As if a ‘50s pop singer like Dinah Shore made a disco album.
You probably know her best from a notorious game show stint, but Jaye P. Morgan has had a long and surprisingly versatile career. Born Mary Margaret but taking on her nickname after the noted financier, she began performing as a child, spending 10 years in her family’s traveling vaudeville act, from which she took her first retirement at the seasoned age of 13. By her twenties she was a convincing jazz-pop singer, named top US female vocalist in a 1955 poll. She’s probably remembered most for flashing her breasts (twice) on the anarchic ‘70s variety/game show “The Gong Show.” Yet that may not be her biggest showbiz surprise. In 1976, Morgan recorded an LA funk album, privately pressed yet featuring big label production values, top session musicians and a producer who would go on to generate chart-topping hits. A durable example of white soul, Jaye P. Morgan may be the greatest R&B album ever released by a ‘70s game show regular, and until now it’s been one of the rarest. Thanks to Wewantsounds, you can hear it, and you should.
It’s as if a ‘50s pop singer like Dinah Shore made a disco album—and a pretty good one! You wouldn’t know that this wasn’t a seasoned dancefloor queen. “I Fall in Love Everyday” opens the record with a confident mid-tempo and lush light-funk arrangement. The album’s success is in no small part due to its session players, which include such LA pros as guitarists Lee Ritenour and Ray Parker, Jr., drummer Jeff Porcaro (whose credits in 1976 included Boz Scaggs’ like-minded Silk Degrees) and even Kenny Loggins, pitching in with backup vocals on one track. Leading this crew is producer David Foster, who at the time had not yet scored big but would soon make Earth, Wind and Fire a bajillion-seller with I Am. He crafted a professional yet soulful sound for his vivacious headliner.
And that headliner carries the album with confident, thoughtful phrasing. This isn’t the recording of a celebrity dabbler, and you can hear that best on tracks like the easygoing ballad “Your Secret’s Safe with Me”; growing up and aspiring to jazz vocals, she knows how and where to bend a note and leans into soul inflections with just the right touch. She goes downright quiet storm with “It’s Been So Long,” which would not have sounded out of place on ‘70s R&B radio (after all, it’s a Stevie Wonder cover).
With songwriting as consistent as any R&B album of the era, you wonder what the album might have accomplished if it had the support of a major label. In fact, you wonder why, given the personnel involved, it didn’t; could it have been the mid-tempo ballad “Closet Man,” with such lyrics as “Your secret’s safe with me”? The ringer here might be the up-tempo “Let’s Get Together,” recently compiled on the all-female volume of the Too Slow to Disco series. It doesn’t exactly live up to that series title; this is quite fast enough to disco, but not so fast that the rhythm becomes mechanical. Morgan’s supporting cast give her room to relax, and she takes her time, much like this album took its time to get to its audience. Jaye P. Morgan demonstrates that “The Gong Show” featured more talent than we could ever have suspected.