It always annoys me when Gladys Knight and The Pips get labelled a Motown band. While, yes, the band did have a long, early run on that seminal label, they were far more successful later, on labels like Buddah and Columbia. Thankfully, the fine folks at Cherry Red Records have offered up a refresher in On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, a new 2-CD set that collects all the best singles from the group from those eras.
The songs that made me love this band as a kid -- "Midnight Train To Georgia", "I've Got To Use My Imagination" -- are, of course, here, on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, along with loads more from the real prime years of this group. The songs I consider some of the best Gladys Knight and The Pips tunes are here, with stuff like "Where Peaceful Waters Flow", and the aching "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me", sounding just as wonderful now as they did a few decades ago. I saw the band in Maryland when I was about 7 or 8 and they put on an amazing live show, so I'm sure I'm not the only kid who had a huge crush on Gladys Knight back then. And when one plays lots of the hits here, especially the songs for the film Claudine composed by the legendary Curis Mayfield, one marvels again at Knight's ability to interpret a song, and the four-piece's ability to take the vocal group-style of performing into more modern territory in the Seventies. Gladys Knight owns "To Be Invisible", and very nearly makes "The Makings Of You" her song, not Curtis's, and, of course "On and On" stomps, a perennial classic that doesn't get near enough attention in overviews of the era.
The second disc of On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology is devoted to the Columbia Records years, after 1978 and up to 2013. The scope is broader here and the material is, naturally, a bit more uneven. Selections like "Landlord" still swing, while "Taste Of Bitter Love" very nearly equals some of the earlier numbers from Gladys Knight and The Pips. On its own, this second disc might not stand on its own except for the most devoted of fans, but here, in the context of the more than 2.5 hours of tunes on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology, it provides a nice overview of the second half of the band's career.
As anyone who watched her sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2019 knows, Gladys Knight is still a legend. And while her solo material is good, and worth seeking out, most of what you're ever going to need is here on On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology. Simultaneously concise and generous, and lovingly curated, this set reaffirms yet again what an absolutely great group Gladys Knight and The Pips were, and what superb material they were given to work with in the first half of the Seventies.
On and On: The Buddah/Columbia Anthology by Gladys Knight and The Pips is out now via Cherry Red Records.