Soul Serenade: Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, “Wake Up Everybody”
Last weekend I attended a Triple-A radio conference in Philadelphia. The event is called Non-Comm (as in noncommercial radio), and I’ll be writing more about it soon. One of the highlights of the conference, which blends live music with industry panels, was the appearance of John Legend, performing with the Roots. The hometown heroes played a stunning set. Of special interest to me was a cover of the song “Wake Up Everybody,” which was originally recorded in 1975 by Philly soul legends Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.
The group had a secret weapon, but he didn’t remain secret for very long. He, of course, was Teddy Pendergrass, a truly great soul singer who was the Blue Notes’ lead vocalist during their most successful years at Philadelphia International Records. With Pendergrass up front, the group had hits like the immortal “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” (1972), “The Love I Lost” (1973), “Don’t Leave Me This Way” (1975), and “Bad Luck” (1975).
The socially conscious “Wake Up Everybody” was written by Victor Carstarphen, Gene McFadden, and John Whitehead, who also wrote “Bad Luck.” “Wake Up” was the title track of the group’s 1975 album, and spent two weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Hot Soul Singles chart in 1976; it also reached #12 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart. In 2004 an all-star cover version of the song was released to spark interest in the presidential election. Artists on the Babyface-produced version included Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Jamie Foxx, Wyclef Jean, and many others.
In 1976, at the height of the Blue Notes’ success, Teddy Pendergrass left the group. He wanted their name changed to Teddy Pendergrass & the Blue Notes, and you have to admit that he had a point. He went on to have a very successful solo career, which was cut short in its prime when he was paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1982. Pendergrass died on January 13 of this year, a victim of colon cancer; he was 59. The Blue Notes continued touring until Harold Melvin suffered a stroke in 1996; he died the following year.