Monday, August 22, 2011

Don’t Leave Me This Way by Thelma Houston

The Disco genre of the 1970s is unfortunately one of the most unpopular historical music eras in pop music. I understand that the popularity of the Disco music got out of control and that people yearned for something different, but the backlash and anti-Disco events like Disco Demolition Night were ridiculous in retrospect.

Whenever something becomes popular, it’s usually based in the core of something that is of a high quality and then it’s the knock-offs and the imitators that breed annoyance. You can’t let the mediocrity in the genre overshadow the great stuff. It’s like saying the Harry Potter books are garbage because you read some slapped together children’s novel about a wizard. “Disco Duck” was a pretty atrocious song but you can’t let it get in the way of Thelma Houston’s masterpiece “Don’t Leave Me This Way.

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes originally recorded this song with Teddy Pendergrass singing lead.

This group is best known for one of the most heart-breaking soul hits of the 1970s.

Teddy’s vocals are incredible. It’s impossible to really compare what he brings to this song with Houston’s performance. They are both incredible. What gets to me more about Thelma Houston’s version is that there is a sense of both desperation and strength. Coming from a woman’s perspective there’s something tragic yet beautifully liberating about this song.

"Don't Leave Me This Way" starts as being heartbreaking. She is singing about how she “can’t survive, can’t stay alive” without his love. The chorus changes tone to a joyful celebration of how great his love has made her feel. Here is a woman laying it out on the line how much she needs her man. In a way, it’s a statement of dependency but there’s something else going on here.

At the same time this is a song that is a celebration of love and the fact that it is in this feeling that you can freedom. Like the way music can help you become free in the joy of dance, his love brings her that feeling. Instead of dwelling on the pain that he brings her she focuses on the feeling of ecstasy. Maybe it’s not about begging a man who is treating her poorly to stay but elevated a man and making his realize how great a person he is and how the power of his love.

There is something haunting and unforgettable about this song. The opening humming and the beautiful orchestration capture the best of Disco and really the best of music.  For me this song is a plea to people moving on from Disco music to not leave in anger.  While people at the time expressed annoyances towards this genre it's nice to see that people years later revel in the joy disco brought to their lives and I'm so glad that this song is around to remind people of that feeling. 

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