Miss Tammi Terrell
Greetings to the second post here at the new blog. I will continue to mirror posts at the old blog for a few weeks until folks can get their links adjusted.
Anyway… Today’s selection is another one of those “hey look what I found sitting in my pile of records” revelations, which seem to be happening with increasing frequency these days. A while back, I was working on the computer and pulling LPs off the shelf and spinning them on the portable. One of the discs I grabbed was a 1967 Motown anthology – something like “16 Original Hits” – that had a bunch of painfully obvious, heavily overplayed selections, and a few interesting items that I was not familiar with. One of these, buried at the end of one of the sides was a Tammi Terrell tune, ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’. So, I’m sitting there, waiting for a page to load in the background, and playing spider solitaire and suddenly I hear a strangely familiar song. I checked the label, saw it was the aforementioned Tammi Terrell song, and started wracking my brain as to where I might have heard it before. It took a few minutes, and then I realized that I knew the song, but in a recording by someone else, in this case the mighty Ambassadors of Philadelphia, PA. The Ambassadors were one of the finest harmony soul groups to come out of Philly in the late 60’s, having recorded a series of 45s for Atlantic, and then a second run of 45s and an LP for the Philly label Arctic (also home to the Volcanos and Barbara Mason). ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ was the b-side of the group’s first Arctic 45, the a-side of which ‘I Really Love You’ was their only chart hit. Tammi Terrell – who also hailed from Philadelphia – is best known to most listeners as one of the more prominent duet partners of Marvin Gaye (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’ among others) , and for her short, tragic life. She began performing in her early teens, and recorded a few 45s (for Scepter, and James Brown’s Try Me label) before being signed to Motown in 1965. ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’ was the a-side of her very first 45 for the label, and it hit the Top 40 of both the Pop and R&B charts. Written by Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, ‘I Can’t Believe You Love Me’, as recorded by Terrell is a lush, sexy mid-tempo number with a fantastic arrangement. Opening with what sounds like doubled electric guitars, and then strings, Terrell comes in with her sweet voice, running through the chorus once before dropping back into the verse. Her voice is accompanied only by the guitars and percussion, before the backing singers and strings come back in for the chorus, which builds ever so subtly into a crescendo. It has quickly become one of my favorite Motown sides. Terrell also recorded the tune as a duet with Gaye in 1969. In 1967, she collapsed on stage and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Though she continued to record for a few more years, her condition got worse and she finally died in 1970, only 24 years old. Fortunately, all of Tammi Terrell’s best work – solo and with Marvin Gaye – is available in reissue, as are the recordings of the Ambassadors (which I recommend highly, even though their CD omits their version of this great song).