In 1980, disco star KC and vocalist Teri De Sario scored a pop and soft rock hit with "Yes, I'm Ready." What some may not realize is that that it is a cover of a 1965 single by Barbara Mason, which AllMusic now calls "an interesting minor soul performer." While she may not have achieved crossover success after that hit, Mason deserves to be acknowledged as a talented songwriter and a Philly Soul pioneer.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Mason sang in talent shows as a child and later teenager. Renowned producer and talent scout Weldon Arthur McDougal III recruited her for a small local label called Charger; she subsequently moved on to the bigger Arctic label. As she recorded material for her first album, Mason immediately distinguished herself from other female vocalists: she wrote much of her own words and music. One such song she had composed was "Yes, I'm Ready," which was heavily influenced by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions in sound and chord changes. After Mason recorded the track in two takes, local DJ Jimmy Bishop began playing the single on the radio. While it gained airplay because of its catchy sound, there was another compelling reason it was immediately aired on Philadelphia radio: Bishop was also the president of Mason's record label. "Yes, I'm Ready" soon became a massive hit, peaking at number two on the Billboard R&B chart as well as number five on the Billboard Hot 100.
Why did "Yes, I'm Ready" achieve such popularity? Lyrically, the song encapsulates the uncertainty of young love, with Mason's wistful vocals expressing a teenager's nervousness and excitement. "I don't even know how to love you," she croons. "I don't even know how to kiss your lips." However, Mason gains confidence in the chorus, her voice steady and determined as she delivers the song's central message: "I'm ready to learn." A particularly fascinating touch is the male and female backing singers, representing not only the couple in the song but also the push-and-pull of innocence versus experience. At the beginning, the male singers pose the question "are you ready?" to which the female chorus responds "yes, I'm ready." Mason's lyrics are also forward-thinking for the time, as the young female narrator makes a conscious decision to (possibly) embark on a sexual relationship. Although the lines "I'm going to learn how to do / All the things you want me to" may seem typical of supposed feminine passivity, Mason's strong delivery and admitting her inexperience--but willingness to learn--illustrate that she is not bowing to pressure but is choosing to take the next step in her romance.
In addition to its feminist connotations, "Yes, I'm Ready" remains significant for another reason: it predates the Philly Soul sound of the 1970s. The recording features important players Kenny Gamble on backing vocals and future MSFB members Bobby Eli, Norman Harris, and Ronnie Baker (guitars and bass). Gamble would go on to found Philadelphia International with Leon Huff, and the two would create the highly influential, string-filled Philly Soul sound. The string-dominant arrangement on "Yes, I'm Ready" anticipates the lush balladry of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul, and Teddy Pendergrass.
Interestingly, Mason revisited "Yes, I'm Ready" almost a decade later, when she rerecorded it for her 1973 album Give Me Your Love. When KC and De Sario covered it in 1980, the smooth arrangement and vocals (as well as KC and De Sario's ages) transformed the song a typical ballad. The innocence and uncertainty of Mason's narrator disappeared.
Mason's 1965 followup single, "Sad, Sad Girl," did not achieve the same success as "Yes, I'm Ready," but she later reinvented her sound to better match 1970s funk. She worked with her idol Mayfield on Give Me Your Love, then recorded songs that addressed infidelity and sexuality in a frank matter for the time ("Bed and Board," "From His Woman to You," "Shackin' Up"). In 1984 she made a triumphant return to the charts with the sassy dance track "Another Man," which performed particularly well on the Dance Music/Club Play Singles charts.
A pioneer of the Philly Soul sound and a songwriting talent, Mason deserves better than the title "minor soul performer." Her sexual frankness and feminist leanings were ahead of their time, and her voice contains a malleable quality that allows her to evoke both innocence and experience. "Yes, I'm Ready" exemplifies her talents, and should encourage listeners to seek out more of her catalog.