Gimme Something Real (1973) and I Wanna Be Selfish (1974), Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson's first two albums for Warner Bros. Records, concludes BBR's survey of the duo's WB years. Gimme Something Real introduced all but the most diehard fans to the already-famous songwriters as singer-songwriters. As "Valerie and Nick," they had released singles early in the 1960s, but performing took a backseat when they began to make waves with such now-classic songs as "Let's Go Get Stoned," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By." Nick had released solo singles throughout the 1960s and Valerie recorded her own solo albums for Motown in 1971 and 1972, but Gimme Something Real marked the debut of "Ashford and Simpson" as a marquee name.
Rather than revisit their past triumphs as some songwriters thrust into the spotlight might have done, Ashford and Simpson concentrated on original material instead. They provided all nine of the album's songs, all but one of which was new. "Ain't That Good Enough" dated back to 1966 and was co-written by their onetime partner and longtime friend and background vocalist, Joshie Jo Armstead. Ashford and Simpson also produced the LP, enlisting veteran Motown arranger Paul Riser and an A-list of musicians including Leon Pendarvis on piano, Funk Brother Bob Babbitt on bass, Andrew Smith and Charles Collins on drums, and Ralph McDonald on percussion. Armstead, of course, contributed her soaring vocals. Gimme Something Real blended blissful balladry with funky, uptempo numbers, all of which evinced the duo's knack for passionate, melodic soul with a gospel-rooted underpinning. The shimmering and sensual "(I'd Know You) Anywhere" was selected by Warners as the lead single, and made the R&B Top 40 as well as cracking the Hot 100. Two other cuts, "Have You Ever Tried It" and "Bend Me," made the upper reaches of the R&B chart, while Gimme Something Real itself impressively made the Top 20 R&B chart. BBR has added two bonus tracks: a previously unreleased extended version of "Have You Ever Tried It," and the single mix of "(I'd Know You) Anywhere."
I Wanna Be Selfish joins Gimme Something Real in BBR's series. Despite the title, Ashford and Simpson were generous in this offering of another ten songs. Selfish reunited most of the personnel from its predecessor, including Paul Riser and the musicians named above. It featured another helping of deeply personal yet universally accessible songs including the opening track "Spoiled" and "Everybody's Got to Give It Up," both of which reflect the duo's growing love. They married in the year of the album's release, 1974. If a number of the songs on Selfish have a Motown-esque quality, that's only because Ashford and Simpson, via their work with Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Diana Ross and others, helped define that sound. In Christian John Wikane's comprehensive liner notes, Valerie recalls a couple of delicious tracks - "Ain't That Somethin'" and "Don't Fight It" - as likely having had their roots in the couple's Motown days. Another cut on Selfish, "Ain't Nothin' But a Maybe," would be subsequently recorded by Diana Ross at Motown as well as by Chaka Khan and Rufus at ABC.
The single release of "Main Line" peaked at No. 37 on the R&B survey, and "Everybody's Got to Give It Up" reached No. 53. The album itself barely missed the Top 20 with a No. 21 placement. BBR's reissue includes one bonus track, the previously unissued extended version of "Main Line." Both titles are housed in Super Jewel Boxes and boast new liner notes from Wikane as well as fresh remasterings by Nick Robbins.
BBR has also continued exploring the Whitfield Records discography of the label's biggest artist, Rose Royce. Rose Royce II: In Full Bloom picks up in reverse chronological order from BBR's recent reissue of III: Strikes Again! Motown alumnus and label founder Norman Whitfield transformed the Los Angeles-based band Total Concept Unlimited into Magic Wand, and then Rose Royce when he brought vocalist Gwen Dickey (whom he later christened Rose Norwalt) into the group. Rose Royce's debut single "Car Wash" produced and arranged by Whitfield on the MCA label topped the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart, and made it to No. 3 on the Disco countdown. The soundtrack album fared almost as well, reaching No. 14 Pop/No. 2 R&B. The producer-songwriter then brought the band to his own label.
Whitfield considered the Car Wash soundtrack to be the group's first album, so In Full Bloom was numbered II despite being Rose Royce's proper solo debut. (In fact, the LP was nearly completed by the time Whitfield pledged his group to Car Wash. He shelved In Full Bloom until the release - and gargantuan success - of the soundtrack.) The August 1977 release wouldn't have disappointed any listeners seeking a typical Whitfield blend of driving disco-funk and dreamy balladry. The latter quotient, in particular, was satisfied by the stunning opening track. Songwriter Billie Calvin's "Wishing on a Star" was intended for Barbra Streisand, but when La Streisand passed on it, Whitfield gave it to Rose Royce. Dickey's creamy vocals should have made the luscious ballad into a hit in the U.S., but it stalled at No. 52 R&B and "bubbled under" on the Hot 100. In the U.K., however, "Wishing" made it all the way to No. 3. Subsequent recordings by The Cover Girls, Jay Z (featuring Dickey) and Beyoncé all established the song without question as an R&B standard. Vocalist/trumpeter Kenny Copeland had his own mellow soul showcase, too, with the attractive "You're My World" which would have fit The Temptations like a glove.
The prolific Norman Whitfield wrote every track on In Full Bloom except for "Wishing on a Star" and the group-credited "Funk Factory." The 9+-minute floor-filler "Do Your Dance" was a crossover hit in the U.S., reaching No. 4 R&B, No. 20 Disco and No. 39 Pop, and proving Rose Royce's diversity, the smooth ballad "Ooh Boy" reached No. 3 R&B and No. 72 Pop. "Ooh Boy" also made it to No. 3 in the U.K. while the high-octane "It Makes You Feel Like Dancin'" was a No. 16 hit there. Another crowning achievement for Whitfield and the group, the album topped the U.S. R&B chart and made the U.K. Top 20. BBR's reissue of In Full Bloom, handsomely presented in a Super Jewel Box, features liner notes from Christian John Wikane based on a new interview with Gwen Dickey; producer Wayne A. Dickson and Nick Robbins have overseen the audio. Four bonus tracks sweeten the deal: the single versions of "Do Your Dance (Part I)," "Ooh Boy," "Wishing on a Star" and "It Makes You Feel Like Dancin'."
All three titles from Big Break Records are available now at the links below!
- Bend Me
- Have You Ever Tried It
- Gimme Something Real
- Can You Make It Brother
- I'm Determined
- Ain't That Good Enough
- I Need Your Light
- (I'd Know You) Anywhere
- Have You Ever Tried It (Long Version) (previously unreleased)
- (I'd Know You) Anywhere (Single Version) (Warner Bros. single WB 7745, 1973
- Everybody's Got to Give It Up
- I Wanna Be Selfish
- I Had a Love
- Main Line
- Ain't That Somethin'
- Don't Fight It
- Ain't Nothin' But a Maybe
- Over to Where You Are
- Take All the Time You Need
- Main Line (Long Version) (previously unreleased)
- Wishing on a Star
- You Can't Please Everybody
- Ooh Boy
- Do Your Dance
- You're My World
- Love, More Love
- Funk Factory
- It Makes You Feel Like Dancin'
- Do Your Dance (Part I) (Single Version) (Whitfield single WHI-8440, 1977)
- Ooh Boy (Single Version) (Whitfield single WHI-8491, 1977)
- Wishing on a Star (Single Version) (Whitfield single WHI-8531, 1977)
- It Makes You Feel Like Dancin' (Single Version) (Whitfield single K-17148 (U.K.), 1978)