Sunday, April 24, 2011

Discovered 70s gems 3: The Chi-Lites - A letter to myself

This sporadic series features pop songs that I never heard at the time, but I recently dug up and found to be absolute gems. It pays to do your research.

1. Dusk - Treat me like a good piece of candy (1971, US)
2. Tommy James - Draggin' the line (1971, US)

3. Chi-Lites - A letter to myself (1973, US)

The Chi-Lites - the name reflects their Chicago origins - were most prominent from 1969 to 1975, best known for songs like Oh girl and Have you seen her, but their success was mainly confined to the U.S.  Although songs like Have you seen her and Stoned out of my mind (and the song discussed here) were quite listenable, most of the way I'm not convinced they were more than just an average pop-soul vocal group.

Paul Weller might think otherwise. The last single by the Jam, Beat Surrender, had a somewhat surprising b-side: a very careful, faithful copy of the Chi-Lites' 1974 song Stoned out of my mind. That they - well, Weller - would do this gave some hint as to the direction headed with Weller's next band, Style Council.

A pleasant enough song that, but A letter to myself hits the heights for me in a very lush vocal arrangement that I think was seldom matched for its time.  Clearly more pop than soul/r'n'b, the extended spoken-word intro* is definitively hokey - about par for the course for pop gems of the 1970s - but ultimately not very helpful to the song as an integral piece of polished pop music.

*Haven't been able to establish whether Letter's lengthy intro was on the original single - I'm guessing perhaps not, since it extended the song well beyond a radio-friendly length.

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