Some of you know that I have this love affair with this group that only put out two albums in the later part of the 1960s called Brenda and The Tabulations. They were a bit more than one hit wonders but outside of the Philadelphia area and people who are into vintage soul music, they’re not extremely well-known.
Accordingly their albums are quite rare and talk still command significant dollars on the collectors market. I’ll put it this way: I have looked for their albums up and down the West Coast and even in some pretty heavy collector shops when I’ve asked about these records I get that “are you crazy?” look. Some have even laughed in my face!
I’m not kidding here folks.
Oddly, as rare as these records are they are not super in demand, so while the albums are expensive online, its not like certain titles which are so elusive they command prices of $500 or more.
Now, you can find her 45 RPM singles with relative ease on the used market. I picked up one over the weekend at a garage sale for 33 cents! But if you want the albums on vinyl, you’re probably going to have to spend a few bucks (in nearly 20 years of searching I have only found one utterly trashed copy in California, in a thrift shop in Palm Springs for 99 cents!).
Or, you can just subscribe to the streaming service called Qobuz, where I discovered last week they were streaming much of Brenda’s catalog.
Most audiophiles have probably heard of Qobuz so I’m not going to delve into much detail about the pros and cons of what the service is about beyond the fact that it is one of the places where you can stream in very high resolution. Qobuz delivers CD quality at minimum and much higher if you have a DAC hooked up to your stereo (highly recommended). I have written about Qobuz periodically as well as their main competitor, Tidal.
Oddly enough Tidal does not have the complete Brenda and The Tabulations catalog streaming (there is one singles collection from the time of their second album only and a later inferior comeback album… more on that one in a moment). Thus, for the sake of focus, I’ll just zero in on Qobuz this time. One last caveat: I did find Brenda on that other big brand-name service but I won’t be talking about them because I don’t like how it generally sounds and I don’t really like how they treat the artists (i.e. they don’t pay musicians very much for the use of the music)
Brenda and The Tabulations were pretty much a singles oriented band and most of those tracks are fantastic. On the first album Dry Your Eyes, the title hit is a slow soulful heart-tugger, drenched in rich echo & eerie organ.
Be sure to listen to hip-shakers like “Hey Boy” which sounds like it could be outtake from Elvis Costello’s Get Happy album. Also be sure to check out her cover versions including an incredible version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s classic “Walk On By.” This is a stronger more aggressive arrangement than Dionne Warwick’s original, with Brenda and the band driving a certain sense of streetwise Philadelphia attitude through the song’s heart — that energy is palpable. They also do a fascinating cover of Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows,” one of the earliest interpretations of that song (originally on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album) I’ve come across.
Don’t miss the hysterical-but-infectious novelty track that never became a dance craze called: “The Wash” – – and I dare you to try to not dance around in the room to it. When listening to that, imagine Debby Harry of Blondie singing the tune — you might be surprised at the similarity in their vocal styles, at least on that song.
The second eponymously titled album by Brenda and The Tabulations from two years later is a little bit less satisfying on vinyl than the first one as a full album listen as it doesn’t have all the period singles on it. But this is where Qobuz service is useful because they do have an expanded version of the album with period singles streaming there. They also offer a handy compilation that previously was only available on compact disc (click here for that album) called The Top and Bottom Records Singles Collection 1969-1971. This collection delivers all those sides from their work on that label – beautifully produced by the legendary Van McCoy — including “Right On The Tip Of My Tongue,” “A Touch Of You” and “Don’t Make Me Over.”
As you go deeper into Brenda’s catalog you’ll find that there was a comeback album (of sorts) from the mid-1970s on the Casablanca label. That record is a big disappointment as it does not have the original band on it nor does it offer any of the original vibe of the group. Instead it’s rather bland generic mid-70s and mostly forgettable disco.
But if you listen to those first two albums and the singles, you’ll have most of what you need from the group. Also check out some of the videos that are surface on YouTube which I’ve posted in below.
So, is having access to Brenda and the Tabulations a good enough excuse for you to subscribe to Qobuz? If you don’t have a CD player and aren’t into collecting rare singles, it might just be…