Woman
It is a cute song but also it was a bit controversial one because of its lyric, which says "I don't wanna be your equal, I just wanna be a part of you", obviously it was against its time's woman's liberation movement. But again, that shows the focus of Gamble & Huff for this production was the feminine Philly Soul.
*If and When
This is the most soulful and dramatic song on this album, with Sheila and Val's shared lead vocals. The revolutionary invention of Gamble & Huff was how to mix soulful vocals of Black singers with the symphonic orchestration sounds with beautiful strings. And Gamble & Huff used all the methods and theories they invented for their previous works with O'jays, Bluenotes, Intruders and Billy Paul for this song. Pay all your attentions to the details, especially how vocals move in the space created with the big orchestration. Piladelphia Sound was not the easy listening version of the Soul music, but it was the very sophisticated fusion of very different music styles and elements.
*Year of The Decision
Val's lead sounds great on this uplifting message song penned by Gamble & Huff. Their second single from this album and cracked into UK Top 20 before "WWISYA"
MFSB's US #1 hit featuring Three Degrees' vocals. It became the famous theme song of the hit TV show "Soul Train"
*Love is The Message
MFSB's single version features Three Degrees' vocals, which was a hit in Japan. Much longer, extended version is still played in New York's dance clubs.
*Dirty Ol Man (Tom Moulton Disco Remix)
Unfortunately it was not successful on the US pop or soul chart, which was almost absurd, but the legendary Tom Moulton created the great remix version which became one of dance club people's favorite philly hits.
Lastly I really have to mention on this album cover as well. What the Three Degrees did was to reach the music audience in Europe, Japan and other parts of the world, who usually had not listened to American Black music.
And their great looks, as you see on this cover, was the big help to accomplish that. In many parts of this world, Three Degrees changed the stereo type images about the Black women because these ladies did not look like anything people had seen before. In US, they are remembered as so-called one hit wonder. However, they truly deserved to be recognized as the Soul music ambassador to the world with this album.
This cd is digitally remastered for superb sound quality and has great bonus tracks and liner notes. There are certain albums that show a time period in all it's glory. Here we have a uniquely talented female group with exsquisite harmonies. They represented Philly soul at its finest and this cd is a must for any music historian or fan of the genre. When music is good it is good and these ladies are great and this set provides a superb listening experience.
It was my first few weeks in Chicago when one day I heard this song for the first time over the car radio while driving alone on Lakeshore Drive. The music, the voices and the singing style of the girls stirred some emotion in me so inexplicable that all I can say is that particular version got imprinted in my mind like no other songs or music I know. Why? I wish I knew. May be it was bewilderment or bewitchment or enchantment or magic. Since then every time I hear the song I feel an awful nostalgia. The Lakeshore Drive and the Chicago buildings up ahead (especially the John Hancock Bldg.) all come back to memory.
I was about their age when The Three Degrees recorded the song but it was only recently when I had this irresistible impulse to hear the song again. In a two hour parade of songs of the 70's on the local TV, "When Will I See You Again" by the Three Degrees was not in the long line up. I could only ask: Why? The next thing I knew I was searching the internet for the 'original' version of the song - the one I heard for the first time.
Although many of the songs in this CD have been included in various compilation CDs, it is good to hear them "Unedited" and in their complete form here. Comparing the remastering of this CD to other Three Degrees CDs, I do not hear any significant improvements. Yes, everything is much louder and upfront, including the vocal tracks and the background instrumentations, but one can also tell that the original studio tapes had not been used for the production of this CD.
As an added bonus, the CD contains the tracks "TSOP (THE SOUND OF PHILADELPHIA)", "Love is the Message (Single Version", and "Dirty l' Man (A Tom moulton Mix)". If you're unfamiliar with the Three Degrees, this disc is worth getting because it has almost all the greatest tracks of this fabulous vocal group.