It’s been awhile since we’ve had a sweet slice of Philly Soul here on Soul Serenade. What can I say? There are so many choices when it comes to classic soul music. I’m going to make up for it this week by featuring one of my favorite Philly Soul records, and a sterling example of the legendary sound.
Blue Magic was a great Philadelphia vocal group in a world of great vocal groups that included the Delfonics, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and the Stylistics. In fact it was former Delfonic Randy Cain who played a critical role in bringing Blue Magic together in the first place.
Cain was working for a Philadelphia-based production company called WMOT and invited Ted Mills to come and write some songs for the company. At about the same time a vocal group called Shades of Love showed up for an audition at WMOT. The producers liked them, but thought they lacked a quality lead singer. Executives at the company decided to put Mills together with Shades of Love, and renamed the group Blue Magic. The group was signed to the Atlantic Records subsidiary label Atco, and the rest is soul music history.
There is no question that Blue Magic is best remembered for one record, their million-selling Top Ten smash, “Sideshow”, which made it to the upper reaches of the pop and R&B charts in 1974. The song was written by Vinnie Barrett and Bobby Eli (guitar player in MFSB), the team that was also responsible for the Major Harris hit “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”
If you’ve heard the circus music that opens the record, and the “Hurry! Hurry! Step right up and see the sideshow for only 50 cents” introduction, you’re unlikely to forget it. But what follows is pure soul ballad heaven, melodically and lyrically.
The follow-up to “Sideshow” was similarly themed record called “Three Ring Circus,” and it did pretty well too, reaching #5 R&B and #36 on the pop chart. For a lot of people that’s where it ends in terms of Blue Magic, but the group continued to send hits up the R&B charts for several years. In fact, they hit the R&B charts twice in 1975, and four more times the following year. Other hits included the dance single “We’re On the Right Track,” the classic ballad “Chasing Rainbows,” and “Look Me Up.”
With the advent of the disco era in the latter half of the 1970’s, Blue Magic’s mojo began to fade. They made more records, but didn’t find any chart success. There were several lineup changes, but the current group continues to tour, and you might just catch them on one of those PBS music specials one night.