THE THREE DEGREES-3D.
THE THREE DEGREES-3D.
In previous articles I’ve reviewed the two albums The Three Degrees recorded for Philadelphia International Records, with Gamble and Huff. These albums The Three Degrees and International were both fantastic albums, with some great music on them. They were the most commercially successful albums of the The Three Degrees’ career and to me, featured the best music the recorded. Having left Philadelphia International, they signed a three album deal with Epic Records where sadly, commercial success eluded them. After leaving Epic, The Three Degrees signed with Ariola Records, where they worked with another influential and innovative producer, Giorgio Moroder.
The first album The Three Degrees recorded with Giorgio Moroder was New Dimensions, which was released in October 1978. When it was released, it wasn’t a huge commercial success, reaching just 169 in the US Billboard 200 and thirty-four in the UK. New Dimensions yielded three singles with Giving Up, Giving in reaching number thirty-nine in the US R&B Charts and number twelve in the UK. It was followed by Woman In Love which reached number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts and number three in the UK. The final single released from New Dimensions was The Runner which failed to chart in the US, but reached number ten in the UK. Looking back at New Dimensions, it wasn’t a particularly successful album, but contained some good singles. Maybe the follow up 3D would prove more successful.
3D was recorded the following year, 1979, and saw Giorgio Moroder bring in Harold Faltermeyer to arrange and co-produce the album. Giorgio was too busy on other projects, and needed someone to help him on the album. Although Harold hadn’t produced an album before, and his career was just starting, he relished the opportunity to work with such a big group as The Three Degrees.One problem he’d never encountered before was working with a group who’d three lead vocalists. However, the group helped him out with this, as they were by now, experienced singers, well versed in the way of recording studios. After all, they’d learnt from the masters, Gamble and Huff. The addition of Harold slightly changed the Eurobeat sound, softening the music slightly. After the seven tracks were recorded, 3D was set for release.
When 3D was released in late 1979, the album wasn’t even as successful as its predecessor 3D, failing to chart in the US and only reaching number sixty-one in the UK. Two singles were released from 3D, Jump the Gun and My Simple Heart. Neither of the singles charted in the US, while Jump the Gun reached just forty-eight in the UK. My Simple Heart did much better, reaching number nine in the UK. This must have been disappointing for The Three Degrees. It was a long way from the success they’d enjoyed on Philadelphia International Records, when Gamble and Huff had helped transform them into huge stars worldwide. Now their career was being guided by Giorgio Moroder, one of the most innovative and influential producers of the disco era, they weren’t experiencing the same commercial success. Why was that? Had their conversion to fully fledged disco divas affected their popularity with their old fans, who didn’t like their new Eurodisco sound? In this review, I’ll examine their new sound, and how it differs from their Philadelphia International years.
The first track on 3D is Jump the Gun, one of the singles released from the album. It’s a fast synth dominated track, with a quick, pulsating drumbeats accompanied by bass and rocky guitars. When Valerie’s vocal enters, it’s powerful, fast and keeps pace with the slightly, hard edged Eurodisco sound. Like the arrangement, her voice develops a ballsy, harder edge sound, as synths, drums and soaring, screaming guitars dominate the sound. The guitars and rhythm section head of into a prolonged rocky solo, albeit one with a disco beat. Still, The Three Degrees’ vocals are good, as they unite as one. This is very different from the lovely, lush sweeping arrangements by Gamble and Huff, and it’s almost hard to believe this is the same group. Having said that, it isn’t a bad song, just a very different one to their previous work. Although it’s not up to their Philadelphia International music, it’s a good enough track, but with a slightly dated sound.
Red Light has a similar sound to the previous track, with soaring, searing rock guitars, synths, quick beats. However, it has the funkiest of bass line throughout the track which really lifts the track. After the introduction, when the sassy vocal enters accompanied by handclaps, things start to get better, with a great track unfolding. It sweeps and swirls along, with synths, drums and that funk drenched bass line. My only quibble is the overuse of rocky guitars. When the they give way to the drums, and united vocals, the track builds and builds, resulting in a catchy hook-laden track featuring a strutting vocal from The Three Degrees. This is a much better track than Jump the Gun, one that still sounds great, and would fill a dance-floor today.
When Set Me Free opens its a myriad of sweeping synths and drum beats that accompany Valerie’s high soaring, slightly dramatic vocal, as the group combine to sing sweet, soaring backing vocals. Straight away, this is a much better track than Jump the Gun. It doesn’t suffer from a proliferation of rocky guitars, instead sees the music move towards an electronic sound. Strangely, this works much better that either of the previous tracks. The Three Degrees’ vocals sit better on top of the electronic arrangement, rather than competing with searing, guitars that dominate the arrangement. This results in a much better track, one with a sound that’s aged well and features some great vocals from The Three Degrees.
After three quick tracks, Starlight sees the tempo drop slightly, with the introduction benefitting from a lovely, meandering, understated sound. Chiming guitars, the rhythm section and strings combine, before a burst of blazing horns sees the arrangement fill out and grow. A tender, quite beautiful vocal from Valerie is accompanied by bursts of drums and rasping horns, while the rest of the group sing some equally beautiful, tight, soaring backing vocals. By now, lush strings have swept in, accompanying the horns that occasionally punctuate the arrangement. This is the type of song that best suited The Three Degrees, one with a slower tempo and beautiful, lush sound, atop of which sat Valerie’s gorgeous, tender vocal. Of all the songs so far, this is by far, the best.
Having just said Starlight was the best track on the album so far, I’ll have to quickly revise that. My Simple Heart was definitely, the best song of The Three Degrees Giorgio Moroder years. Bells chime as the track opens, while the rhythm section and guitars combine before the tender, emotive, lead vocal enters. It’s easily the best vocal on the album, sung with emotion and love. This continues when the group unite, against the sweeping arrangement where bells, a funky bass, drums and synths are at the heart of the track. Not only is this the best song on the album, but it features the best lyrics. When combined with Harold’s arrangement the result is a stunning, track with hooks aplenty and a beautiful, catchy sound.
By now the album is on a roll, with the third great track in a row. It’s no surprise that Without You is another slower song, without the Eurodisco influence. A piano slowly plays, while strings briefly accompany it and a synth subtly cuts in. This gives way to the lead vocal, which is full of sadness, and even heartache. Just the piano and a prominent bass line accompany the vocal, before drums cut in at the perfect moment, adding to the emotion of the track. This is added to when the group sing some emotive, sad backing vocals. Synths escape from the arrangement, but thankfully neither overpower nor spoil this beautiful sounding track, which along with Starlight and My Simple Heart are by far, the album’s best tracks.
3D closes with a return to a similar Euro Disco sounding track that opened the album. Body Check is a frantically, fast track, with rocky guitars, bursts of horns, pulsating drums beats and funky bass opening the track. They accompany a breakneck lead vocal, which is delivered quickly, and sharply. The tempo seems far too fast, relentlessly so, with The Three Degrees delivering their vocals in short, sharp bursts. Against an arrangement that sees, horns blazing, strings sweeping, searing and rock guitars combine the fastest drumbeats on the album, you have to admire The Three Degrees for keeping up with the arrangement. It’s almost like a race, one that luckily for everyone involved, ends in draw. Having said all that, it isn’t a bad track, it’s catchy, sounds good, but would be much better without those rocky guitars. That spoils the track for me, and ends up giving the track a dated sound.
Having listened to 3D a number of times, it’s very much an album of two sides. Side one opens with Jump the Gun, which has a slightly dated sound, a bit like the closing track Bodycheck. Red Light is a good track, but would sound better without the rocky sound guitars. Things look up on Set Me Free, which sees the sound move to a more electronic sound. When side two begins, there are three great tracks back-to-back. These are Starlight, My Simple Heart and WIthout You. They’re much better than anything that preceded it. Maybe that’s because they had a much more traditional sound, and bring back memories of their Philadelphia International years. Of the seven tracks on the album, four are excellent, one good, but could be better and two sound dated. That’s the problem with many albums like this, they sound great when they’re released, but don’t stand the test of time. If you compare 3D with either The Three Degrees and International, the two albums The Three Degrees recorded for Philadelphia International, there is no comparison. Both of the Gamble and Huff produced albums are classics, and to me, are the best albums The Three Degrees released. The music on The Three Degrees and International is timeless, and has stood the test of time well. Gamble and Huff transformed The Three Degrees career, with their timeless sound, with swathes of strings, rasping horns and the best house band in America M.F.S.B. providing the soundtrack for their vocals. Like many artists, after they left Philadelphia International, their career never scaled the same heights, even with Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer now guiding their career. Having said all that, the music The Three Degrees recorded with Giorgio Moroder, including 3D, was innovative and at the vanguard of European disco music back in 1979. If you’re either a fan of The Three Degrees or Giorgio Moroder then this album is one you’ll want to hear. However, if you’re a fan of the Gamble and Huff era Three Degrees, then this album is quite different, and may not be for you. You can now hear the album again, as it was released earlier this year by BBR Records. As well as the album, which sounds great, having been remastered, you get nine bonus tracks and in depth sleeve notes. Standout Tracks: Set Me Free, Starlight, My Simple Heart and WIthout You.
THE THREE DEGREES-3D.