If you only know Why Can’t We Live Together for its stirring, racial-harmony-desiring title track (which peaked at #3 in the singles chart in early 1973), you’re in for a treat. This is a damn strong album all the way through—and reputedly the first record to prominently feature a rhythm machine instead of a drummer. A session musician for Miami’s T.K. Records, Timmy Thomas played and sang every damn thing on Why Can’t We Live Together, and he deserves way more respect for this LP than he’s received. (The gifted soul singer and multi-instrumentalist passed away in 2022 at age 77.)
“Why Cant We Live Together” was Thomas’ only pop hit, although he earned several R&B chart placings. Recorded in mono, this track cut through the commercial-radio clutter with its stark production, the plaintive soulfulness of Thomas’ vocals, the distinctive timbres of the Maestro Rhythm Master drum machine and Lowrey organ, and the simple power of TT’s peace-mongering lyrics. Throughout the LP, Thomas plays bass lines with his organ’s foot pedals, and he creates an incisive one for this all-time classic. For what it’s worth, “Why Can’t We Live Together” has racked up more than 31 million plays on $p0tify—with the album’s next most popular track clocking only 725k. In other trivia, the song’s been covered by Sade, Santana, and Steve Winwood, among others, and was sampled by Drake for his “Hotline Bling” hit. Putting money in Thomas’ bank account is the best thing that that Canadian hip-hop mediocrity’s ever done.
“Rainbow Power” follows with a low-slung paean to ethnic diversity, calling for Americans to “love… your brother,” no matter one’s race; its message remains evergreen. “Cold Cold People” soulfully excoriates soulless ghouls over a drum-machine pattern that ticks methodically and ominously while Thomas gets rococo on the organ. “Dizzy Dizzy World” is a wistful ballad about status-climbers while “Opportunity” comes over like a pep talk given by the most soulful and funky striver you’ve ever heard. By far the most uptempo track here is “Funky Me,” an instrumental that has an almost proto-techno propulsion and swiftness. I recommend it to DJs who urgently need to get the crowd moving.
The LP’s two covers are phenomenal. Inspired after hearing it in the movie Play Misty For Me, Thomas turns Roberta Flack’s awesome interpretation of Ewan McColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” into a low-lit, instrumental with fibrillating, vibrant organ tones carrying the weight of the heartbreaking melody. A mournful tour de force! Thomas follows it with a rendition of the Chi-Lites’ “The Coldest Days Of My Life,” one of the saddest ballads ever conceived; he inhabits its rueful doldrums with natural panache. Thomas’ minimalism wrings maximal sympathy and he equals the original masterpiece—something most listeners would’ve thought improbable.
One drawback to Why Can’t We Live Together is the relative similarity and lack of spontaneity of the beat patterns, but Thomas’ yearning vocals and moving melodies more than compensate for that. -Buckley Mayfield
Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Jive Time is always looking to buy your unwanted records (provided they are in good condition) or offer credit for trade. We also buy record collections.