Monday, April 2, 2012

"Imagination" by Gladys Knight and The Pips (1973)

View the Premise & Ground Rules for Revisiting Vinyl.

Filed between: The Knack and Krokus.

My Overall Rating of the Tracks Separately: Above Average (2.5/4 stars)

Disclaimer: I've never really been much of a Gladys Knight fan.  She always seemed a little TOO polished and pristine - sort of like a rich man's Aretha Franklin.  (Except on The Muppets, I really liked her on The Muppets.)  Here version of I Heard It through the Grapevine is probably just my fourth favorite after Marvin Gaye, CCR and The California Raisins - and that's only because I don't really know any other versions.

But there is one song where she shines with a blinding light and I can't imagine ANYBODY else doing it as well.

That's the reason my eyes lit up when I came across this LP at a Goodwill.  I was mindlessly flipping through a scant selection that was almost entirely comprised of Lawrence Welk, Christmas records and the Lawrence Welk Christmas record when "Imagination" popped up among them. (That's why you should always look through all the records, even if the top of the pile doesn't seem like your cup of tea - everybody's collection always has that one oddball.)  I was pretty sure it was the right one, but I hurriedly flipped it over to make sure.  And there it was - side one, track one.

Midnight Train to Georgia.  Ah.  That is one of my all-time, top-five favorite R&B songs.  If you were to tell me Midnight Train to Georgia is the single greatest song ever recorded, I won't argue a tick.  It's those phenomenally sad lyrics about failure and sacrifice melded with a sound that is absolutely triumphant.  In that juxtaposition, hope is born.  And that is one of the core tenets of soul music; and Gladys Knight knows it on a moleculuar level when she performs Midnight Train to Georgia.

And then there are The Pips.  Let me go ahead and get this out the way: "a superstar, but he didn't get far...whoo, whoo!"  I can't think of another song where the backup singers get the best, most singable parts.  That interplay works almost like a retooling of an old call-and-answer number and it gives it more depth, more soul and way more fun.

I have listened to Midnight Train to Georgia on vinyl more than any other song in my collection.  "Imagination" is about the only LP I'll pull out for the sole purpose of listening to a single track.  I always hope it'll be just as good as the last time I heard it, and it always is.

And then I put the record away again.  All of the other songs are okay, but they're just kind of there.  You don't remember any of them once you put the record back in its sleeve.  But that's fine.  In this case, one outstanding song makes up for eight mediocre tracks.

So, is it an album?  Yes.  Even though it doesn't have a lot of heft to it after the opening track, "Imagination" is still a well-produced, well-arranged, tight little chunk of seventies soul.

Up next - finally, a chicken coop record!  (I'll explain next time around...)  I had to spin this one to make sure it even played.  It does, and it's "Galveston" by Jim Nabors.

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