Melissa Manchester

1975: Arista/BMG/Buddha 74465 99803 2

  1. We’ve Got Time
  2. Party Music
  3. Just Too Many People
  4. Stevie’s Wonder
  5. This Lady’s Not Home Today
  6. Love Havin’ You Around
  7. Midnight Blue
  8. It’s Gonna Be Alright
  9. I Got Eyes
  10. I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore

My sister had this record when we were in our teens and it was a solid favorite for both of us. As soon as it was released on CD I got us each a copy, and we’ve been rocking out to it happily ever after. Although there’s a too-sugary tinge to some of it, as with much excessive-1970s-radio fare, it also has some great bumpin’-and-grindin’ material such as “Love Havin’ You Around” and “It’s Gonna Be Alright.” “Midnight Blue” got played to death in the mid-’70s, so I never liked it, and that was the case with “Just Too Many People” as well. The final track, by Randy Newman, is really, really good.

Another thing this record had/has going for it is its kick-ass studio band. I don’t know if she ever got to play these tracks in concert with those musicians, but I do know they laid down some fine stuff of the caliber of the Blues Brothers soundtrack. An outstanding encapsulation of this quality can be found on “Love Havin’ You Around,” which rips into action with some keyboard flourishes that make me gasp in appreciation even now, and then thumps sensuously into a nasty groove that tugs and teases, throwing itself off-balance in the passion of its choruses before resuming with more intent for the next chorus’s bigger build. I’ve not yet heard Stevie’s original version of this one, as I’ve had this rendition solidly in my consciousness for nearly 30 years, and the archly hot brass-keyboard-drums work here keeps me enslaved. Plus which, of course, Melissa’s vocal delivery is exactly up to the challenge presented by the arrangement (and possibly a touch greater, but maybe that’s a matter of tastes).

I consider myself very fortunate to have had this album introduced to my musical spectrum when it was, because, although the 1970s certainly provided the world with an amazing array of drearily ego-bloated bombastic singer/songwriter outings that belatedly thought they could tap a momentary (and past) trend’s morbid swan song, there truly were a handful of genuine musicians presenting worthy albums then. This is one of those, for me anyway, and what still strikes me (and continues to convince me that it’s solid) is Manchester’s vocal immediacy and intimacy: these tracks (or at least the ones I’m highlighting here) are as fresh and engrossing for me now as they were three decades ago. Mostly they’re also fine pop compositions (whether by her, Stevie Wonder & Syreeta Wright, Carol Bayer Sager, Randy Newman, or co-written with instrumentalists), but on the rockier numbers things certainly get a dirtier and hotter delivery than is written into the song itself.