Gladys Knight & The Pips

The Right Stuff Records, 1974

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Chances are, if you're like me, the extent of your knowledge of Gladys Knight & The Pips is hearing songs like "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and "Midnight Train To Georgia" on the radio. I still vaguely remember seeing Knight on "The Muppet Show" when I was a kid. But until I got a promotional copy of the re-released soundtrack from the 1974 film Claudine, I didn't own a single record from this group. (The Pierce Memorial Archive might be vast, but it's not perfect.)

Chances are that you've never heard of this movie; I know I hadn't. In an age of African-American films coming to the forefront of society, this film has been called a realistic portrait of life and love in Harlem in the '70s. (I haven't seen the film, and from what I've been led to believe, it's not out on video. Check out The Internet Movie Database for the inside skinny on the film.)

What I can say that I wasn't ready for was hearing Knight & The Pips perform music whose lyrical content was much rawer than the happier-sounding material you'd find on the radio. (I know full well that "Midnight Train To Georgia" is not a happy song, but even my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 that song doesn't fully prepare you for this soundtrack.) It's a bit of an adjustment, and it will take several listens before this starts to sound natural. But seeing the disc clocks in at just over a half-hour in length, repeat listens should be no trouble.

Two tracks on Claudine stand out for me. The first, "Make Yours A Happy Home," is the track that closes the album and signifies the first true hope on the album; for all the trouble that the family went through to this point in the movie, this is the song that is supposed to suggest that things are finally looking up for the title character. As a single, it's decent, but I tend to prefer the album's opener, "Mr. Welfare Man," a song which is more bleak in its outlook.

One other track, "On And On," is cited many times by people who have seen the movie, but while it was okay, I didn't see anything about it that wanted me to single it out for special mention. Then again, when there are only seven tracks on the whole album, you can't help but talk about all the songs at some point.

I think what sets these songs apart from anything else that Knight & The Pips did was that they were all written by Curtis Mayfield, the same person who gave us "Superfly" and "Freddie's Dead". Had Mayfield not written the lyrics, I think the music might not have been as dark as it is. I also think that some of the music's power would have been lost, so even though it takes a little time to get used to hearing Knight singing about subjects she normally didn't lend her voice to, in the end, I think having Mayfield as the songwriter works better.

In this age of special editions and bonus tracks, I kind of find it hard to believe that there weren't any leftovers from these sessions that they couldn't have thrown on to pad Claudine a little bit. I mean, a half-hour album is incredibly short, even if it lends itself easier to repeat listens.

So should you get Claudine and add it to your collection? If you're a fan of Knight & The Pips or you like movies of this genre, I'm willing to bet you already own this CD. If you want to hear more of Knight than what you get on the radio, this is a definite candidate for you - but be willing to give up some time to listen to it.

Rating: B-

User Rating: A


Why don't you guys get at least one reviewer that lives and breaths r&b music??? Anyone that has never heard of this movie and describes Curtis Mayfield as t\"The person who gave us Superfly simply does not know r&b music! You gave it a decent rating, but your review is just plain WIERD.

© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of The Right Stuff Records, and is used for informational purposes only.