When Terri Wells arrived on the UK soul scene in 1983, there was much anticipation that a new star had arrived; she certainly had all the credentials to back up that assumption. Wells’ musical education, like so many greats before her, was gained in the church, and hailing from the City of Brotherly Love, it wasn’t long before her talents were recognized by Gamble & Huff, and their burgeoning Philadelphia International Records empire. Although signed briefly to their TSOP imprint as a part of the group City Limits (who recorded an album entitled CIRCLES, featuring the single “Love Is Everywhere”), her obvious talent did not escape notice by executives at the label.
When the City Limits disbanded, Dexter Wansel hired Terri as a session singer, and during the late ’70s she recorded and toured extensively with a number of the label’s A-list stars, including Lou Rawls, MFSB, Jean Carn, and co-owner, Leon Huff. But it was working with Dexter Wansel that she made her greatest impact, singing on the cuts “Love Is Everywhere,” “Life On Mars,” and lead on the sublime “The Sweetest Pain.”
After Wansel retired from live performances Terri was hired by Roy Ayers, and toured in his band, singing lead on “Turn Me Loose,” and even co-writing “Let’s Stay Together” for his FEELIN’ GOOD album. But in the ‘80s, just as the dominance of PIR was starting to wane, a new player in the city by the name of Philly World Records was starting to gain recognition on both sides of the Atlantic. Their roster featured new and exciting acts like Cashmere, Chill Fac-Torr, and Search, along with solo artists including Eugene Wilde, Bryan Loren, and Joanna Gardner. The label’s real coup de grâce was signing Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who didn’t disappoint on their essential TALK IT UP opus.
With staff producer Nick Martinelli at the mixing desk, he recommended they sign Terri Wells, which led to her debut 45, the emotive ballad “You Make It Heaven,” a UK Top 75 crossover during the summer months of 1983, thanks in no small way to the support of influential soul broadcaster Robbie Vincent and the burgeoning network of pirate stations that filled London airwaves at the time. This seductive and highly soulful ballad struck a chord with the quiet storm format that late night radio embraced from the other side the pond. Yet, somewhat ironically, in America it failed to garner support. Instead, in the US, they issued the altogether funky, yet equally polished, “I’m Givin’ You All My Lovin’,” that similarly became a staple part of daytime radio on the FM dial during the spring of 1984, when issued as a US single. Jimmy Williams’ (Double Exposure/Salsoul Orchestra) distinctive basslines and Wells’ catchy vocal hooks--sounding not unlike Aretha--marked a throwback to her gospel roots in this cult boogie tune.
In the UK, they opted for a rendition of the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” (or the Detroit Spinners as they were known there to avoid confusion – as if – with the knitted-sweater-wearing English folk ensemble of the same name!). In a weird twist of fate Wells had actually provided back-up on the original recording a decade earlier, and her version eclipsed the original’s UK chart success, climbing to the top 20 of the pop listings in May ‘84.
With Nick Martinelli’s production savvy, embracing the latest synth and drum-machine technology of the day--despite now sounding somewhat dated--Wells’ vocals have more than stood the test of time. To many, her rendering represents the definitive reading of the Phil Hurtt and Thom Bell song.
The parent album, JUST LIKE DREAMIN’, with the singer epitomizing carefree sexy abandonment on the cover, was another recording to fly from the import racks upon its release. While top 40 radio championed “I’ll Be Around,” specialist shows were quick to support the midtempo title-track with its rhythm-smart string arrangements by Norman Harris, and Bobby Malach’s soaring sax solo that added to its “Street Life” charm. Likewise, the jazz-kissed “Who’s That Stranger,” underpinned by Roy Ayers’ distinctive vibe playing, won many admirers; in Germany the upbeat rockier dancer “I Already Know” was also issued.
For this belated CD issue, the package is now fully expanded with extended 12-inch versions, instrumental mixes, and edits to make the purchase even more desirable. But in all honesty, if you know the original release from back-in-the-day, or are a lover of quality ‘80s soul-kissed, expertly produced tracks with equally adept musical accompaniment, you shouldn’t have to think twice about giving this one a home.
Marcus Spehr’s adroitly detailed liner notes, including conversations with producer Nick Martinelli, are thoroughly absorbing, and finally reveal an answer to a question I’ve long since wondered about: why did she never record a follow up? “I was disappointed on how it was promoted,” says Martinelli, “… so the album and singles were not given a fair shot.” Such a terrible waste that we can now see revisited and corrected.
About the Writer
Lewis Dene has been involved in the many facets of music business for over 20 years. As a music journalist he has previously written for Blues & Soul, Record Collector, Music Week and the BBC, in the process compiling and/or writing liner notes for over 200 CDs (including a number for SoulMusic Records). Lewis currently consults for Kings Of Spins and is a resident DJ for Hed Kandi in America.