The great R&B vocalist Gladys Knight celebrates her 69th birthday this week, and is still performing after over 50 years in the music business. Her impeccable voice, supported by her famous backup singing group the Pips, graced a string of classic 1970s hits. While Knight may be best known for tracks such as "Midnight Train to Georgia" or "Neither One of Us (Wants to be the First to Say Goodbye)," her 1980s-era work should not be overlooked. One of her last successful singles with the Pips, "Save the Overtime (for Me)," perfectly blends Knight's soulful style with 1983's modern beats.
Hailing from Georgia, Knight first honed her talent in the church, eventually forming the Pips in the late fifties with her brother, sister, and two cousins. After few changes, the final lineup was solidified in 1962: brother Bubba Knight and cousins Edward Patten and William Guest. They toiled on small labels for four years until they signed with Motown's subsidiary label Soul, where the band found initial success with their original version of "I Heard It through the Grapevine." Gradually Knight and the Pips turned away from grittier R&B and concentrated on smoother ballads such as 1973's hit "Neither One of Us."
Despite these triumphs, the group left Motown after expressing their unhappiness with the label's "Hollywood" direction. Joining Buddah Records in 1973, Knight and the Pips soon experienced their greatest achievements with a solid run of hits such as "Midnight Train" and "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me." Contractual problems soon prevented Knight from recording with the Pips until 1980, when the group signed with CBS Records. These frustrating years ended with their 1983 album Visions, which spawned the number one R&B single "Save the Overtime (for Me)."
Produced by Leon Sylvers, the creative force behind the family act the Sylvers, the song makes effective use of Knight's sexy delivery and the Pips' warm harmonies. Most importantly, it contains a memorable chorus and danceable beat that must have enticed dancers to the floor. The uptempo track immediately launches into the chorus:
Darling, don't stay too long
Pretty baby, I know you're working hard for me
Darling, don't stay away too long
Pretty baby, save the overtime for me
Knight croons about her anticipation at seeing her lover again, mentioning that she tries to "Turn on TV or play some solitaire / It does the job for a while." The lyrics linger after the song ends, with Knight's delivery easily riding the song's rhythm. Just listen to how she and the Pips accent certain phrases on lines like "Listen for the phone, checkin' out the tick tock / Countin' if it's a certain time / Hear me now, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1." The synthesizers and dance beat place "Save the Overtime" in the 1980s (although Sylvers wisely avoided overdoing synthesizer or electronic drum sounds, thus not dating the track), yet Knight's classic vocals and the Pips' smooth harmonies recall their glory days. In other words, the band successfully updated their sound while not alienating their longtime fans.
Unlike the song's production, the video has become dated. Apparently trying to entice younger audiences, the clip focuses less on Knight and the Pips and more on breakdancers. Watching the video today brings back fun memories, but one wishes that the legendary R&B band appeared more often. Nevertheless, it captures the feel-good aspects of the song, underscoring how "Save the Overtime (for Me)" remains an unfairly forgotten highlight of Gladys Knight and the Pips' already impressive material.