“Don’t Leave Me This Way” began life as a song by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. It appeared on 1975’s Wake Up Everybody, their last album to feature Teddy Pendergrass as the lead vocalist. Motown’s staff got wind of the song, and decided to re-record it on Thelma Houston. Their recording of the song was inspired by the contemporaneous success of Diana Ross’s “Love Hangover”. It was actually meant to be recorded by Diana, but I guess she passed. So, they took a Philly soul song, gave it a Los Angeles re-touch inspired by the biggest Motown hit at the time, and delivered Thelma her biggest hit ever. It even won Thelma a Grammy, an award that still has somehow eluded Diana Ross. Still.
At any rate, Thelma deserved her Grammy and her #1 hit. There aren’t a lot of covers out there that outshine the original, but her “Don’t Leave Me This Way” manages to best almost-peak era Teddy Pendergrass; no small feat.
Thelma Houston was the entertainment at the first-ever pride march I went to in Boston. I’m fairly sure I wasn’t living there yet, so it might have been 2004 or 2005. It was a really nice day, but Thelma was more than a little frazzled, so the show was a bit of a hot mess. She opened with “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. As if to testify to the lasting power of her biggest hit, she also closed with “Don’t Leave Me This Way”. Not that the majority of the crowd wanted to hear anything else.