Music by The Spinners

Produced by Thom Bell

When I wrote my post about Thom Bell, I left off some songs I liked that he did not write but did produce. As it turned out, they were all by the Spinners, or the Detroit Spinners or Motown Spinners, as they were known in the UK. There was a British folk group called The Spinners in the late 1950s.

The group started back in 1954 as The Domingoes became The Spinners in 1961. It released a couple of Top 100 songs that year, including their first recording, That’s What Girls Are Made For (#27 pop, #5 RB), on Tri-Phi Records.

Motown bought up the Tri-Phi roster in 1963. Per Wikipedia, “With limited commercial success, Motown assigned the Spinners as road managers, chaperones, and chauffeurs for other groups, and even as shipping clerks.”

They were moved to Motown imprint V.I.P. In 1970, they finally had a hit with It’s A Shame (#14 pop, #4 RB), produced by Stevie Wonder and written by Wonder and Syreeta Wright. But Motown wasn’t a great fit for the group.

A new ocean

Aretha Franklin recommended they sign with her label, Atlantic, and they did in 1972.

Could It Be I’m Falling In Love (#4 pop in 1973, #1 RB, #14 adult contemporary, gold record) was co-written by Melvin and Mervin Steals, two songwriter brothers working for  Atlantic sometimes credited as “Mystro and Lyric.” The house band MFSB provided the backing. Bobby Smith sings lead through most of the song while Philippé Wynne handles vocal duties on the outro.

One Of A Kind (Love Affair) (#11 pop, #1 for four weeks RB, #19 AC in 1973, gold record) was written by Joseph B. Jefferson. Wynne was the lead singer.

Mighty Love (#20 pop, #1 for two weeks RB in 1973) was written by Joseph B. Jefferson, Bruce Hawes, and Charles Simmons.

Biggest hit

Then Came You (#2 RB, #3 AC in 1974, gold record) was credited to Dionne Warwicke and the Spinners (from 1971 to 1975, Warwick added a final ‘e’ to her last name). Sherman Marshall and Phillip T. Pugh wrote the track.

“Released during a time that Warwick’s chart fortunes were at an ebb after moving to Warner Bros. Records in 1972, the Philadelphia soul single was a rare mid-1970s success for the singer. Sung as a duet with the Spinners’ main lead singer Bobby Smith,  the song became Warwick’s first-ever single to reach number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. It became her highest-charting R&B record of the 1970s, and it was also the first number-one pop hit for the Spinners. It was nominated for a Grammy.”

When I was growing up, I was annoyed with folks who denigrate musicians who aren’t making the “right” music. Charlie Pride’s country music, Jimi Hendrix’s rock, and Dionne Warwick sing Bacharach -David was not considered appropriate by some people, which I thought was stupid. Still, I was happy that Dionne got her soul cred with this track.  

Games People Play, also known as “They Just Can’t Stop It The” (Games People Play) (#5 pop, #1 RB, #2 AC in 1975, gold record) written by Jefferson, Hawes, and Simmons. It featured lead vocals by Bobby Smith. The house band MFSB provided the backing. It “featured guest vocalist Evette L. Benton (though producer Bell disputed this in a UK-based interview, claiming Evette’s line was actually group member Henry Fambrough – his voice sped up), and led to the nickname “Mister 12:45″ for bass singer Jackson, after his signature vocal line on the song.”

I love the fact that there was a bass vocal solo; I can barely reach the lowest notes.  

Your musical chronology

My single most important retrospective purchase was likely the Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 box set.

atlantic1947-1974Something Arthur said about Hurricane Smith turning him on to the Ink Spots reminded me that I, and I suspect most music fans, started listening to the recent items first. But eventually, we started looking backward, discovering the roots of the current tunes.

While I heard a lot of music in the house, starting in 1957, I think I wasn’t fully engaged until 1964, when the Beatles, Supremes, Temptations, and others charted in the US.

I was, and am, a person who reads the liner notes, or sometimes, back in the day, the actual record label, to find who wrote the songs. The early Beatles covered Carl Perkins, Little Richard, and early Motown, and that got me listening to the source material, especially Buddy Holly.

Groups such as Cream, the Rolling Stones, and later Led Zeppelin were covering blues artists, and that directed me back to Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, and the like.

The movie American Graffiti and, to a lesser extent, Sha Na Na at Woodstock, got me interested in more music from the latter 1950s, and eventually segued into even earlier artists. In particular, I became fascinated with Frank Sinatra, whose swagger I found usually painful in the 1960s, but genuine a decade earlier.

While I was still getting new music in the 1980s, I found that I looked back as much as forward. My single most important retrospective purchase was likely the Atlantic Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 box set. While I had much, but not all, of the music from the last five or six years, I had almost nothing from earlier years. It was a revelation. (BTW, mine is 14 LPs rather than 8 CDs.)

Some of that early R&B was more jazz than rock, and that got me interested in 1950s jazz, and eventually earlier and later iterations.

This led me to some buying trends: getting more compilation albums (labels such as Stax, Motown, Buddah, ABC-Paramount, Cadence, and many others) and then buying albums from those collections that I liked.

I’ve ignored the impact of the music my parents played. My mother had Nat King Cole 78s, though she didn’t play them much. My father listened to Harry Belafonte, Odetta, and a bunch of folk music.

How did YOU get turned on to music that was released BEFORE you started listening?

Here are some songs to listen to, from that aforementioned Atlantic collection:

That Old Black Magic – Tiny Grimes

Drinkin’ Wine Spo-de-o-dee – Stick McGhee

One Mint Julep – The Clovers

Soul On Fire – LaVern Baker

Money Honey – The Drifters

Tipitina -Professor Longhair

Shake, Rattle and Roll – Big Joe Turner

Sh-Boom – The Chords

A Fool For You – Ray Charles

Smokey Joe’s Cafe – The Robins

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