Gladys Knight and the Pips – “If I Were Your Woman”

Gladys Knight and the Pips – “If I Were Your Woman,” Pop #9, R&B #1

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Relationship fantasies were nothing new at Motown – Mary Wells’ “The One Who Really Loves You” was one of the label’s earliest singles. But Gladys Knight and the Pips’ 1971 single “If I Were Your Woman” shows how much Hitsville had grown up during the ‘60s. The song removes the concept from the realm of schoolgirl crushes and infuses it with some serious grown-up desire.

When “If I Were Your Woman” came out the Pips were on a run of three consecutive Top 5 R&B hits, dating back to 1969’s No. 3 “The Nitty Gritty.” The group was determined to keep this streak intact and also bolster their album sales; none of their LPs had cracked the Top 10. They accomplished both. The single went all the way to the top of the R&B charts, and the album – given the same name – lodged at No. 4.

Knight’s smoky, smoldering voice played no small role in that achievement. Listeners who grew up with “Baby Love” no doubt enjoyed hearing love songs that matured with them. Knight sumptuously plays the role of a woman in love with a man trapped in a bad relationship. Knight knows she can make him the man he deserves to be, if only he could muster the strength to walk away … and she could find the courage to confront him face-to-face.

Knight sings with the passion of a woman pouring out her deepest desires to the darkness, a conviction rooted in the comfort of knowing these words will never face the harsh scrutiny of daylight. As the song fades, it is easy to imagine Knight drifting off to sleep as her would-be beau lies awake in bed next to his partner, wondering how he wound up in this predicament. The next time Knight and her man meet, their only exchanges will be furtive glances across the room and brief, awkward conversation punctuated by nervous laughter.

Written by Gloria Jones, Clay McMurray and Pam Sawyer and produced by McMurray, “If I Were Your Woman” inspired several covers. The Jean Terrell-fronted Supremes recorded a version the following year, in 1972. One year later, Jones – better known as the original singer of the song “Tainted Love,” later recorded by Soft Cell, and girlfriend of T. Rex glam rocker Marc Bolan – recorded her own version for her second solo album.

Bonnie Bramlett, formerly known as half of Delaney and Bonnie, followed suit in 1976. The unfairly ignored Bettye LaVette put her stamp on the song on her only Motown album, 1980s “Tell Me A Lie.” Eight years later Stephanie Mills put the song back on the charts, where it reached No. 19 on the Hot Black Singles chart (now known as the Hot R&B/Hip Hop chart). That same year found the only male interpretation of the number, when George Michael performed it at Nelson Mandella’s 70th birthday tribute. Somehow people were still shocked when he came out of the closet a decade later.

Most recently, Alicia Keys included the song as part of a medley on her sophomore album, and gave it the stand-alone treatment on her 2005 live album “MTV Unplugged.”

One thought on “Gladys Knight and the Pips – “If I Were Your Woman”

  1. The Marvelettes ” Please Mr. Postman ” was released in 1961 and by the end of that year hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Making it Motowns first recognized hit. Recorded Hitsville U.S.A. (Studio A); April 1961 on the Tamla Label / A Trademark of the Motown Record Co.

    Mary Wells ” The one who really loves you ” was released in 1962 and ended up number 9 on the chart on the ” Motown ” lable.

    Tamla was Motown and it’s all the same to us Detroiters.

    Wells was the the third female act signed with Motown behind Claudette Rogers and Mable John.

    “Bye Bye Baby” & “I don’t want to take a chance ” proceeded ” The one who really loves you ” .

    “My Guy” was absolutely the defining Motown sound. Sad that she left after 1964 at the height of her career with Motown because Berry Gordy was using the money made off of My Guy and using it to promote The Supremes. In reality this is when Gordy also took a dump on The Marvelettes as well.

    Another artist that should of gained so much more recognition ( Besides Flo Ballard ) then she did was Brenda Holloway. She had a fabulous voice. ” Every Little Bit Hurts ” blew all of the songs out of the water including the record you are highlighting. Which by the way was one of my favorites by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

    Man talk about singing from the SOUL.

    Holloway was signed in 1964 on the Tamla Imprint as well. After Every Little Bit Hurts, she recorded ” When I’m Gone ” that was actually done by Wells first but never released. Holloway recorded it and it was released after Wells departed Motown after she won a lawsuit from Gordy in 65.

    Four years later she left Motown. All I know is I was bred, born and was blessed to have been brought up in the greatest musical city whose sound will never again match ” Motown “.

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