Tag Archives: Cooley High

The Spinners’ Sophisticated Soul

When I think of the best musical groups of the 70s, the Spinners easily come to mind. From 1972 until 1977, the group consisting of Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson, Bobby Smith and Philippe Wynne were mainstays on R&B as well as pop radio stations. I believe this quintet impacted 70s music, as much as the Temptations dominated the mid to late 60s.

Like the Tempts, they recorded at Motown. Two of my favorite songs from the group’s Motown era are Truly Yours and It’s a Shame. The first song features Bobby Smith’s sweet and easy vocals. The latter one was co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder with G.C. Cameron singing lead. (Cooley High fans will remember his tearjerker, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.)

In 1971, three things happened that would change the group’s fortunes. First, Philippe Wynne joined the group, replacing Cameron who departed for a solo career. Next, they signed with Atlantic Records. Finally, upon their arrival, Thom Bell asked to work with them. A successful producer, arranger and songwriter, Bell had co-written and produced several compositions for the Delfonics (La, La Means I Love You and Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time) the Stylistics (Betcha By Golly, Wow and You Are Everything) and other acts.

He had some ambitious ideas for the group. According to John A. Jackson in A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul, in the summer of 1972, the Spinners recorded four songs Bell produced. The first single, How Could I Let You Get Away, was a silky ballad that reminded many of the Stylistics. However, more radio deejays played the up-tempo “B” side, I’ll Be Around, resulting in the quintet’s first number one hit. The next release, Could It Be I’m Falling in Love was another million-selling R&B smash. The fourth song, One of a Kind (Love Affair), was included on the group’s self-titled album released in 1973, and became their third consecutive top R&B record.

Their second album, Mighty Love, released the following year, not only featured the unforgettable title track, it also contained other favorites: Since I Been Gone, He’ll Never Love You Like I Do and Love Don’t Love NobodyAlthough the Spinners were from Detroit, their Atlantic recordings exemplified the Sound of Philadelphia created primarily by Bell and his partners, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of Philadelphia International Records. Meaningful lyrics backed by tight horn and rhythm sections, sumptuous string arrangements and stunning background vocals were all part of the Spinners’ trademark style. It was sophisticated soul.

Wynne was another reason for the group’s popularity. Whether he traded vocals with Smith or performed solo, Wynne was one of the best ad-libbers who ever touched a microphone. Check out the last two minutes of Mighty Love. He whoops, stutters, wails and yodels without missing a beat. Sadie is one of the best tributes to mothers ever recorded and his delivery still tugs at my heart, especially around Mother’s Day. Listen to the live, extended version of How Could I Let You Get Away and you’ll hear Wynne do some incredible impersonations of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Al Green. After he left the group to go solo, things were never quite the same.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Spinners song. I look forward to your response. I’d also like to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.

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Natalie, Chuck and Marvin: A Musical Match Made in Chicago

When I think of successful songwriter/singer partnerships, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David come to mind. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, joined by Lamont Dozier, who penned countless hits for the Supremes and the Four Tops, also make the list. Future blog posts will focus on these and other remarkable collaborations.

In the mid 70s, a musical alliance was formed in Chicago that launched singer Natalie Cole into R&B superstardom. She began working with the songwriting/production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. According to Robert Pruter in the book, Chicago Soul, Jackson, a commercial art major who minored in music while attending college, moved to Chicago in 1968 to work as an art director for Playboy magazine. However, music remained his first love. Two years later, Jackson, who is also a half-brother of civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, left Playboy to join a songwriters workshop founded by Jerry “the Iceman” Butler.

Yancy was a gifted musician who eventually succeeded his father as pastor of Fountain of Life Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. A graduate of Cooley High School who later attended Moody Bible Institute and the Chicago Bible Institute, Yancy played keyboards for gospel legends including Rev. James Cleveland, Jessy Dixon, Inez Andrews and Albertina Walker during the late 60s.

 The two men met in 1971 at Operation PUSH’s Black Expo, while Yancy accompanied Albertina Walker on piano. They became fast friends and ultimately formed a production company that resulted in some of Cole’s most memorable songs. This Will Be, a Jackson/Yancy composition, was the first hit released in 1975 from her debut album, Inseparable, on Capitol Records. The title track was the album’s second #1 single.

 I remember hearing This Will Be as a child, thinking it was an Aretha Franklin record—so did many others. Cole often cited the Queen of Soul’s influence and frequently performed her songs while playing the lounge circuit. Ironically, it was this recording which earned Cole a 1976 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance–Female, ending Franklin’s eight-year winning streak in that category. Cole also received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

My two favorite Yancy/Jackson/Cole songs are I’ve Got Love on My Mind (Unpredictable LP, 1977, Capitol) and Our Love (Thankful LP, 1977, Capitol). When either song comes on the radio, whether I’m among a group of friends or strangers, a flash mob karaoke experience happens. Everyone sings the lead and the chorus; some of us even imitate the instruments and ad-libs. That’s when you know a song is great!

Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Natalie Cole songs and why you like them. Thanks for reading this!

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.