Friends

B.B. King

ABC Records, 1974

http://www.bbking.com

REVIEW BY: Max Kaplan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/18/2021

B.B. King’s 1974 album Friends departs from the usual formula that brought him great success in the earlier part of the decade. Riding off the accomplishment of his first international hit “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1969, B.B. recorded four studio albums between 1970-1974. Among them, Guess Who and To Know You Is To Love You are considered two of the greatest albums in B.B’s repertoire. These two albums marked his expansion out of the realm of traditional blues and into the world of soul and R&B, transitioning his sound into almost-pop music.

Friends, however, stands more as a faulty experiment than a successful transition. The album is plagued by poor production both in terms of timbre and arrangement. The record was clearly mixed to sound more in the style of the burgeoning disco movement rather than the soul and funk that B.B.’s previous records of the decade had seamlessly adopted. The instruments are mostly over-produced and over-compressed, a popular stylistic choice that seems like a faulty experiment of the entire pop music industry of the era. B.B’s voice is strained as he attempts to croon over jazz-infused pop chord changes with lyrics that seem meandering and uncompelling at times. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title track “Friends” is a great example of this, with the chorus itself being a mundane repetition of the title. “My Song” and “Baby I’m Yours” unfortunately suffer the same fate as both tunes fail to reach the lyrical potential that they present with their strong titles. It’s important to notice that only one song on the album was written by B.B., and it was co-written at that. The rest were penned by others, mostly written by David Crawford. Although the writers of the album did not do a fantastic job lyrically, it is true that they succeeded in creating somewhat catchy melodies that are relatively easy sing-alongs. Unfortunately, the great B.B. King blues guitar playing that devotees have come to know and love is mostly absent, perhaps as another attempt to move the record in the pop direction. The guitar does however make a grand entrance on the six-minute one-chord jam “Philadelphia” later in the album. Otherwise, the song fails to add anything noteworthy to the album as the guitar lacks in innovation and rambles on for longer than necessary. The final song of the album, “My Song,” while presenting an easy melody, fades leaving the listener only wishing there was something to bring a more satisfying ending to the album.

 Friends does have some pleasant moments. “Up At 5am” describes a scene of both longing and ongoing heartbreak, all taking place during an ungodly hour of the morning after a long night, a relatable scene. B’B’s voice shines here, sharing the bluesy soul that is missing from the rest of the album. “Philadelphia,” with its polyrhythmic funky repetitious groove, does make for some great ambience when entertaining guests, or just as a song to enjoy on your daily commute.

Though Friends may not be B.B.’s greatest record, it stands as proof of his continuing effort to change and evolve with the music industry of the world. One imagines that it documented his growth as an artist and left the listeners of the moment looking forward to the records that followed.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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