Here We Are (1982)
The Jive Five
NOTE: I’m taking a little break from my slow progress through my twenty favorite vocal albums for this one. It could have easily been in that group anyway (such lists are always subject to the whims of the day they were compiled) and, since I missed lead singer/auteur Eugene Pitt’s passing in 2018, I offer this as tribute and R.I.P.
The Jive Five were one of the more successful doo wop groups (two-hit wonders!–double the usual!…but they did hang on through the 60’s) and Pitt was one of the genre’s greatest singer/songwriters. He kept some form of the Five alive for decades and this LP, recorded for Ambient Sound as part of a series the label produced in an attempt to revive and modernize classic doo wop, was the pinnacle of that series (which included the Harptones and Randy and the Rainbows) and of Pitt’s career.
It knocked my socks off in 1982.
It still does.
“Here I Am”–A perfect updating of Pitt’s signature sound, a lugubrious predecessor of soul now translated for a post-soul generation. Pitt was one of the few singers of any era who was a serious collector of his style But his greatest influence was himself.
“Never, Never Lie”–This isn’t just an update but a sequel to “My True Story,” one of the group’s early hits. Remarkably, Pitt takes the opposite take from most singers recalling past glory and turns in a model of restraint, going off only at the end. Perfect.
“Don’t Believe Him Donna”–A call-and-response with “Arlene Smith’s Chantels” (not sure if Arlene was actually present or not, but the associations are powerful anyway). Any easy ride but it accomplishes its goal: I believe Donna should pick Eugene!
“Hey Nineteen”–A complete re-imagining of Steely Dan’s hit and worth their entire career. No shame in that. It’s worth a lot of careers. The loss of 60’s idealism and optimism was bound to be more painful for Black America than White. One need only glance around, in 1982 or now. One of the greatest vocals ever waxed and one of the greatest arrangements.
“Hey Sam”–1958 with a lightning volt running through it. Then it goes insane.
“Never, Never Change”–A nice change of pace. No showing off, just a nice ride in a gentle stream that, if you pay strict attention, takes you a little further than you thought it might.
“Chains”–A remake of the Cookie’s fine hit, lifted to another sphere by Pitt’s choice to arrange it as a baritone/tenor showcase for himself and a chorale/falsetto showcase for the group.
“Magic Maker, Music Maker”–Another ace arrangement using every trick in the doo wop ballad book with Pitt rising to the chorus like a man who hadn’t forgotten anything that happened in the decades since.
“Oh Baby”–Back to uptempo with glorious results. The most fun to sing along with.
“Say You’ll Be There”–Smooth. Very smooth.
“He’s Just a Lucky Man”–One last rocker, the greatest celebration by a loser you ever heard. Until the last verse calls losing into question…Sounds like the man just might be able to dance his way out of it!
“Baby You’re My Only Love”–Well, how would you close it down other than with a final plea? I believe him. Really.
Here We Are was, with the Persuasions’ Chirpin’ and the Belmonts’ Cigars Acapella Candy, one of the three great post doo wop albums that pointed to the path not taken–what might have been if other styles had not emerged (mostly from doo wop itself) and subsumed the founders. Eugene Pitt had a vision as clear and forceful as anyone’s and he remained true to it to the end. His passing means as much to me as Little Richard’s and I’m sorry it took until now to pay tribute.