It’s a shame the way The Spinners’ Motown catalogue has been overlooked in the CD era, and quite frankly, for all time. The group exploded in popularity under the aegis of producer/arranger/composer Thom Bell at Atlantic Records in 1972, with their first three singles all hitting No. 1 R&B and Top 20 Pop (two went Top 10 Pop). But The Spinners had been making sweet music since 1954 and recording since at least 1961, and made Motown their home since the folding of Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi Records in 1963. Now, the earliest days of the beloved soul group is chronicled thanks to the latest release in Kent Records’ splendid, ongoing Motown series, with Truly Yours: Their First Motown Album with Bonus Tracks.
Truly Yours is, in fact, an expanded edition of The Spinners’ debut long-player for Motown, 1967’s The Original Spinners. Despite the release date, its songs dated back as far as 1961, and was a compendium of the group’s work up through that date. The Original Spinners has never been on CD before, and Kent has generously expanded it with fourteen bonus tracks, more than doubling the original twelve-song line-up. Ten of these fourteen songs are previously unissued. This isn’t the complete early Spinners; compiler and annotator Keith Hughes notes that over 30 unreleased tracks were whittled down to the fourteen selected for this disc. Perhaps the rest will emerge on an expanded edition of The Spinners’ second and final Motown album, 1970’s 2nd Time Around?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however. The 26 tracks here from tenor Bobby (sometimes spelled “Bobbie”) Smith, tenor Chico Edwards, baritone Henry Fambrough, bass Pervis Jackson and tenor Billy Henderson are essential to any soul collector. (Fambrough and Smith, for the record, still perform as part of The Spinners today.) The Original Spinners, and therefore this disc, contains all eight sides from the Spinners’ first four singles, plus the original 1961 Tri-Phi label recording “That’s What Girls Are Made For” and three “new” songs. When Harvey Fuqua and then-wife Gwen Gordy closed Tri-Phi and migrated to her brother Berry’s Motown family, The Spinners were among the acts selected by Berry to join the roster.
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Expectedly for an album drawn from various sources, The Original Spinners doesn’t have a consistent sound, but it does have twelve prime slabs of Detroit soul. Five of its twelve tracks were produced by Ivy Jo Hunter following Harvey Fuqua’s promotion to the A&R department, and Hunter’s productions are among its strongest moments. The lack of success of compilation title track “Truly Yours” is, well, truly inexplicable. And just as delicious is “I Will Always Love You,” both from the pens of Hunter and William Stevenson. These Motor City stompers are every bit as strong as many of the songs climbing the charts from the Temptations and the Four Tops, yet these never took off. “Truly Yours” made it to No. 8 R&B and No. 35 Pop, in 1965 while “Love You” stalled at No. 16 R&B and a dispiriting No. 111 Pop in 1966. (The latter was, actually, first assigned to the Temps!) Stevie Wonder’s “I Cross My Heart,” co-written and produced by Hunter, is built around a storming groove but lacks the hook that might have propelled it to the hit level. Hunter even grafted a beat onto the 1934 standard “For All We Know” in a version originally intended for the Marvelettes.
As was commonplace at Motown, numerous producers took a crack at an artist. Smokey Robinson got into the act, gifting The Spinners his rollicking “Like a Good Man Should.” Before A&R occupied most of his time at Motown, Harvey Fuqua continued to lead the Spinners’ artistic direction. His “Where is the Girl” is a strong pop-oriented ballad that languished on the flipside of “Truly Yours,” and deserves wider notice. Fuqua’s “Tomorrow May Never Come” is more doo-wop than Motown, closer in spirit to the embryonic sound of “That’s What Girls Are Made For” than anything else on the album. Fuqua, of course, could channel the contemporary Motown sound, though, with the quintessential “I Just Can’t Help But Feel the Pain” and the irresistibly brassy, jazzy “How Can I,” co-written with Gwen Gordy and one of the most remarkable songs on Truly Yours. Gwen’s brother Berry even produced a side on the Spinners himself, his own “It Hurts to Be in Love.” But it was eclipsed by a Gene Pitney song (and frankly, a stronger song than the Gordy composition) just a few months later in 1964. What shines through on each and every track, though, is the distinct vocal blend, most often led by Bobby Smith and anchored by the bass of Pervis Jackson (the “12:45” guy on 1975’s hit “(They Just Can’t Stop It) The Games People Play.” His presence ensured continuity even into the Atlantic/Thom Bell years and beyond, although leads were alternated with later members G.C. Cameron at Motown and Philippé Wynne at Atlantic. (Cameron, by that time married to Fuqua’s ex, Gwen Gordy, replaced Chico Edwards, who departed shortly after the release of The Original Spinners. Wynne in turn replaced his cousin Cameron!)
The earliest of the bonus tracks date from 1963, and “Darling,” “Words Can’t Describe” and “12 O’Clock” are all gorgeous, doo-wop-style vocal harmony ballads. These tracks aren’t nearly as exceptional as what would come later for the Spinners, but “12 O’Clock” is particularly delightful as it begins with a verse sung by a girl group believed to be the background queens of the Andantes. The Spinners had found a more distinct and recognizable sound by the time of 1964’s “Lonely Tomorrow,” produced like the aforementioned “Words Can’t Describe” and “12 O’Clock” by Harvey Fuqua. Whenever Motown rarities are unearthed today, it’s not uncommon to marvel at just how many great songs were left on the discard pile. Such is the case here, whether Fuqua and Johnny Bristol’s dancefloor burner “What More Can a Boy Ask For,” Fuqua’s frenetic, A-side-ready “I Want My Baby Back”, with its familiar, percolating Motor City rhythm, or the joyful, storming “Nobody Else But You” written by Hunter and William Stevenson and recorded in 1965. Stevenson teamed with George Kerr for the passionate “Just Another Guy,” which begins with a “My Girl”-styled riff and was later recorded by artists including The O’Jays (another group who benefited from the arranging genius of Thom Bell). He and Hunter also provided The Spinners with the evocative “Tea House in China Town,” also recorded by the Four Tops and revealed in Hughes’ notes to be Bobby Smith’s favorite track on the new CD. You just can’t help but feel good by the time the closing track, “We’re Gonna More than Friends,” rolls around with its chugging melody played by the Funk Brothers at their most funky.
The thick booklet is up to the high standard associated with the Motown series and the Ace/Kent label in general. Keith Hughes brings readers up to date with an overview of the Spinners’ career in addition to track-by-track liner notes also containing discography, chart positions, recording dates and even the information as to which artist a song was originally assigned! There are also plenty of photos of single labels, sheet music, ads, and other memorabilia. The cover to the Original Spinners LP is replicated on the back of the booklet, too. Nick Robbins has dynamically remastered at Sound Mastering.
Truly Yours is a truly essential dip into the deep Motown vaults from a group whose accomplishments with Berry Gordy’s empire are too often overlooked. By all means: bring on the next volume!
The Spinners’ Truly Yours is in stores now and can be ordered at the link below!
The Spinners, Truly Yours: Their First Motown Album with Bonus Tracks (Kent CDTOP 371, 2012)
- That’s What Girls Are Made For (Tri-Phi single 1001, 1961)
- I’ll Always Love You (Motown 1078, 1965)
- Truly Yours (Motown 1093, 1966)
- For All We Know (Motown 1109, 1967)
- It Hurts to Be in Love
- Tomorrow May Never Come (Motown 1078, 1965)
- Sweet Thing (Motown 1067, 1964)
- I Cross My Heart (Motown 1109, 1967)
- Where is That Girl (Motown 1093, 1966)
- Like a Good Man Should
- How Can I (Motown 1067, 1964)
- I Just Can’t Help But Feel the Pain
- Words Can’t Describe
- 12 O’Clock
- Lonely Tomorrow
- I Want My Baby Back
- Nobody Else But You
- Just Another Guy
- This Feeling in My Heart
- Memories of Her Love (Keep Haunting Me) (Motown CD 5303228, 2007)
- What More Could a Boy Ask For (Natural Resources LP NA-4014, 1979)
- Head Over Heels in Love with You, Baby (Motown CD 8824009, 2010)
- Too Late I Learned (Motown CD 5303228, 2007)
- Tea House in China Town
- We’re Gonna Be More Than Friends
Tracks 1-12 released as The Original Spinners, Motown LP MT 639, 1967
Tracks 13-20, 25 & 26 previously unreleased