‘In The City’: Reflecting On Tavares’ Shining Ball Grooves

The third album by Tavares is a passion-drenched classic of mid-70s R&B, and has much to offer beyond its hit singles.

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Released in July 1975, In The City was the third, and most commercially successful, album from the family group that had initially gone under the name Chubby And The Turnpikes in the late 50s. Originally from Providence, Rhode Island, before moving to New Bedford, Massachusetts, the quintet – whose family had Cape Verdean ancestry – comprised brothers “Chubby,” “Pooch,” “Butch,” “Tiny,” and Ralph Tavares (the only brother who wasn’t referred to by a nickname).

Listen to In The City right now.

The band got their first recording deal with Capitol Records in 1967 when, as Chubby and co, they released a couple of R&B singles that caused some noise at a local level but weren’t able to make any commercial inroads nationally in the US. Come the early 70s, though, the band decided to ditch the Chubby And The Turnpikes moniker and adopted their family surname, morphing into Tavares. Capitol hadn’t given up on the now Afro-topped group and released the renamed band’s first single, a haunting slow ballad called “Check It Out,” in 1973, which broke into the US R&B Top 5 and reached No.35 in its pop counterpart. The interest that the single generated succeeded in putting Tavares on the radar of the wider American public.

By 1975, when Tavares released In The City, they had already racked up a No.1 R&B single (their soulful 1974 cover of Hall & Oates’ pop hit “She’s Gone”) and had two successful LPs to their name (Check It Out and Hard Core Poetry). In The City brought the band even more chart glory. Its lead single, the super-infectious “It Only Takes A Minute,” helmed by the rising songwriting and production duo Brian Potter and Dennis Lambert, gave the band another US R&B chart-topper (it also reached No.10 in the American pop chart). With its pulsating disco groove, the song showed that the band could handle uptempo material as well as warmly-harmonized ballads (it was later covered by British boy band Take That in 1992, and was sampled by Jennifer Lopez on her 2006 song “Hold It Don’t Drop It”).

The album’s other big hit was another driving uptempo cut: a disco-infused retooling of rock band The Edgar Winter Group’s Dan Hartman-penned 1973 smash “Free Ride,” driven by funky rhythm guitar and fronted by Tiny Tavares. It stayed true to the strident spirit and arrangement of the original and rose to No.8 in the US R&B chart. The third and final hit off the album showcased Tavares’ skills as balladeers, with a poignant, string-drenched slow jam about unrequited love called “The Love I Never Had” (No.11 US R&B), featuring Chubby on lead vocals.

But In The City wasn’t solely defined by its three hit singles. The album was consistently strong, its material ranging from vivid storytelling vignettes (“Fools Hall Of Fame”) and mournful ballads (“In The Eyes Of Love” and “I Hope She Chooses Me,” the latter with a doo-wop flavor) to slick, danceable grooves. Among the latter was the horn-peppered “Nothing You Can Do,” featuring Butch’s svelte vocal; the funkafied title song (written and sung by Butch and Pooch) with its slick harmonies; the anthemic “Ready, Willing And Able”; and the breezy “We Fit To A Tee.”

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Packed with three infectious, ear-catching hits, as well as boasting uniformly strong material and energized performances, In The City spent 15 weeks on the US R&B albums chart during 1975, peaking at No.8, while it also reached No.26 on the Billboard 200. Tavares recorded six more albums for Capitol between 1976 and 1980 but weren’t able to emulate the chart success and popularity of In The City, which, to date, remains the quintet’s best-selling long-player.

Combining passion-drenched vocals with a well-balanced blend of romantic ballads and effervescent mirror ball grooves, In The City encapsulated the soulful essence of a super-talented band of brothers.

In The City can be bought here.

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