A Selection of Four Albums from the '70s and '80s That Are Worth Revisiting

Phil Spector protege production, tear-inducing vocal harmonizing, and other musical selections that you shouldn't live without.

I’ve been listening to a lot of 60s, 70s, and 80s music lately. Fret not beat fanatics—beats are still a central part of my musical diet. I’m just expanding my palate a bit.

Digging deep into the musical archives is a journey that is simultaneously inspiring and sad. As a society we treat so much great music from the past as disposable, even the stuff that saw wild commercial success at one point or another. It brings to mind DJ Shadows crate digging scene in the documentary Scratch where he refers to the records around him as a pile of broken dreams.

In the interest of bringing some records from the past back to the forefront, I’ve decided to highlight four albums from the ‘70s and ‘80s that have brought me great joy in recent months. I hope they do the same for you.

1) Individually and Collectively by The 5th Dimension (1972)

Best known for the Hair medley “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," The 5th Dimension were far from one-hit wonders. By employing pitch perfect vocal harmonies and a music frequently provided by The Wrecking Crew, the group cranked out an impressive 12 albums between 1967 and 1978—sometimes dropping two LPs in a twelve month span.

Their seventh release Individually and Collectively is a real gem. The album’s two singles "If I Could Reach You"  and "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All” are both beautifully executed, but their finale “Black Patch” serves as the true standout moment. The harmonies at the opening—recorded with perfect clarity and void of any instrumentation for a full 25 seconds—are enough to reduce even the most burned out cynic to tears.

As an added bonus, Micro-Chop readers with keen ears will recognize this segment of the song as the basis of an indispensable De La Soul cut.

2) Pennye by Pennye Ford (1984)

Though she is often identified for her vocal work with The Gap Band, Chaka Khan, Snap!, and Soul II Soul, Pennye Ford (now known as Penny Ford) also dropped the frequently overlooked and very impressive solo effort Pennye in 1984. She later admitted to having somewhat lukewarm feelings towards the project due to a lack of creative control and what she deemed as outdated production, but in this writer’s eyes the LP continues to stand the test of time.

The lead single “Change Your Wicked Ways” holds up well, with the uptempo production providing a nice backing track for Ford’s lush vocals. And despite her mixed feelings towards “Dangerous,” the song would make a welcome addition to any throwback DJ set.

Ford’s vocals have never sounded better than they do on “Never Let You Go,” where they mix together seamlessly with Cavin Yarbrough’s understated and funky backing track. The song is so damn impressive that one can’t help but wonder what Ford and Yarbrough could have accomplished if they’d done an entire project together.

3) Makings Of A Dream by Crackin’ (1977)

Crackin’ is one of those bands I’m always fascinated by. The group seemed to have the right musical ingredients and talent to find a bigger audience, but they never quite broke through despite releasing three records on Warner Bros. Records between 1977 and 1978.

On their 1977 effort Makings Of A Dream listeners will hear a truly unique blend of disco, funk, and (somewhat soft) rock, with certain tracks playing out like multiple tunes blended together into one incredibly ambitious song. Perhaps it was this diversity in sound that prevented them from achieving mass appeal, which is a shame, because their distinct harmonies and layered productions make for one hell of a compelling listen.

Personal favorites from this hidden gem include “Take Me to the Bridge,” which benefits greatly from the inclusion of some perfectly place stringed instruments. In several key moments the song has an enchanting orchestral quality, showcasing the versatility of Makings Of A Dream producer and Phil Spector protege Russ Titelman.

"I Want to Sing It to You” is another standout moment, with Titelman giving the vocals of group member Lester Abrams appropriate room to breathe by stripping down the production a bit.

In the end “You’re Winning” steals the show, from the gorgeous, mournful opening to the song’s completely unexpected uptick in energy and rather inspirational, feel-good hook.

4) The Sylvers by The Sylvers (1972)

Dubbed as “a Southern version of the Jackson 5” by AllMusic, Memphis natives The Sylvers cut albums with major labels like Capitol, Geffen, and MGM while earning several charting hits during their 13-year hot streak. Boasting impressive production by Jerry Butler and Keg Johnson, their immersive 1972 self-titled debut effort is not to be missed.

Dedicated Micro-Chop readers will recognize “Only One Can Win” from its use on the late, great J Dilla’s Donuts album, while avid sample spotters will also note elements of the incredibly beautiful “Wish That I Could Talk to You” and equally impressive “How Love Hurts” from a variety of rap cuts.

This album, however, should not be noted merely for its enduring influence and the multitude of modern artists who have sampled it. It’s a beautiful project that demands listening to with full undivided attention from beginning to end. The production of Butler and Johnson is impressive throughout, blending a rich variety of instruments that enhance The Sylvers vocal talents instead of overwhelming them. The record also showcased the early songwriting skills of a young Leon Sylvers III, who would go on to become a mainstay producer at SOLAR Records just six years later.

Whether you’ve long been familiar with The Sylvers’ work or are just discovering it now, make sure to give this album a spin.

Thanks for reading, see you on Friday!