“Before I Let Go” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (1981)

Maze (hereby leaving off the “featuring” addendum) is a cultural phenomenon almost exclusive to black folks. In the days when you could sell tons of records to a specific minority audience without crossing over, Maze’s albums continually went Gold, they sold out mid-sized venues across the country (and arenas almost every summer as part of the Budweiser Superfest package tour), and they were mainstays on urban radio* without blowing the charts up. They had a couple of R&B chart toppers, but, in another unique wrinkle, “Before I Let Go”-arguably the band’s best known single-never even hit the Top Ten on Billboard’s Soul Singles chart**. In case you’re wondering, it didn’t sniff the pop Top 100, either.

“Before I Let Go” brings back fond memories of summertime, eating burgers or hot dogs grilled in the backyard (which was completely concrete without an inch of foliage–so not a backyard in the traditional sense) or at our weekly hangout spot, Marine Park (because my grandfather and various family members were in a softball league that played there every year.) It reminds me of Jet magazine and seeing Frankie Beverly’s familiar, smiling, perennially baseball-capped visage*** on an ad (usually for the aforementioned Superfest****). It-as Beverly sings in the very first line of the song-makes me happy. And not even so much for the nostalgia as for the subtle funkiness, that banging intro, and Beverly’s honeyed croon.

*-Maze was a commercially successful act pretty consistently from the mid Seventies to 1993 or so. Their “imperial period” lasted much longer than 90% of acts more lauded than they.

**-It peaked at $13.

***-I legit have no idea what Frankie Beverly looks like without a baseball cap on. Those who know me personally will probably read this footnote and ask themselves “hey, what does Mike look like without a hat on?”

****-Worth mentioning, “Before I Let Go” was a studio cut from a live album. These cats were concert workhorses/powerhouses/whatever.

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