Just got five "Beautiful Ballads" collections from the Legacy label that dip into Sony/BMG's endless storehouse of classics, scheduled for release a day after Christmas and promoted with an eye toward Valentine's Day. Four of them--by the Isleys, Patti LaBelle, Earth Wind & Fire, and the O'Jays--are fine, and, never one to look gift horses in the mouth, I'm happy to have them.
But I'm doing backward somersaults over the "Beautiful Ballads" from Gladys Knight & the Pips. As with any great 70s soul act, GK&P, has had their hits regurgitated in a dozen different compendiums. But "Beautiful Ballads" is the very first to execute the fondest wishes of iPod illiterate folks like your truly, stacking the four blockbuster singles (tracks #3-6) that defined Knight as the quintessential female counterpart to Al Green, melding classic gospel-style testimony (with the Pips chiming in on the call-and-response) with soap operatic romance. I'm talkin' 'bout a goosebump chorus line of "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me," "Midnight Train To Georgia," "If I Were Your Woman," and "Neither One of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)," back-to-back-to-back-to-back! This is the holy grail of sacred swooning, 15 minuts and 59 seconds of incomparably bittersweet bliss. If you're not rockin', bobbin' and spinning around the room while belting out the lyrics along with Gladys, I'm not sure I want to know you.