One thing most of the big soul groups of the early 70''s had in common is that they had started out singing doo-wop together, usually in high school,and had the great perseverance to make it through the early years before breaking out. This is why they all seemed so...
One thing most of the big soul groups of the early 70''s had in common is that they had started out singing doo-wop together, usually in high school,and had the great perseverance to make it through the early years before breaking out. This is why they all seemed so professional, had their vocals and dance steps together and were already able to put on great shows. The Spinners were no exception to this and had the extra burden of having to make it on a second label (Atlantic) after failing to catch fire on Motown. They did make the charts a couple times: as early as 1961 they''d had That''s What Girls Are Made For (#27) on the small Tri-phi Records, later bought by Motown. For Motown they had I''ll Always Love You (1965) and It''s a Shame, written by Stevie Wonder, which went all the way to #14 and is included on this collection. But where that would have impressed a minor label, for Motown it was barely noticed and was put out on their minor V.I.P. sub-label.
At Motown they also had to suffer the indignity of chauffeuring the big artists around or even work in the shipping room to earn their keep. A change was needed. They lucked out and were signed by another big label that had lots of clout and distribution. They further lucked out by having Thom Bell assigned to them as their producer. Bell had already made a big name for himself in Philadelphia as producer and songwriter of first, the Delfonics and then the Stylistics, neither group unfortunately being able to come up with new hits after he left them. They also had a new lead singer in Philippe Wynne who shared lead vocal duties with longtime member Bobby Smith. The first single, How Could I Let You Get Away, was a slow jam with trademark Thom Bell touches like using a sitar in the mix and a strong use of the high tenor voice. But when it stalled out at #77 the Spinners luck struck again: DJ''s were spontaneously playing the B-side in market after market and before you knew it I''ll Be Around was rapidly climbing the charts peaking at #3 Pop and #1 R&B and becoming their first gold record.
This changed everything for the Spinners. Mostly it set the style of their long string of 70''s hits: a more energetic, peppy sound that people could dance to with big, smooth orchestral arrangements that included strings. It was closer to the Philly sound than the usual Memphis sound of Atlantic, but with the string of Top 10 hits to follow, the label wasn''t complaining. Bell crafted for the Spinners, AM radio-friendly singles that were basically pure pop. These were dance songs with a show-band feeling that made them kind of a precursor of disco, and did not cross into other soul trends like funk or the urban sounds coming from Blacksploitation films (the films were often so-so but there were great soundtracks by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Womack and Marvin Gaye).
The biggest influence on the Spinners outside Thom Bell was Gospel music but you don''t hear it in their singles. It was in their live performances that the Spinners took these songs and stretched them out into long numbers with lots of talking, story-telling, spontaneous vocalizing, clapping and dancing. this is where the Spinners really showed what they could do outside the confines of the three minute single. Their 1975 live album, though not as big as their five albums that went gold, is actually one of their best; check them out on YouTube as well. Their hit period ran through 1976 and included their #1 song with Dionne Warwick, Then Came You. After a few n but on-hit releases they left Bell, Philippe Wynne left them, sometimes appearing with Parliament/Funkadelic and was replaced by John Edwards. There were a couple surprise hits with dance-friendly reworkings of the Four Season''s Working My Way Back To You and Sam Cooke''s Cupid in 1979-80, but the group settled into the Oldies Circuit as most all groups eventually do.
I''d like to clear up one misconception about the Spinners: that they were kind of a revolving door group with endless personnel changes, almost enough to make them more of a brand name than an actual group. Though it''s true that over the years the Spinners had seventeen members, those were usually minor members replacing each other, a few different leads, and the usual changes in the very late years when singers are simply changed for different tours. Though they weren''t like the Dells, who had but one replacement in an amazing fifty year-plus career, the four-man core of the Spinners, Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson and Bobby Smith all founding members from 1954, stayed in the group until forced to retire for health reasons or because they died, from 2004-13. The Spinners were a real group.
The mood is upbeat and happy and the songs as easy to like now as they always were. The CD covers the Atlantic Years and with sixteen songs, gives you a really good sampling of their career. The sound is good, clear and full.