Among the R&B hits and soul-jerking disco grooves, First Choice always made sure they had a slow dance or two ready for the end of the night—love ballads to give depth to the funk that found hits such as “Armed and Extremely Dangerous,” “Smarty Pants,” “The Player,” and “Love Thang” in the top charts. After the success of their single “Armed and Extremely Dangerous,” the R&B trio brought out an album to follow, produced by Norman Harris in 1973 under Stan Watson’s Philly Groove Records. There is meaning to be found through contrast. Where tracks such as “Smarty Pants” and “Newsy Neighbors” revel in the recognizable Philadelphia soul that singers Rochelle Fleming, Joyce Jones, and Annette Guest were known for, the tracks that bring the tone down in this album lift the quality of the hits higher.
“Smarty Pants” introduces the group’s sound with a cheek in their rhythm that sets the tone with a playful drumbeat. Through every track that delves deeper into the album, there is an undergrowth of depth that builds. The bookend is “One Step Away,” which promotes Fleming’s range and asserts the trio’s united front. “I’m one step away from self-destruction” is aimlessly belted into the air, as the flute and strings serenade the betrayal away.
“Wake Up to Me” is a 3:48-minute love letter that brings any high-flying disco back down to reality. The cheese is held off by the richness of Fleming’s voice. Horns and trombones are spread out in a self-indulgent manner—they slow-dance with the strings, wandering behind the vocals, throwing in some twists and spins. The repetitive nature of the track never loses its meaning but creates a whirlwind between over-thinking and devotion. The track also flips as the B-side of the groups’ 1974 release “Guilty”—a non-stop groove grown on Philly soil. Fleming echoes, “Sitting here alone with nothing to do, but think of you”—an instrumental daydream shadowing behind.
Nothing feels as though it is achieved, but everything is expressed—a longing that is felt in the drawn-out horns and the sighing strings. The group project this dazed side-step rhythm that runs in the same vein as Aretha Franklin’s “One Step Ahead” and trails off in an Irma Thomas “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” trance. For when your feet finally get tired of dancing, First Choice takes the time to offer a soulful breather.
Listen to the track below.
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