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Ace Celebrates Soulful Girls with “The Artistry of Brenda Holloway” and “Where the Girls Are”

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Where the Girls Are 8If you want to know Where the Girls Are, look no further than two of Ace Records’ latest releases.  The eighth installment of the label’s Where the Girls Are series is a grab-bag of the best girl-group pop you’ve never heard, while The Artistry of Brenda Holloway gives a much-deserved spotlight to the underrated Motown vocalist who so often found herself in the shadows of Diana Ross or Martha Reeves.

Where the Girls Are Volume 8, compiled and annotated by Malcolm Baumgart and Mick Patrick, offers 25 girl-pop nuggets that sound as fresh today as when they were first recorded in the 1960s.  There aren’t many familiar artists represented, but one group with top-tier credentials here is certainly The Blossoms.  When Lou Adler launched his Ode Records, it was with a 45 of the Darlene Love-led group’s rendition of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End.”  Here, then, is their follow-up, Nick Ashford, Valarie Simpson and Jo Armstead’s “Cry Like a Baby,” previously recorded by none other than Aretha Franklin.  The Blossoms, who got their due as perhaps the preeminent group of background singers in the recent film Twenty Feet from Stardom, are also heard on “I Still Like Rock and Roll” under the pseudonym The Darlenes.  The latter was produced by Lee Hazlewood for the Stacy label, who frequently utilized the girls under a variety of names largely intended to fool his then-rival Phil Spector.  Speaking of Spector, his onetime Teddy Bears partner Carol Connors – future Academy Award-winning songwriter of “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky – gets a slot here with the deliciously sassy “My Baby Looks, But He Don’t Touch.”

Another familiar name here is Little Eva.  Her post-Dimension Records output is infrequently revisited, so it’s a treat to hear her 1965 cover of “Stand by Me” with unusually rocking guitar!  “Stand by Me” is just one of the songs on Volume 8 from the production team of Feldman-Goldstein-Gotteher, recipients of a previous Ace anthology all their own.  (Where the Girls Are affords the label the chance to revisit past subjects, and indeed this volume complements many previous titles in the Ace catalogue.)  Also from the F-G-G team is The Four Havens’ “Gee, But He’s Fine,” Ravita Marcell’s “That’s My Man,” and Diane Christian’s “Why Don’t the Boy Leave Me Alone.”  Grammar notwithstanding, this is one of those productions that shouldn’t have missed.  The angst-ridden teen drama is set to a big, bold, string-laden arrangement, and offers a powerful lead and tight vocal harmony – in other words, all of the ingredients for a hit.

Van McCoy, another past Ace subject, wrote Carol Slade’s “I Wanna Know Right Now” with strings adding a hint of elegance, and wrote and produced Kendra Spotswood’s classy “Stickin’ with My Baby.”  Though information as to some of these artists has been lost to time, Baumgart and Patrick have done an exceptional job tracking many down.  We learn, for instance, that Spotswood was a New Jersey singer once known as Sandi Sheldon and a part-time touring Shirelle!

The Bonnets’ “Ya Gotta Take a Chance,” recorded at Los Angeles’ famed Gold Star studio, would have fit snugly on Ace’s Phil’s Spectre series.  It’s a dead ringer for Spector’s bombastic Wall of Sound productions, and writer/producer Al Allen recalls Hal Blaine being the man responsible for the thunderous drums, and Larry Levine or Stan Ross engineering.  The music of New York writer-producer Bert Berns was also anthologized by Ace, and here, the Bang Records founder is represented with two quirky tracks from a group alternately dubbed The Pussycats and The Witches (Berns and Farrell’s “My Little Baby” arranged by Artie Butler, and “Come On and Ska,” with a Teacho Wiltshire chart, respectively).

There has yet to be a definitive history of the early recordings of Philadelphia’s Mighty Three trio of Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, but there are a handful of choice titles here that should set the pulse racing of any Philly Soul fan.  The Orlons’ “I Ain’t Comin’ Back” was co-written by Gamble and produced by Gamble and Huff, and is a quintessential slice of uptempo Philly pop-soul circa 1965.  Huff co-wrote “No, No Baby” for The Sherrys, and the Madara/White production on Mercury was a deliciously defiant slab of girl group goodness with a Steve Douglas-esque honking sax solo, a rollicking piano part and potent horns.  The third member of the Mighty Three, Thom Bell, co-wrote Nikki Blu’s “(Whoa Whoa) I Love Him So” with Chubby Checker – who also produced!    There’s no sign of Bell’s future lush style here, but the track is another sassy, danceable and catchy nugget with prominent piano and punchy brass.

In addition, Philly fans will find 1965’s rousing “Gotta Have Your Love” from The Sapphires – a Brill Building gem by Tony Powers (early partner of Ellie Greenwich) and Jack Keller, produced by Jerry Ross and arranged by Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner – plus the future Mrs. Gamble Dee Dee Sharp, with a female spin on Mel Torme’s cool “Comin’ Home Baby.”

There’s more after the jump on both Where the Girls Are and The Artistry of Brenda Holloway!

Virtually every track here should bring a smile.  Sandy Borden’s “Deeper” is from the pen of Rudy (“Good Lovin’,” “It’s in His Kiss”) Clark, but his the chugging melody didn’t make a dent on the charts this time.  Jan Bradley offers a bluesy “Pack My Things (And Go),” and The Cinnamon Angels (who wouldn’t love that name?) are heard on a doo-wop throwback circa 1964, “Let’s Be Sweethearts.”  Perhaps the most obscure item here is a passionate ballad from a group called The Bunnies, “You Don’t Have a Heart.”  Though the group is described as “terminally obscure,” this compilation might change that.  Kelly Garrett’s “Baby It Hurts” is a dramatic track written by Billy Page and arranged by his brother Gene, and it’s a real find.  So is the raw “My Heart Tells Me So” which makes its debut anywhere on this disc.  Recorded by The Del-Phis, Patrick and Baumgart reveal that the group was actually the embryonic Martha and the Vandellas.

Nick Robbins has superbly remastered all 25 tracks, and Ace has provided a 24-page booklet with track-by-track liner notes.  Though on its eighth volume, Where the Girls Are shows no signs of fatigue.

Brenda Holloway - ArtistryVia its Kent label, Ace has also unveiled one of the most unusual titles in its ongoing Motown series.  The Artistry of Brenda Holloway was a 1968 compilation album created for the U.K., issued nine months following the artist’s departure from Berry Gordy’s empire.  Kent has reissued it with eight bonus tracks, all previously unissued tracks direct from the vaults.  This expanded edition of Artistry also serves as a de facto sequel to the Kent label’s Early Years CD, compiling Brenda’s pre-Motown recordings.

Typical of Motown, many producers took turns producing for Brenda Holloway, each hoping for the next hit –Gordy himself, Frank Wilson, Hal Davis and Marc Gordon, Smokey Robinson, William Stevenson and Henry Cosby, Lamont Dozier, Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol.  The songwriters were a typically stellar lot, too:  Stevenson and Cosby with Sylvia Moy, Gordy, Robinson, Nickolas Ashford and Valarie Simpson, and R. Dean Taylor.  Of the 24 tracks on this new CD, only one bears a songwriting credit for Brenda Holloway – but what a song it is!  “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” co-written with sister Patrice, Berry Gordy and Frank Wilson, is best known in Blood, Sweat & Tears’ massive hit version, but Holloway’s own, slow-burning and more deliberate original, was a Top 40 Pop hit in its own right.  It closed the original first side of Artistry, and as such makes a fine centerpiece of this reissue.

Of the original sixteen tracks, eight charted.  Holloway’s 1964 Los Angeles recording of Ed Cobb’s bluesy ballad “Every Little Bit Hurts” (No. 13 Pop, No. 3 R&B) vindicated Berry Gordy’s decision to open a West Coast office for Motown (under the direction of Marc Gordon and Hal Davis) as well as his decision to sign Brenda, 17, and Patrice, 12, to the label.  Ed Cobb returned to write (and produce without credit, according to Keith Hughes’ excellent new liner notes) “I’ll Always Love You,” which retains the same mood as “Every Little Bit Hurts.”  But Cosby, Moy and Stevenson’s dramatic “Hurt a Little Every Day” (1966) is a more obvious “sound-alike” song to “Every Little Bit” despite its late arrival.  Originally recorded (but never released) by Kim Weston in 1964, it became Holloway’s only Tamla single not to chart; perhaps the similarity to Cobb’s superior song backfired.  Thankfully, though, Motown placed Holloway in a variety of settings, all showcasing her versatile, clarion voice.  (Ashford and Simpson’s “Starting the Hurt All Over Again,” a 1967 B-side, lyrically might recall the earlier songs in its title.  But it’s a pure Motown high-octane floor-filler.)

From its first notes, the charming “I’ll Be Available” exudes the spirit of Smokey Robinson; originally slated for Mary Wells, it recalls Smokey’s “Shop Around.”  It was originally the B-side of Brenda’s revival of another quintessential Robinson/Wells confection, “Operator.”  For Holloway’s recording, Smokey slowed it down to a sultry tempo, and Brenda’s breathy vocal is quietly determined.  Robinson also wrote and produced both sides of Brenda’s 1965 single “When I’m Gone” b/w “I’ve Been Good to You.”  The former is a coquettish treat with the breezy air that Robinson brought with him; the latter (a 1961 Miracles B-side) gave the singer ample opportunity to show off her voice at its most mature and powerful.  She was frequently given songs beyond her years, including “Unchained Melody” in a 1964 recording dominated by strings.  The next year, The Righteous Brothers would give the Hy Zaret/Alex North film theme its most memorable revival.

The dark “Too Proud to Cry,” also embellished with ominous strings, boasts another persuasive, adult vocal from Brenda.  Frank Wilson and Lamont Dozier coaxed a more modern sound out of Brenda on 1967’s “Just Look What You’ve Done,” written by Wilson and R. Dean Taylor of “Indiana Wants Me” fame.  By the time of its release, Motown had shuttered the Los Angeles office, but some of the Detroit magic clearly rubbed off on the relocated Wilson and Holloway.  The infectious song was, surprisingly, Brenda’s only uptempo A-side at the label.  Of the more spirited B-sides, the best might be “Where Were You,” written by Motown artists The Lewis Sisters.  With its handclapping beat and seductively upbeat groove, is just one of the treasures here ripe for rediscovery.

The eight previously unreleased tracks here are more than just the cherry on top of the sundae; they nearly constitute a full meal – or at least the entire dessert!  Frank Wilson’s sweetly girlish “Mr. Lifeguard (Come and Rescue Me)” shows him working stylistically apart from the ballads of the “Every Little Bit Hurts” variety.  Two more Lewis Sisters compositions are also here, the big, brassy ballad production “Can’t We Be Strangers Again” and the commanding “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way.”  Ivy Jo Hunter co-wrote a couple of songs that sat on the shelf and are excavated for inclusion here, “Just Another Lonely Night” (originally intended for Martha and the Vandellas) and “It’s Love I Need” (first slated for the Isley Brothers).  The latter’s tricky, shifting rhythms are handled with finesse by Brenda, but the song might have been too unusual and cacophonous for release.  “My Smile is Just a Frown Turned Upside Down” by Robinson, Stevenson and Janie Bradford, is in the Mary Wells bag.  It’s most notable for including some lyrics that later turned up with only slight modification in Smokey’s “Tears of a Clown”: “Just like Pagliacci, I did/I keep my sadness hid…”  The prolific Robinson also is represented in the bonus section with the sultry “After All That You’ve Done.”

The Artistry of Brenda Holloway is presented in stereo with the exception of “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which is in mono as no true stereo version exists.  The bonus material is all heard in mono, and all tracks have been nicely remastered by Duncan Cowell.  Keith Hughes’ notes fill the generously-illustrated 20-page booklet.  Now if only Ace/Kent could upgrade Holloway’s albums; her entry in Universal U.K.’s Anthology series is long out-of-print and commands high prices secondhand!  Until then, though, this reissue will doubtless leave Motown and classic soul fans so very happy.

Various Artists, Where the Girls Are Volume 8 (Ace CDCHD 1376, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. )

  1. Cry Like a Baby – The Blossoms (Ode 106, 1967)
  2. I Ain’t Coming Back – The Orlons (Cameo 346, 1965)
  3. No No Baby – The Sherrys (Mercury 72256, 1964)
  4. (Whoa, Whoa) I Love Him So – Nikki Blu (Parkway 931, 1964)
  5. Gotta Have Your Love – The Sapphires (ABC 10639, 1965)
  6. Deeper – Sandy Borden (Diplomacy 19, 1965)
  7. Gee But He’s Fine – The Four Havens (previously unreleased)
  8. Heart for Sale – The Fran-cettes (previously unreleased)
  9. Comin’ Home Baby – Dee Dee Sharp (Cameo LP 1032, 1963)
  10. Pack My Things (And Go) – Jan Bradley (Night Owl 1032, 1963)
  11. I Wanna Know Right Now – Carol Slade (Domino 1015, 1963)
  12. My Baby Looks, But He Don’t Touch – Carol Connors (Mira 219, 1966)
  13. What About You – Charlotte O’Hara (Ava 126, 1963)
  14. You Don’t Have a Heart – The Bunnies (Roomate 007, 1964)
  15. Why Don’t the Boy Leave Me Alone – Diane Christian (Bell 617, 1965)
  16. Let’s Be Sweethearts – The Cinnamon Angels (BT Puppy 559, 1970)
  17. My Heart Tells Me So – The Del-Phis (previously unreleased)
  18. Stickin’ with My Baby – Kendra Spotswood (Tuff 407, 1965)
  19. Baby It Hurts – Kelly Garrett (Ava 137, 1963)
  20. Ya Gotta Take a Chance – The Bonnets (Unical 3010, 1963)
  21. Stand by Me – Little Eva (Amy 943, 1965)
  22. That’s My Man – Ravita Marcell (BJR 1001, 1963)
  23. My Little Baby – The Witches (Bang 505, 1965)
  24. I Still Like Rock and Roll – The Darlenes (Stacy 965, 1963)
  25. Come On and Ska – The Pussycats (Keetch 6003, 1964)

Brenda Holloway, The Artistry of Brenda Holloway (Tamla Motown (U.K.) LP STML 11083, 1968 – reissued Kent CDTOP 406, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

  1. Together ‘Til the End of Time (Tamla 54125, 1966)
  2. Every Little Bit Hurts (Tamla S 4094/Tamla LP T 257, 1964) (Mono)
  3. Where Were You (Tamla 54137, 1966)
  4. I’ve Got to Find It (Tamla 54155, 1967)
  5. Unchained Melody (Tamla LP T 257, 1964)
  6. Hurt a Little Every Day (Tamla 54137, 1966)
  7. I’ll Be Available (Tamla 54115, 1967)
  8. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (Tamla 54155, 1967)
  9. I’ve Been Good to You (Tamla LP T 257/Tamla 54111, 1964)
  10. Too Proud to Cry (Tamla LP T 257, 1964)
  11. I’ll Always Love You (Tamla 54099, 1964)
  12. Operator (Tamla 54115, 1965)
  13. When I’m Gone (Tamla 54111, 1965)
  14. You Can Cry on My Shoulder (Tamla 54121, 1965)
  15. Just Look What You’ve Done (Tamla 54148, 1967)
  16. Starting the Hurt All Over Again (Tamla 54148, 1967)
  17. Mr. Lifeguard (Come and Rescue Me)
  18. My Smile is Just a Frown Turned Upside Down
  19. After All That You’ve Done
  20. The Love Line
  21. Can’t We Be Strangers Again
  22. Just Another Lonely Night
  23. Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
  24. It’s Love I Need

Tracks 1-16 released as The Artistry of Brenda Holloway, Tamla Motown (U.K.) LP STML 11083, 1968
Tracks 17-24 are previously unreleased and in mono

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Written by Joe Marchese

December 19, 2013 at 15:02

4 Responses

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  1. Those are the Blossoms on the cover, of course, with Darlene on the right. It’s long been a dream of mine to see some company do a comprehensive compilation of the Blossoms’ recorded work. But that’s what it is, just a dream. It would require a great deal of licensing, I don’t know if there’s a label that does that sort of thing anymore, and the market is limited and shrinking all the time. So you’ve just got to pick up odds and ends wherever you find them.


    December 19, 2013 at 15:12

    • Indeed, Ed – wonderful photo and wonderful music. Hear, hear!

      Joe Marchese

      December 19, 2013 at 15:32

  2. Thanks for the great writeup! I just got the Brenda compilation and will give it another listen with these great anecdotes!!!

    Lulu Grandiron

    December 19, 2013 at 17:38

  3. I’ve got the rest of those “Where The Girls Are” compilations, and they are spectacular. Ace is one of the best labels out there.

    Both of these discs have been in my Amazon wish list for a few weeks now. After reading these reviews, I have no doubt that I’ll be getting them soon.

    Also, thanks to the reviewer for mentioning the out of print Anthology. I don’t understand why so many of the other titles are still in print, but that one is long gone. I missed the boat on that one, but I ain’t paying hundreds of dollars for my mistake.


    December 20, 2013 at 11:27

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