"Don't Leave Me This Way" is an R&B/soul/disco song written by Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff, and Cary Gilbert. First charting as a hit for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, an act on Gamble & Huff's Philadelphia International label in 1975, "Don't Leave Me This Way" was later a hit single for both Thelma Houston and The Communards.
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes version
The Blue Notes' original version of the song, featuring Teddy Pendergrass' lead vocal, was included as an album track on the group's successful Wake Up Everybody LP. Though not issued as a single in the United States, the Blue Notes' recording reached #3 on the US Billboard Disco charts and later reached #5 on the UK singles chart in the wake of Thelma Houston's version.
Thelma Houston version
"Don't Leave Me This Way" was covered by Motown artist Thelma Houston in 1976. Originally assigned to Diana Ross, it was recorded and intended to be the follow-up to her hit "Love Hangover." It was reassigned and given to the upcoming Motown artist, Thelma Houston. Her version, with its more overt disco arrangement, was a massive international hit, topping the soul singles chart and US Billboard Hot 100 chart for one week in April 1977. The song peaked at #13 in the UK. The song went to number one on the disco chart, and is considered by many to be not just one of the greatest songs of the disco era but the entire 70's as well. Later in the year, it was featured on the soundtrack of the movie, "Looking for Mr. Goodbar."
Houston's version was revived in 1995 in a remix, which reached #19 on the US Billboard Dance Chart and #35 in the UK. This version got Houston ranked #86 on VH1's "100 Greatest One-hit Wonders", as well as the #2 spot on their "100 Greatest Dance Songs" list.
The 1994/1995 version remixes are R&B vs 4:00, remix radio vs 4:00, 7” radio edit 4:00, club remix vertigo 5:40, house club remix 5:40, factory team remix 5:50, U.S. club edit 5:50, serious rope club remix 7:10, serious rope 7” remix 4:10, Jazz voice's classic club trax 6:10, Jazz voice's dub mix 7:35, Xs'2 house pump mix 7:30, Joe T. Vanelli dubby mix 8:40, Joe T. Vanelli light mix 5:20, Joe T. Vanelli Radio Cut 3:54, Joe T Vanelli Extra Dubby 5:17, Junior sound factory mix 9:30, tribe dub (acid vocal) 7:20, Junior's factory dub 9:30, Junior gospel dub 7:55, Junior's Tribe Prank Mix and Radio Edit 3:20.
HIV / AIDS Significance
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Houston's version of the song became an unofficial theme song for the AIDS epidemic in gay male communities of the west. American artist Neyland Blake created a work for American Foundation of AIDS research about the epidemic that referenced the song and its significance in the community. An art exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia entitled "Don't Leave Me This Way - Art in the age of AIDS" opened in 1994 containing various works about the epidemic. A 246 page publication of the exhibition also followed.
The Communards version
Nine years later, the song was covered by The Communards in an avowedly Hi-NRG version. This recording topped the UK charts for four weeks in September 1986, becoming the biggest selling record of the year in the process.The featured guest vocalist was jazz singer Sarah Jane Morris. The song only reached #40 on the US Billboard Hot 100 but did top the Billboard Dance chart.
Several remixes were issued, notably the "Son of Gotham City Mix" which was split across two sides of a 12" single and ran for a total of 22 minutes 55 seconds.