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Gladys Knight & the Pips

  • Greatest Hits [Soul, 1970] A-
  • Neither One of Us [Soul, 1972] B
  • Imagination [Budah, 1973] B
  • Claudine [Buddah, 1974] A-
  • Knight Time [Soul, 1974] B-
  • I Feel a Song [Buddah, 1974] B+
  • Second Anniversary [Buddah, 1975] C+
  • The Best of Gladys Knight & the Pips [Buddah, 1976] B+
  • Visions [Columbia, 1984] B
  • Life [Columbia, 1985] B-
  • All Our Love [MCA, 1987] B+
  • The Best of Gladys Knight & the Pips: The Columbia Years [Columbia, 1988] B

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Greatest Hits [Soul, 1970]
Reviving "The Nitty Gritty" isn't a very good way of getting down there--nothing else here matches the shouting funk of "Grapevine" or "End of Our Road," and her penchant for solid schmaltz obviously goes way back. But so does her genius for it. Annoyance: the tasteful but extraneous strings on the remakes of "Every Beat of My Heart" and "Letter Full of Tears." A-

Neither One of Us [Soul, 1972]
If Knight is the golden mean of female soul, here she could use some burnishing. From the hits through the covers to the fillers she turns in a more than creditable job, but only on a slow version of "For Once in My Life" do you feel she couldn't go a little deeper. You'd think she was planning to leave her label. B

Imagination [Budah, 1973]
Damn right "Midnight Train to Georgia" is a great single, but that's no reason to devote an album to the wit and wisdom of Jim Weatherly. Weatherly's stuff does beat out the two Pips showcases, though--a transparently hokey "I Can See Clearly Now" and a song about Granny's window designed to recall the one about Daddy's mouth. B

Claudine [Buddah, 1974]
Gladys Knight, always in thrall to her material, meets Curtis Mayfield, always a more undisciplined composer than is safe for such an undisciplined singer. Object: soundtrack. Result: Knight's most satisfying regular-release LP. It's a little skimpy (six songs plus one instrumental for just over thirty minutes), but given Mayfield's discursive propensities I'll withhold my complaints. A-

Knight Time [Soul, 1974]
Or does she transcend her material after all? This is a typical Motown exploitation, comprising two strong songs that should have been on Neither One of Us plus manufacturer's seconds. Yet her moral seriousness loses none of its weight, and there's something in her voice, a hurtful rough place the honey missed, that makes me want to listen through the humdrum dynamics of the tracks. B-

I Feel a Song [Buddah, 1974]
Compared to sisters like Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner, Knight is a moderate. Her way with a ballad is suspiciously smooth and direct, and her demeanor flirts with the respectable. But she always radiates a great singer's luminous conviction, and beneath the moderation she's very comfortable with her emotional extremities. When she adds a squeal or a grunt or a growl on this album, or holds back a tear, or turns a song into a trembling sigh, you know she means exactly what she isn't saying, and I've never heard her in better voice. The material is still a little flat, but it does take in uptempo soul and Dionne Warwick pop and Bill Withers funk and Bill Withers sentiment. Plus a version of "The Way We Were" that establishes her claim to a middle-class veneer in perpetuity. B+

Second Anniversary [Buddah, 1975]
Success of the Vegas/television sort does more than pollute the sensibility--it diverts one's attention from the grubby business of making records. It took two production teams to turn out this arrant product, a sure sign she knows something's wrong. Strongest cut: the Pips' (and Eugene McDaniels's) "Street Brother." C+

The Best of Gladys Knight & the Pips [Buddah, 1976]
The second disappointing album to include both "Midnight Train" and "Imagination" isn't at all bad, but it isn't what it says it is, either. B+

Visions [Columbia, 1984]
Accurately acclaimed as her finest work in a decade, this is amazingly uniform for an album featuring eight different bassists and eight different drummers recorded in eight different studios in L.A., Nashville, and Vegas. To an extent that's a tribute to Leon Sylvers's consistent vocal and rhythm arrangements. To an extent it's a tribute to the authority this great pop singer still commands when she's in the mood. And to an extent it's attributable to flat material. B

Life [Columbia, 1985]
The reflectiveness of her interpretations has never extended to her choice of material--the honest journeywoman in her must prefer contract songwriting. So she does what she's always done over "contemporary" settings that don't clash or mesh or otherwise call attention to themselves. Amid the various shades of schlock and dancy compromise, the best songs are those she wrote with her coproducers, Sam Dees and Bubba Knight, and the only notable one is "Strivin'," the most straight-up bourgie boogie since "Bon Bon Vie." Even at its most committed, professionalism can get pretty boring. B-

All Our Love [MCA, 1987]
The CD-era duration does indulge Knight's middle-class vices. At twenty-eight minutes for six songs that are longer on melodrama than break beats, the second side is like a suburban living room that seems overfurnished even though all the pieces are in the best contemporary taste. But Knight has one of those burgundy voices, designed to age, and since her albums have rarely done it justice, the edgy writing and overall strength of this multiproducer soul-dance-pop-whatever comeback is a gift. B+

The Best of Gladys Knight & the Pips: The Columbia Years [Columbia, 1988]
Five essentially identical Vegas funk grooves on the A, five essentially anonymous pop-soul ballads on the B. You recall all ten as they come on, two or three as you reread the titles. What does it take to jolt this woman out of her own competence? B