If an award were given for the Best Second Act in Popular Music, it might well go to The Spinners. Signed to Motown in 1963 after early successes at Gwen Gordy’s Tri-Phi label, The Spinners – singers Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson, C.P. Spencer and Bobbie Smith – had difficulty ascending to premier status at the Motor City label. After some moderate hits like “Truly Yours” in 1966, the group’s biggest brush with the charts came in 1970 when Stevie Wonder gifted them the song “It’s a Shame.” But when The Spinners couldn’t repeat its success, it really was a shame. Adding to the group’s distress was the fact that G.C. Cameron, a pivotal later addition to the roster, was committed to Motown for a solo career. When The Spinners’ Motown contract expired, they went in search of greener pastures. They would find them far from Detroit, in the City of Brotherly Love, where producer Thom Bell (The Delfonics, The Stylistics) elected to take the group under his wing. Armed with a new contract at Atlantic and a new singer in Phillipe Wynne, The Spinners were ready to take flight.
Their white-hot Philadelphia period, and beyond, is covered on the new 2-CD anthology from Demon Music Group’s Music Club Deluxe label, The Ultimate Collection (Music Club Deluxe MCDLX532). (It’s credited to The Detroit Spinners, the name the group was given in the U.K. after the success of “It’s a Shame,” so as not to confuse them with British folksingers The Spinners.) The 31-track collection lives up to its title, offering one more track than 1991’s A One of a Kind Love Affair: The Anthology or 2006’s The Definitive Soul Collection, both of which are out-of-print. Both of those offered “It’s a Shame,” and the former even went as far back as the Tri-Phi “That’s What Girls Are Made For,” whereas Ultimate Collection concentrates exclusively on the Atlantic hitmaking years. But it makes up for what’s missing by including a number of difficult-to-find tracks from the group’s post-Thom Bell years.
Hit the jump for a look at what you’ll find on The Ultimate Collection, including the full track listing with discography!
The Spinners’ first hit produced and arranged by Bell almost wasn’t; though the 1972 single A-side “How Could I Let You Get Away” was a lush, romantic and immaculately-arranged ballad, the real magic was on the flip. DJs were quick to discover “I’ll Be Around” there, and the rest is history. “I’ll Be Around” went all the way to the top of the U.S. R&B charts and No. 3 pop, and The Spinners were on their way. The group’s faith in the composer, conductor, producer and arranger paid off. The sweetly infectious “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love” followed “I’ll Be Around” to the top of the R&B chart, and scored in the U.K., as well. Six songs are included from the group’s long-playing Atlantic debut Spinners, including the three aforementioned songs plus “Ghetto Child,” “One of a Kind Love Affair” (another smash hit) and the atypical, brassy big band-flavored “Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You.” Bell handily picked up Producer of the Year at the Grammys for his debut with the Spinners. What was his secret? In addition to his distinct and often complex orchestrations (employing horns, strings, electric sitar, tack piano and other instruments somewhat unusual for soul music), Bell knew how to orchestrate voices, as well, selecting the right singer for each part.
Spinners was followed by Mighty Love (including the thunderous title song, “Love Don’t Love Nobody” and “I’m Coming Home,” also recorded by Bell with Johnny Mathis) and then the aptly-named New and Improved, both in 1974. The latter yielded “Sadie,” “He’ll Never Love You (Like I Do)” and the U.S. pop chart-topper “Then Came You,” a duet with Dionne Warwick, or Warwicke at the advice of her astrologer! Whatever the spelling, the record was remarkably Dionne’s very first pop Number One despite her unprecedented string of hits produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It’s appropriate, though, that Thom Bell gave her the Number One, as he and Bacharach have long been members of a mutual admiration society! (Warwick was the subject of another, recent Music Club compilation.)
All of The Spinners’ big hit records are here, albeit in non-chronological order, including 1975’s “Games People Play (They Just Can’t Stop It)” and 1976’s “The Rubberband Man.” After Happiness is Being with the Spinners, which included the full-length version of “Rubberband Man,” the group’s fortunes began to dry up. (“The Rubberband Man” is one of the songs heard in its single edit on The Ultimate Collection along with the other longer album tracks like “Are You Ready for Love” and “Mighty Love.”) Bell sensed it was time to move on, although he oversaw three final LPs for The Spinners, none of which managed to go gold. One track from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1977) and two from Bell’s farewell, From Here to Eternally (1979), appear on The Ultimate Collection . Spinners 8, which arrived in between those LPs, is completely overlooked. Of the better-remembered Bell-produced songs, one could quibble with the omission of “Smile, We Have Each Other,” “You’re All I Need in Life” or “I Don’t Want to Lose You,” but the most choice material – including those gold records! – is happily present.
Much as they had survived the departure of Phillipe Wynne (replaced by John Edwards) in 1977, the tenacious Spinners initially survived their producer’s departure. Michael Zager took the reins for 1979’s Dancin’ and Lovin’ and gave the group their biggest hit in three years with his medley of The Four Seasons’ “Workin’ My Way Back to You” and his own “Forgive Me, Girl.” This smash hit track actually opens The Ultimate Collection, and its single flipside “Disco Ride” is also included. Zager repeated the formula when he merged Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” with his “I’ve Loved You For a Long Time” for the 1980 LP Love Trippin’, and that album’s “Split Decision” and “I Just Want to Fall in Love” are also present here.
Four more progressively less-successful albums followed for Atlantic through 1984. 1981’s Labor of Love and 1982’s Mtume/Lucas-produced Can’t Shake This Feelin’ aren’t represented, but 1982’s Grand Slam (“Magic in the Moonlight” and a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away”) and 1984’s Cross Fire (“Love is in Season”) both have tracks selected for inclusion. Now if only Edsel could release that quartet of albums on CD! (An abridged Labor of Love is available on CD from Collectables.) Though The Spinners have only sporadically recorded since their Atlantic heyday, a version of the group still tours the oldies circuit today and recreates the original “Rubberband Man” choreography!
Especially considering its budget price, the sweet Philadelphia soul sound of The Detroit Spinners is a virtual steal on The Ultimate Collection. It’s in stores now, and you can order at the links below from both Amazon U.K. and Amazon U.S.!
- Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl
- Could It Be I’m Falling in Love
- I’ll Be Around
- Ghetto Child
- One of a Kind (Love Affair)
- Mighty Love
- Games People Play (They Just Can’t Stop It)
- I’m Coming Home
- Love Don’t Love Nobody
- How Could I Let You Get Away
- Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You
- He’ll Never Love You Like I Do
- Living a Little, Laughing a Little
- Love or Leave
- Are You Ready for Love
- Cupid/I’ve Loved You For a Long Time
- The Rubberband Man
- Then Came You (with Dionne Warwick)
- You’re Throwing a Good Love Away
- Wake Up Susan
- Honest I Do
- You Made a Promise to Me
- If You Wanna Do a Dance
- Body Language
- Split Decision
- Love is in Season
- Disco Ride
- I Just Want to Fall in Love
- Magic in the Moonlight
- Funny How Time Slips Away
Disc 1, Track 1 & Disc 2, Tracks 9 & 12 from Dancin’ & Lovin’ (Atlantic SD-19256, 1979)
Disc 1, Tracks 2-5, 10-11 from Spinners (Atlantic SD-7256, 1973)
Disc 1, Tracks 6, 8-9, 13 from Mighty Love (Atlantic SD-7296, 1974)
Disc 1, Tracks 7 & 15 and Disc 2, Tracks 6-7 from Pick of the Litter (Atlantic SD-18141, 1975)
Disc 1, Tracks 12 & 14 and Disc 2, Track 3 from New and Improved (Atlantic SD-18118, 1974)
Disc 1, Track 16 & Disc 2, Track 8 from From Here to Eternally (Atlantic SD-19219, 1979)
Disc 2, Tracks 1, 10 & 13 from Love Trippin’ (Atlantic SD-19270, 1980)
Disc 2, Tracks 2 & 5 from Happiness is Being with the Spinners (Atlantic SD-18181, 1976)
Disc 2, Track 4 from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Atlantic SD-19100, 1977)
Disc 2, Track 11 from Cross Fire (Atlantic SD-80150, 1984)
Disc 2, Tracks 14-15 from Grand Slam (Atlantic SD-80020, 1982)
All discographical information pertains to original LP appearances.