The second half of the 70s was unkind to the Chi-Lites. The group that had been the toast of the town early in the decade, with #1 hits like "Oh Girl" and "Have You Seen Her," disintegrated in 1975 alongside their record label, Brunswick. Group lead singer and songwriter, Eugene Record, threw up his hands and decided he could do bad all by himself, signing on for a three album deal with Warner Brothers that resulted in exactly zero hits. And Marshall Thompson reformed the group with new singers and just as little luck on two solid but largely ignored albums on Mercury Records.
So as the 80s arrived, Thompson and Record decided to take another shot at rekindling the magic of a decade earlier, reuniting the most popular version of the group (Record, Thompson, Craedel Jones and Squirrel Lester) and signing on with former Brunswick executive Carl Davis's Chi-Sound Records for two albums, 1980's Heavenly Body and 1981's Me And You, now reissued in a 2-for-1 format by Expansion Records. Davis had played a role in the group's original success and he jumped in again here, co-writing several songs with Record and bringing along a solid cast of musicians, including the Earth Wind & Fire horn section and legendary percussionist Tom Tom 84.
As it was during the Chi-Lites earlier incarnation, the success of the group largely rested on Eugene Record's songwriting, and on Heavenly Body he showed himself to still be adjusting to the changing music scene, particularly the emergence of disco and funk. The ballads "Give Me A Dream" and "Super Mad (About You Baby)" were fine, if unassuming, but the more upbeat tunes sounded out of sync, even by 1980 standards. And while the disc was quite listenable, there were simply no obvious hits. Even an attempt to capitalize on the group's past success via a remake of "Have You Seen Her" (this time with the former spoken intro now sung) failed to convince radio that the Chi-Lites were back. So Heavenly Body was commercially dead on arrival, barely squeaking into the R&B top 50.
The collective yawn that Heavenly Body elicited appeared to destine Me And You to an equally quick death, but it was an entirely different project than its predecessor. The awkwardness of the prior project was nowhere to be found here, as Record's songs were both hotter and more muscular. The disc boasted two killer dance cuts, the title track and "Hot On A Thing," the Chi-Lites' first legitimate hit in half a dozen years. While the second single was another forgettable cover of a past hit - here "Oh Girl" - the cut that really captured the sweet essence of earlier Chi-Lites ballads was the beautiful "Never Speak to a Stranger." The rest of the album was uniformly strong, especially "Tell Me Where It Hurts" (which Record had originally written for Walter Jackson) and the fantastic, full bodied midtempo, "Try My Side of Love," simply one of the best Chi-Lites songs ever [presented on the Expansion reissue in both its original form and its 12" remix version].
The Chi-Lites would leave Chi-Sound in 1982 and record two more albums (scoring one more top 10 hit with the funk cut, "Bottoms Up") before Record retired from the group to pursue Christian ministry. And though most fans stopped paying attention to the Chi-Lites' releases after their mid-70s fall from grace, these Chi-Sound recordings -- especially Me And You -- provided a legitimate encore to the group's earlier success. It's a shame that these discs went out of print almost as soon as they came out, but it is a reason for celebration that Expansion Records has given this all-time classic group's underappreciated latter work a new life in this overdue but very welcome package. Recommended.
By Chris Rizik