Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “When Somebody Loves You Back” from Teddy Pendergrass’ 1978 album .
There’s an amazing scene (one of many) in the extraordinary new Showtime documentary, Teddy Pendergrass: If You Don’t Know Me, a look at the Philly R&B superstar who sang lead on so many classic Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes songs, and who then went to an incredible solo career. In the clip, Pendergrass appears on television talk show host Tom Snyder, who introduces him by saying “May I just list four songs? ‘Come Go With Me,’ ‘Close The Door,’ ‘Turn Off The Lights,’ ‘Do Me.’” After a quick pause, both laugh, and as Pendergrass extends his arm for a handshake, Snyder aks “Have I got it?” Pendergrass, lighting up with a big smile says, “You got it.”
What Snyder “got,” and what Pendergrass exuded throughout his entire career as a singer, was his expressive sensuality and the over-the-top ability to leave his fans, many of them women, completely, and unabashedly love struck. There were few big superstars like him in the country at the time, and when he went solo in the late 1970s, he became a beacon of love and a superstar sex symbol. As for Philly International Records, Pendergrass was the singular love man, and throughout his career with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, he rocked hits like “Close The Door,” “Love TKO,” “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “Can’t We Try,” and countless others.
In 1978, Pendergrass released his second album, Life Is A Song Worth Singing, recorded in Philly at Sigma Sound Studios. The album had a number one R&B hit, “Close The Door.” However, buried deep at the end of the album was a soon-to-be Quiet Storm classic called “When Somebody Loves You Back.” On the song, Pendergrass immediately digs into the verse to make his point:
“It’s so good lovin’ somebody / And that somebody loves you back
To be loved and be loved in return / It’s the only thing that my heart desires”
“When Somebody Love You Back,” is a kind of first cousin to Lou Rawls’s “You’ll Never Find Another Love Mine,” another TSOP classic. Like most Philly International recordings, the musical arrangement sings. The string section amplifies, flutters, and swirls around, playing with the groove and against it. The horn section peppers the verses, and the beat has a steady, erotic pulse. And when Pendergrass sings, well, you can hear hearts melting around the world, and fantasies being played out everywhere.
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