First Choice – 1973 – Armed And Extremely Dangerous
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Rip by Mr.Moo Review and research by Derek Anderson
Posting and adittional info’s by Nikos
First Choice were one of the most successful of Philly Soul’s female groups, releasing six albums between 1973 and 1980. Rochelle Fleming, Annette Guest and Joyce Jones were just fifteen when they formed The Debronettes. Then their luck and lives changed, when they decided to audition for one of Philly’s DJs. When The Debronettes attended the audition at W.D.A.S. George realized that here was a group with potential. He was so impressed with The Debronettes that he called one of the mainstays of the Philly’s burgeoning music scene, Stan Watson, owner of Philly Groove Records. Stan liked the group, but not their name. So he signed The Debronettes, but got them to change their name. Now The Debronettes became First Choice.
To produce First Choice’s debut single, Stan Watson brought in Philly-based guitarist, songwriter, arranger and producer Norman Harris. Norman was a founder member of Philadelphia International Records’ house-band M.F.S.B. and the guitarist in the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section. By the time he met First Choice, he was establishing a reputation as one of the hottest producers of the time.
With the newly named First Choice, they set about recording their debut single, This Is the House Where Love Died. It wasn’t initially a success, but when rereleased under license by Scepter/Wand gave First Choice a minor hit. Encouraged by the success of This Is the House Where Love Died, work began on First Choice’s debut album Armed and Extremely Dangerous.
A1 Smarty Pants 2:38
A2 Runnin’ Out Of Fools 3:32
A3 A Boy Named Junior 3:41
A4 Love And Happiness 6:57
A5 Wake Up To Me 3:45
B1 Newsy Neighbors 5:57
B2 Armed And Extremely Dangerous 2:48
B3 This Little Woman 3:50
B4 This Is The House 2:57
B5 One Step Away 3:10
Norman Harris wasn’t just a producer, he was a songwriter, arranger and one of the best guitarists of the seventies. He was also a founder member of M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house-band. At the heart of M.F.S.B, were the rhythm section of Ron Baker, Norman Harris and Earl Young. Known as Baker, Harris, Young, they provided the heartbeat to numerous Philly Soul classics.
Smarty Pants, the first of five Norman Harris and Alan Felder penned songs, which Norman arranged and produced. Bursts of breathy vocals, stabs of growling horns and Larry Washington’s congas and bongos build and build the drama. Then, with swathes of swirling strings and rasping horns for company, Rochelle’s delivers a sassy feisty vocal. Powerful, tenderness, sassy and smart, it’s all these things and more. Behind her, M.F.S.B. ensure the arrangement swings.
Runnin’ Out of Fools sees Rochelle take centre-stage. The rest of First Choice playing supporting roles. Earl Young’s drums, stabs of blazing horns and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes combine, before Rochelle delivers a powerful, heartfelt vocal. She lays bare her soul, displaying vocal that breathes meaning into the music. It’s as if she’s lived them. Cascading strings, subtle vibes, bursts of horns and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section accompany Rochelle. Cooing harmonies sweep in, but mostly it’s Rochelle plays a starring role, bringing life and meaning, to the heartache and hurt in the lyrics.
the tempo slows way down on A Boy Named Junior, penned by Chuck Brooks. Sad strings, a harpsichord and Ron Baker’s bass combine as the emotion and sadness builds. When Rochelle’s vocal enters, the scene’s been set. Her vocal is wistful, full of emotion and sadness.
Al Green cowrote Love and Happiness, a track from his Love and Happiness album. Here, First Choice reinterpret the song. Just meandering, melodic keyboards accompany Rochelle’s tender vocal. Soon, the arrangement unfolds. Stabs of grizzled horns, Norman’s chiming guitar and keyboards accompany Rochelle. Her vocal veers between tender and spacious, to sensual and sassy.
Wake Up To Me, closes Side One. Norman arranges and produces this slow, thoughtful track. With the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section providing a slow, pensive, backdrop, horns rasp, strings sweep and Vince Montana Jr, sprinkles his vibes. Having provided the perfect backdrop, First Choice do their part, adding tight, impassioned and soulful harmonies. Then when Rochelle steps out of the shadows, she delivers a vocal that’s needy, but filled with hope. Her voice grows in power and emotion, with the harmonies and M.F.S.B. providing a perfect, pensive and beautiful accompaniment.
Newsy Neighbors was one of three singles released from the album. Larry Washington’s congas and bongos give way to rasping horns, dancing strings and Baker, Harris, Young, who drive the arrangement along. Rochelle’s vocal soars powerfully above the arrangement, with harmonies sweeping in. Bursts of Earl Young’s drums add drama, Norman Harris’ guitar is understated and jazz-tinged, while Bobby “Electronic” Eli’s sizzles. Vince Montana Jr, adds vibes, strings cascade and horns kick, while Rochelle and the rest of First Choice drive each other to greater heights of soulfulness. This results in not just a First Choice classic, but a Philly Soul classic.
How do you follow one classic track? For First Choice it’s simple, with another, Armed and Extremely Dangerous. This was the lead and gave First Choice their commercial breakthrough. From the get-go, M.F.S.B. are in full flight. Larry Washington’s congas and bongos, swirling strings and sirens are joined by growling horns. Baker, Harris, Young do their part, providing a pulsating heartbeat. Urgent harmonies sweep in, surrounded by swathes of swirling strings and grizzled horns. Rochelle’s vocal is powerful and sassy, but tinged with regret. Highlighting the danger are Earl’s thunderous drums and stabs of horns. Rochelle unleashes one of her best vocals. Power, passion and emotion unitie with frustration and regret, at falling for a guy like that? While M.F.S.B. and First Choice play their part on the second classic track on Armed and Extremely Dangerous, Rochelle Fleming plays the part of the leading lady perfectly.
Carl Fisher and Bobby “Electronic” Eli cowrote This Little Woman, which Bobby arranged. It’s a slow ballad, where First Choice showcase their harmonies, against a string drenched backdrop. There’s Spanish and Latin influences present when This Is the House (Where Love Is) opens. It’s the frantically strummed acoustic guitar, percussion, urgent strings and braying horns that makes me think this. Sweeping, punchy, soaring, soulful harmonies have a similar urgency, as this Alan Felder and Norman Harris penned track reveals plenty of subtle poppy hooks.
Closing, One Step Away. A breezy flute floats above an arrangement driven along by Baker, Harris, Young. Strings sweep and swirl, horns rasp and Vince Montana Jr, adds vibes as Rochelle delivers a despairing vocal.
What’s remarkable about First Choice’s debut album Armed and Extremely Dangerous, is that in 1973. each of First Choice were still teenagers. First Choice’s performances on Armed and Extremely Dangerous belies this, showing that a great future lay ahead of the three members of First Choice. That was to be the case, with First Choice becoming one of the most successful of Philly Soul’s female groups. Armed and Extremely Dangerous their debut album, is one of the finest debut albums in the history of Philly Soul and nearly forty years later, is a stonewall, timeless classic.