I recently came across this record and was really struck by the sound; very Philly soul, lush arrangements with strings and Barry White-esque moments. Then I was struck by its cover; who’s the blurred dude with the big gut and hockey stick and why are they all staring at him? The Joneses were out of Baltimore and had a long string of hits before releasing their debut, Keepin’ Up With The Joneses in 1974 on Mercury. Though its a famous record, its history is new to me.
There were minor lineup changes but The Joneses remained mostly a vocal group through the late ’60s and early ’70s. Some earlier songs had more falsetto but their later releases (perhaps due to the Philly soul explosion) leaned towards deep vocals and an unrelenting backbeat that switched between disco and funk– or a hybrid of the two. But they had good slow jams too, notably “Please Let Me Stay” where he talks about how his “ego trippin’ days are through…” A sweet song and a standout on the LP, especially the changing deliveries during the verse, bridge, and hook. The song is a proclamation of change and is a sleeper joint on an album full of charting singles.
“Please Let Me Stay” off Keepin’ Up With The Joneses LP [Mercury, 1974]
While researching a bit on the group it seems that through all their hits, the one that gets top mention is “Sugar Pie Guy”, part 1 and part 2– both appear on the LP. It’s an uptempo number and shows the band’s easy blending of disco, funk, touches doo-wop and sweet soul. Their records also apparently showcased some of Baltimore’s leading studio musicians of the time.
To my surprise, the 45 version is even better than the LP versions! Same song with extended drums at the start, lower vocals and overall much harder bass and drums. It’s still sugary but there’s no beating this hard, 45 version of what is perhaps their most remembered recording. “Sugar pie guy don’t tell no lie…”
‘Sugar Pie Guy’ (7″ version) [Mercury 1974]