Song Of The Day 4/8/2015: Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes – “Be For Real”

We Need to Talk: All-Music Guide writer Andrew Hamilton called this song “one of the finest recorded pieces in R&B history.” Robert Christgau called it “male chauvinism as moral posture.” Both assessments are correct, in their own way. I mean, this is (believe it or not) the third time I’ve featured something by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes as SOTD, so I’m aware I have a predilection for their work. But then again, well… some of us didn’t get all the memos that were passed around during the era of second-wave feminism. To be honest, I’m just here because somebody told me Teddy Pendergrass was singing, and just like his live audiences in the 1980’s I have some personal garments I’d like to throw onstage. Uh… all I got are gym socks, but they’ve been washed.

The music for “Be For Real” was written by Leon Huff, but this time his composing partner wasn’t Kenny Gamble. It was Cary Gilbert, who wrote the words for two of Philadelphia International’s most monster hits: Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and the Blue Notes’ “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, which got really big when Thelma Houston covered it. He also co-wrote the O’Jays’ "Your Body’s Here With Me (But Your Mind’s On the Other Side of Town) with Bunny and Jimmy Sigler, one of my favorite post-’70s Philly Int’l tracks.

It’s claimed that Pendergrass was made an ordained minister when he was just ten years old. You can hear a lot of his oratory skills in the opening monologue to “Be For Real.” Whatever you think of the message (certainly a lot of female singers of the time had ample chances to state their case), Pendergrass’ advisements against materialism and boastfulness are great moments of elocution.

I won’t spoil the story for you, but there are certain segments Teddy spins that are just golden turns of phrase: “The big diamond rings and the fan-TAS-tic mink coats.” “They live down in the lower development homes, and you won’t even he– you won’t even buy ’em a drink.” “Oh, papa-why?” And my unqualified favorite: “Sit down. No, no, sit down! Now don’t say nothing. You see… wait a minute, wait a minute, that is your problem. That is your problem! You’re always saying the wrong thing at the right time!” Anything he says. I’ll do it.

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