Big Break Records has recently continued its definitive reissue series chronicling Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson’ Warner Bros. years with the expanded releases of 1977’s So So Satisfied and 1980’s A Musical Affair. This pair follows previous titles in the series including Come As You Are, Send It and Is It Still Good to Ya and Stay Free. (Gimme Something Real and I Wanna Be Selfish arrive in January!)
Though So So Satisfied found Ashford and Simpson still on the cusp of the greater commercial success that would greet their subsequent LPs, Is It Still Good to Ya and Stay Free, the album was another beautifully-crafted collection of smooth and soulful R&B entirely written and produced by the husband-and-wife duo. Ashford and Simpson turned to familiar collaborators for support: orchestral arrangers William Eaton, Paul Riser and Al Gorgoni; and the jazz-oriented session musicians including Richard Tee (keyboards), Don Grolnick (keyboards), Eric Gale, Steve Kahn and Hugh McCracken (guitars), Steve Gadd and Rick Marotta (drums), Gale and Francisco Centeno (bass) and Ralph MacDonald (congas/percussion). Joshie “Jo” Armstead, Ashford and Simpson’s early writing partner, and Valerie’s brother Raymond Simpson joined in on background vocals.
With Ashford and Simpson continuing to write and produce for other artists throughout their Warner Bros. tenure, their albums could have run the risk of being viewed as expensive demos. But they used their solo endeavors to explore new, arguably more personal songwriting avenues and conjure a variety of moods and musical settings. “Tried, Tested and Found True” could be an apt description of Ashford and Simpson’s timeless songbook; driven by Tee’s piano part, it opens the album on a rhythmic high note. “Maybe I Can Find It” and “Destiny” both capture a blissfully mellow groove, with the ruminative title ballad (a Top 30 R&B hit) spotlighting their distinctive vocal interplay. “Over and Over,” later recorded by Sylvester, is in a light club vein, with a strong, memorable hook of the kind that Ashford and Simpson could create effortlessly. Al Gorgoni’s lushest strings gild the sensual “It’s You,” before the sinuous, moody “If You’re Lying” brings the album to a close. BBR has expanded So So Satisfied with five bonus cuts: the single versions of “Tried, Tested and Found True” and “So So Satisfied” as well as the extended 12-inch Disco Single Version of “Over and Over” and Mike Maurro and Joey Negro’s remixes of “Tried, Tested” and “Over and Over,” respectively. Christian John Wikane has drawn on a new interview with Valerie Simpson to continue his detailed telling of the duo’s story in his liner notes. Nick Robbins has remastered.
BBR then jumps ahead to Ashford and Simpson’s final studio album for Warner Bros. and the first of a new decade, 1980’s A Musical Affair. The success of their previous trio of albums had established them as bona fide superstar artists as well as songwriters and producers; even as their own career as artists was ascending, they will still turning out hits for Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Chaka Khan and others. A few names from So So Satisfied were still in Ashford and Simpson’s musical orbit for Affair, including arranger Paul Riser and musicians Eric Gale, Ralph MacDonald, and Francisco Centeno. They were joined by rhythm arranger and future American Idol bandleader Ray Chew, keyboardist and horn/string arranger Rob Mounsey, and background vocalist Ullanda McCullough.
As on So So Satisfied, A Musical Affair opens with a burst of pure energy – the infectious and lyrically frank admission that “Love Don’t Always Make It Right.” Paul Riser’s arrangement for flutes lent a pensive air to “Rushing To,” a still-apt reflection on a hurried society. (In fact, one could argue that the song is even more truthful today than it was in 1980!) The album’s clear-headed, non-sentimental yet empathetic observations continued on “Make It to the Sky” with its look at the dreams that don’t come true. Ashford and Simpson returned to the dancefloor with “I Ain’t Asking for Your Love” while the dramatic “We’ll Meet Again” showed yet another dimension to their talents. A highlight of any Ashford and Simpson album is the heartfelt dialogue in song between the two singers, with “You Never Left Me Alone” a tender example. But the songs weren’t strictly autobiographical, even if they could imbue tracks like the love-gone-wrong story of “Get Out Your Handkerchief” with touching realism and believability. The album closes with “Happy Endings,” bookending the more downbeat sensibility of the opening track with a note of hope.
A Top 10 R&B/Top 40 Pop success, A Musical Affair yielded three hit singles: “Love Don’t Make It Right” (No. 6 R&B/No. 7 Disco), “Happy Endings” (No. 35 R&B) and “Get Out Your Handkerchief” (No. 65 R&B). Despite the happy ending of A Musical Affair, the duo only recorded one more LP for Warner Bros. – the double live set Performance – before decamping for Capitol Records and building on their past triumphs with hits like “Solid.” Nick Robbins and Christian John Wikane again provide the new remastering and liner notes, respectively, for this expanded edition which features three bonus tracks: the single versions of “Love Don’t Make It Right” and “Happy Endings,” and a previously unreleased Jimmy Simpson mix of “Love…” Both titles are housed in Super Jewel Boxes.
This latest pair of releases from the immortal Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson is available now, and can be ordered at the links below!
Ashford and Simpson, So So Satisfied (Warner Bros. BS-2992, 1977 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBRX 0335, 2015) (Amazon U.S.)
- Tried, Tested and Found True
- Couldn’t Get Enough
- Maybe I Can Find It
- So So Satisfied
- Over and Over
- It’s You
- If You’re Lying
- Tried, Tested and Found True (Single Version) (Warner Bros. single WBS-8286, 1976)
- So So Satisfied (Single Version) (Warner Bros. WBS-8377, 1977)
- Over and Over (12-Inch Disco Single Version) (Warner Bros. single PRO 676, 1977)
- Tried, Tested and Found True (Mike Maurro Dance Remix)
- Over and Over (Joey Negro Dance Remix)
Ashford and Simpson, A Musical Affair (Warner Bros. HS-3458, 1980 – reissued Big Break Records CDBBRX0327, 2015) (Amazon U.S.)
- Love Don’t Make It Right
- Rushing To
- I Ain’t Asking For Your Love
- Make It to the Sky
- We’ll Meet Again
- You Never left Me Alone
- Get Out Your Handkerchief
- Happy Endings
- Love Don’t Make It Right (Single Version) (Warner Bros. single WBS-49269, 1980)
- Happy Endings (Single Version) (Warner Bros. single WBS-49594, 1980)
- Love Don’t Make It Right (Jimmy Simpson Mix – Long Version) (previously unreleased)