Gladys Knight & the Pips ‘The Hits 1973-1985’ 2LP (United Souls) 4/5

There aren’t that many names that are etched higher up in the annals of soul music’s rich lineage than Gladys Knight & The Pips. Famous for a slew of hit singles, Grammy awards, American Music Awards, famous as being one of the foremost notable acts amidst Motown’s revered roster which at that time boasted names like Marvin Gaye, Dianna Ross and The Temptations. And inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.

Theirs is a catalogue of music released over the course of three decades and boasting a litany of successful singles and albums. While Gladys Knight & The Pips are often cited as one of the finest acts to grace the hallowed walls of Motown Records – and despite the success of songs like the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong penned ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ – the quintet’s biggest hits actually came in those post-Motown years.

But sticking with their Motown tenure a moment longer – while a part of the label, the group were actually relegated to Motown’s subsidiary division entitled Soul along with notable names like Jimmy Ruffin, The Originals and Jr Walker & The All-Stars. Soul was where the artists that were deemed to be missing a distinct crossover appeal were housed and it’s true to say that Gladys Knight & The Pips perhaps weren’t seen at the outset of living up to the expectations of the aforementioned front-line artists. The success of the collective’s ‘Grapevine’ (1967) ultimately became Motown’s biggest selling single to date positioning the band for far greater things.

As previously mentioned, the move to Buddah Records in 1973, and later Columbia Records, is very much where the story of this United Souls ‘The Hits’ compilation begins. Featuring nineteen of those very hits, United Souls have plucked the tracks synonymous with the collective during this time – including their first single release through Buddah – the ballad ‘Where Peaceful Waters Flow’ (1973) – and the colossal hit that would follow later that same year, the Grammy-winning ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’. Written by Jim Weatherly under the original title ‘Midnight Plane to Houston’, the song went through a variety of iterations and recordings before finally making its way to Knight & The Pips and ultimately becoming a song forever attributed to them. Another Weatherly-penned number that proved a significant hit for Knight was their timeless rendition of ‘Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me’ scoring high chart positions in the US and the UK. I’ll confess to having completely missed the cover of Bette Midler’s seminal ‘Hero (Wind Beneath My Wings)’ prior to this release so hearing Knight’s powerhouse vocal elevate this song to new heights proved a real pleasure.

United Souls have really picked some of the finest names in soul music to celebrate through their relatively new series of vinyl releases – with past subjects including The Isley Brothers, The O’Jays and the upcoming set dedicated to Phyllis Hyman – the Gladys Knight & The Pips legacy continues as a reintroduction for a potentially new generation.

Imran Mirza