Album Reviews

Teddy Pendergrass: TP (Big Break Records)

tp

Teddy Pendergrass
TP (Expanded Edition)
Big Break Records/Cherry Red

By the end of the 1970s, Teddy Pendergrass was a Soul superstar. He’d begun the decade as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, singing on their biggest and most enduring hits, like “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and “Wake Up Everybody.” This success would prove to be double-edged, as Pendergrass would leave the group at the height of its success because he felt he was being underpaid. With the help of Philadelphia International Records label founders and songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff,  he returned in 1977 with his solo debut, Teddy Pendergrass, which was an instant success, going platinum and to the top of the charts. He would follow it up with a new record the following year, each repeating the same commercial and critical success.

In 1980, he released his fourth solo album, TP, and once again, it repeated the same chart and sales success. Considering the success of his formula, the album’s a bit of a departure; it’s the first and only album he made for PIR that featured no Gamble/Huff compositions. It’s also a bit more upbeat than his previous record, Teddy, which focused on slow-jam bedroom ballads. Ultimately, these things didn’t affect the record at all; Pendergrass was a good judge of song, and selecting Ashford & SImpson’s “Is It Still Good To You” and “Girl You Know” and Peabo Bryson’s “Feel The Fire” resulted in two of his finer album tracks—silky, sexy soul numbers heavy on groove and high on vibe. The appearance of Stephanie Mills also brings two fine numbers, the romantic ballad “Feel The Fire” and the disco-ready “Take Me In Your Arms Tonight,” which sounds great in its album for, but it’s positively magnificent in its extended disco mix, offered here as a bonus track. The album’s two singles, though, provided the highlights—“Can’t We Try” is a powerful ballad, with Pendergrass singing for his love with one of his career’s most impassioned vocals. “Love T.K.O.” was a well-deserved smash hit, a sillily titled number that belies the amazingly lush production and the tight vocals.

Though TP would continue the formula of its predecessors, it would be the plateau of his career; subsequent records would sell well, but never again would he reach platinum heights, and further, more tragic changes were coming; in 1982, he was involved in a near-fatal car accident that would leave him a paraplegic, which both crippled him and turned his life around; he would become a devout Christian and would remain one until his death. That faith helped him to deal with the stresses of life, and the adversity would only briefly stall his career; he’d make a return in 1985, and would have another smash album in 1988 with the superb Joy. Those trials and tribulations were still in the horizon when TP was released, and do not detract in any way from what is easily Pendergrass’ best album.

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