Over the first two volumes of Manhattan Soul, Ace Records’ Kent imprint has dug up some of the finest – and indeed, rarest – soul tracks to come out of the Big Apple in the 1960s. For the third installment of the series, the label has again tapped the vaults of Florence Greenberg’s Scepter and Wand Records, plus rival label Musicor, for a definitive chronicle of some of the most urbane R&B of the decade. Though these outfits were based in New York, productions sometimes came from other soul meccas; Manhattan Soul duly includes them, but all of the tracks fit within the uptown soul aesthetic.
The uptown sound was defined by many of the names on this 24-track collection, among them Burt Bacharach, Luther Dixon, Van McCoy, and Bert DeCoteaux, all of whom created lasting music for both Scepter/Wand and Musicor. As is often the case on collections such as this, many of the finest tracks come from lesser-known artists. The opening track from Dan and the Cleancuts, “Open Your Heart (And Let Me In),” has all the gravitas and slow burn of a Phil Spector production for The Righteous Brothers; in this case, this gorgeous soul ballad was arranged in simpler but still effective fashion by the versatile Don Ralke. Though Ralke was based in Hollywood and not New York, his chart captured the thundering Manhattan soul spirit.
Harlem vocal group The Charts channeled a bit of a Chicago vocal group sound on 1966’s “Nobody Made You Love Me,” arranged by Bert DeCoteaux, as did The Esquires with “How Could It Be” from 1968. Though originally from Milwaukee, the “Get On Up” hitmakers were managed and promoted by Chicago’s Bill “Bunky” Shepherd, and Scepter had the pick of the singles released on his Bunky label.
Alan Lorber, another veteran with New York credits including a string of collaborations with Neil Sedaka, arranged a 1963 update of the nursery rhyme “Billy Boy” for singer Billy Adams. Van McCoy wrote Junior Lewis’ Latin-tinged “Giving Up,” one of the most excitingly dramatic performances on this set. (Gladys Knight and the Pips charted with it in 1964, believed to be around the same time this version was cut.)
Burt Bacharach contributed mightily to the Scepter catalogue with his groundbreaking songs and productions for Dionne Warwick and others, most co-written and produced with Hal David. Here, Bacharach is represented with his early partner Bob Hilliard for Tommy Hunt’s “Lover.” If the track sounds familiar, it’s because it has the same backing track as Chuck Jackson’s immortal recording of “Any Day Now.” Perhaps for that reason, “Lover” (with lyrics that don’t sit on the track nearly as well as those of “Any Day”) sat on the shelf until an Ace release in 1986; it’s happily reprised here as one more example of Hunt’s soul supremacy.
Strings and a trilling flute proliferate on The Fabulous Dinos’ 1962 rendition of Joe South’s “That Same Old Song” and another original arrangement comes with the prominent organ on Brenton Wood’s amusing 1963 tale of “Mr. Schemer.” Like Joe South, Don Covay also made a name for himself as a solo artist. Covay co-wrote and sings as a member of The Soldier Boys (so named for the Shirelles hit, natch) on the bouncily upbeat “You Picked Me.”
Other famous songwriters are also on display. The torrid ballad “Remind My Baby of Me,” from Billy Byers, was the work of Gary Geld and Peter Udell (writing with Andrew Scott) and producer Stan Green, son of Scepter owner Florence Greenberg. Geld and Udell, of course, went to write Broadway musicals including Purlie and Shenandoah after establishing their pop credentials with such hits as “Hurting Each Other” and “Sealed with a Kiss.” The late Allen Toussaint isn’t the first name one might expect to appear on a Manhattan Soul compilation, but the Crescent City legend released an album on Scepter and his productions also appeared on Florence Greenberg’s labels. Johnny Moore’s “Haven’t I Been Good to You,” arranged by Toussaint in brassy fashion and co-written by his associate Allen Orange, is a dark, driving Detroit/Temptations-style groove actually recorded in New Orleans. Toussaint also produced the slow, smoldering “A Part of Me” for New Orleans singer-songwriter Earl King, with tasty guitar licks and understated brass, while Allen’s partner Marshall Sehorn helmed Maurice Williams’ classy “Nobody Knows.”
The classiest item on this collection might come from Melba Moore. Her 1966 debut single “Does Love Believe in Me,” on Musicor, is an understated slice of sophisticated soul clearly influenced by Moore’s friend Dionne Warwick. Moore’s versatility and creamy tone shine here. She would go on to her greatest successes as a Broadway star and R&B artist in the following decade – one which isn’t ignored here. A handful of seventies tracks appear, too, including the smooth vocal group workout “Now That You’re Gone” (1972) from former Platters frontman Sonny Turner and Sounds Limited, and the tough-minded “Fun City Woman” (1973) from vocalist Ann Bailey.
Previously unreleased tracks make Manhattan Soul 3 an even more essential purchase. The late, legendary producer-songwriter Chips Moman penned the soulful “Every Little Bit Helps,” passionately recorded by the gutsy Helen Henry for Wand. Even more exciting is a never-heard Shirelles version of Luther Dixon’s “Two Stupid Feet,” also recorded at Wand by The Tabs and Chuck Jackson. As for the Tabs themselves, their never-before-heard “The Landlord” is a riff on Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-Law.”
That’s not all. Among Luther Dixon’s post-Scepter activities was heading up the Musicor-distributed Dynamo imprint; from their roster comes Lee Moses’ gritty “Never in My Life.” The 1968 recording features Moses’ raspy, growled vocals which make Otis Redding look positively smooth, as well as a taut lead guitar line that anticipates the funk of the coming decade. Van McCoy’s previously unreleased “What’s the Matter Baby” is a sweet and sultry little charmer with a Spanish guitar-flavored accompaniment. The Shirelles’ version appeared on their Foolish Little Girl LP in 1963.
Packed as it is with plush soul, Ace’s Manhattan Soul 3 is manna for collectors and fans alike. It includes a thick, illustrated booklet with track-by-track liner notes provided by compilation producer Ady Croasdell, and all tracks have been remastered to Ace’s usual high standard by Nick Robbins. You can order now at the links below!
- Open Up Your Heart (And Let Me In) – Dan and the Cleancuts (Scepter 12141, 1966)
- Now That You’re Gone – Sonny Turner and Sound Limited (Musicor 1459, 1972)
- Haven’t I Been Good to You – Johnny Moore (Wand 1165, 1967)
- Fun City Woman – Ann Bailey (Wand 11265, 1973)
- Nobody Made You Love Me – The Charts (Wand 1124, 1966)
- Billy Boy – Billy Adams (Wand 133, 1963)
- That Same Old Song – The Fabulous Dinos (Musicor 1025, 1962)
- Every Little Bit Helps – Helen Henry (previously unreleased Wand recording)
- Two Stupid Feet – The Shirelles (previously unreleased Scepter recording) (*)
- Lover – Tommy Hunt (originally unissued, first released on Kent LP KENT 059, 1986) (*)
- Giving Up – Junior Lewis (originally unissued, first released on Kent LP KENT 087, 1988)
- A Part of Me – Earl King (Wand 11230, 1970)
- Never in My Life – Lee Moses (Dynamo 115, 1968)
- Nobody Knows – Maurice Williams (Scepter 12113, 1965)
- Doesn’t It Ring a Bell – The Platters (Musicor LP MS 3156, 1968)
- How Could It Be – The Esquires (Bunky 7756, 1968) (*)
- Mr. Schemer – Brenton Wood (Wand 145 ,1963)
- Ooh Baby – Harold Hopkins (Scepter 12120, 1965)
- What’s the Matter Baby – Van McCoy (previously unreleased Scepter recording) (*)
- The Landlord – The Tabs (previously unreleased Wand recording) (*)
- You Picked Me – The Soldier Boys (Scepter 1230, 1962)
- Remind My Baby of Me – Billy Byers (Scepter 1283, 1964)
- Does Love Believe in Me – Melba Moore (Musicor 1189, 1966)
- If I Had You – Big Maybelle (originally unissued, first released on Kent LP KENT 061, 1986)