The story of The Whispers began in Los Angeles circa 1963 when two groups - The Scott Twins and The Eden Trio - came together to share in their love of doo-wop and sweet street-corner sounds. Named The Whispers by Dore Records' Lou Bedell, the group released a string of singles in the 1960s before landing at New York's Janus Records in 1970. Two years later, they released their first album on Janus, beginning a string of almost two dozen LPs - eight of which hit the U.S. R&B top ten and two of which made it all the way to No. 1. Cherry Red's Robinsongs imprint has recently released the most comprehensive anthology of the group's oeuvre yet. The Definitive Collection 1972-1987 compiles 63 tracks on four CDs drawn from The Whispers' albums released on the Janus, Soul Train, and SOLAR (Sound of Los Angeles Records) labels as well as 7- and 12-inch singles.
Like so many vocal groups before them, there were changes in The Whispers' personnel leading up to the birth of the classic line-up. In 1971, Leaveil Degree of The Friends of Distinction replaced Gordy Harmon, completing the familiar roster of Degree, lead singers Walter Scott and his twin brother Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, and Marcus Hutson. The group's first album - 1972's Life and Breath, titled after their rendition of the romantic George S. Clinton ballad also recorded by Johnny Mathis and The Four Seasons - is represented with two tracks. The Definitive Collection continues with five cuts from The Whispers' Love Story (1972) produced by Ron Carson and arranged by Art Freeman, followed by five tracks from Bingo (1974) which brought Philadelphia maestro Norman Harris into the fold. Harris had his share of experience with sweet soul, and The Whispers were more than ready to come into their own with experienced musicians the caliber of Vince Montana, Bobby Eli, and Bunny Sigler supporting them.
1976's One for the Money inaugurated Dick Griffey and Don Cornelius' Soul Train label (named for Cornelius' influential television show) and reunited the group with Harris. He brought along songs from the some of the city's brightest talents including Allan Felder, Bruce Gray and T.G. Conway, and the team of Jerry Akines, Johnny Bellmon, and Reginald Drayton. The top 40 R&B LP yielded a top 10 R&B/top 5 disco hit with the Akines/Bellmon/Drayton title track, included here. While Van McCoy's then-controversial "Living Together (In Sin)" isn't reprised here, The Definitive Collection boasts three more songs from the plush Philly album.
The Whispers then moved from Philadelphia back to their home base of Los Angeles for their next two LPs. Open Up Your Love (1977) and Headlights (1978) found the group taking creative control as producers, with Cornelius and Griffey sharing credit on the former and Griffey alone on the latter following his professional split from the Soul Train host. Both LPs featured songs from SOLAR staff songwriters Wayne Bell and Malcolm Anthony, paving the way for their further successes at the label now owned solely by Griffey. Open Up Your Love placed within the R&B top 25 and included a hit remake of Bread's MOR staple "Make It with You," while Headlights' "Let's Go All the Way" and "(Olivia) Lost and Turned Out" both charted, as well. As chronicled here, the group was poised for crossover success.
Whisper In Your Ear (1979) marked the first time the quintet worked with Leon Sylvers, who outside of his work with The Sylvers was producing Lakeside and Shalamar. Sylvers gifted two of his songs, "Homemade Lovin'" and "Whisper in Your Ear," to the group. The LP's most successful cut was Keni Burke and Curtis Mayfield's "Can't Do Without Love," which came in just under the R&B top forty at No. 43.
Self-titled follow-up The Whispers welcomed Leon Sylvers to the producer's chair alongside Griffey and the group. One touching highlight heard here was "A Song for Donny." It saluted the late Hathaway by setting new lyrics to his timeless melody to "This Christmas." The song dovetailed with The Whispers' establishment of a college scholarship fund in Hathaway's name. The Whispers also notably included a rare "oldies" cover with their take on Smokey Robinson and Ronald White's "My Girl," The Temptations' first chart-topper. The Whispers fared better than its predecessor, reaching No. 1 R&B and crossing over to No. 6 Pop. "And the Beat Goes On," co-written by Leon Sylvers, topped the Disco and R&B charts and also made the top 20 of the Pop chart. It's presented here in its extended 12-inch mix. "My Girl" scored in the U.K., while Nicholas Caldwell's "Lady" made No. 3 R&B and the Pop top forty.
The Whispers kept going with Griffey and Sylvers on 1980's Imagination. The title track tipped its musical hat to Earth Wind & Fire, while the other songs played to The Whispers' own considerable strengths including lush vocal harmonies. The album even premiered a new theme for Soul Train, "Up on Soul Train," written and produced by Don Cornelius. Another R&B hit was scored with "It's a Love Thing," which also charted on the Disco survey alongside "I Can Make It Better." The group was rewarded with a No. 3 R&B/No. 23 Pop album, and their broad success would continue on both charts through their SOLAR swansong, 1987's Just Gets Better with Time. The hits kept flowing as they adapted their signature smooth sound to the decade's changing production style. Both "Tonight" and "Keep on Lovin' Me" from Love for Love (1983) made the R&B top five; Babyface and L.A. Reid's production of their song "Rock Steady" off Just Gets Better with Time (1987) revitalized The Whispers' sound and rewarded them with another R&B No. 1. To date it's The Whispers' most successful pop hit with a No. 7 berth on the Hot 100.
Three tracks from Just Gets Better with Time concludes Robinsongs' collection. In 1989, the group suffered a major blow when Marcus Hutson left the line-up due to health issues, but they persevered with a new Capitol Records contract. They subsequently recorded three LPs for Capitol, a tribute to their old friend Babyface on Interscope, and two self-released albums. When Hutson died in 2000, The Whispers made it official that they would never replace him and would keep performing as a quartet. Robinsongs' collection preserves the best of that remarkable five-piece group.
The Definitive Collection is housed in a clamshell case. Each disc is housed in an individual sleeve. The discs are accompanied by a 12-page booklet with a fine tribute and career overview by Lois Wilson. Unfortunately, credits are sparse (songwriters and publishers only, no producers or musicians indicated) and no discographical annotation of any kind has been included - a major disappointment in a seemingly collector-oriented set such as this. Oli Hemingway has remastered all tracks. This celebration of The Whispers' discography - romantic, funky, and floor-filling - is available now from Cherry Red and Robinsongs.
- Your Love Is So Doggone Good
- You Fill My Life with Music
- Can't Help But Love You
- If You
- A Mother for My Children
- Don't Take Your Love
- Crackel Jack
- Does She Care
- I Love the Way You Make Me Feel
- Once More with Feeling
- What More Can a Girl Ask
- You're What's Missing in My Life
- All I Ever Do Is Dream About You
- One for the Money
- Put Me in the News
- Sounds Like a Love Song
- In My Heart
- Make It with You
- Open Up Your Love
- You Never Miss Your Water
- In Love Forever
- I Fell in Love Last Night (At the Disco)
- (Olivia) Lost and Turned Out
- Let's Go All the Way
- Planets of Life
- Try and Make It Better
- Home Made Lovin'
- Whisper in Your Ear
- Can't Do Without Love
- A Song for Donny
- My Girl
- And the Beat Goes On (12" Version)
- Can You Do the Boogie
- Out the Box
- It's a Love Thing
- Say You (Would Love For Me To)
- I Can Make It Better
- Up on Soul Train
- In the Raw
- Turn Me Out
- Love Is Where You Find It
- This Kind of Lovin'
- I'm the One for You
- Keep on Lovin' Me
- Love for Love
- Try It Again
- This Time
- Some Kind of Lover
- Never Too Late
- Special F/X
- Rock Steady
- Just Gets Better with time
- In the Mood
- Funky Christmas
- Happy Holidays to You
CD 1, Tracks 1-4, 14 from The Whispers' Love Story, Janus LP JLS 3041, 1972
CD 1, Tracks 5-6, 11-13 from Bingo, Janus LP JXS 7006, 1974
CD 1, Track 7 from Janus single J-150, 1971
CD 1, Track 8 from Janus single J-212, 1973
CD 1, Tracks 9-10 from Life and Breath, Janus LP JLS 3046, 1972
CD 1, Track 15 from Janus single J-247, 1975
CD 1, Tracks 16-19 from One for the Money, Soul Train LP BVL1-1450, 1976
CD 2, Tracks 1-3, 5 from Open Up Your Love, Soul Train LP BVL1-2270, 1977
CD 2, Track 4 from Soul Train single SB-10430, 1975
CD 2, Tracks 6-10 from Headlights, SOLAR LP BXL1-2774, 1978
CD 2, Tracks 11-13 from Whisper in Your Ear, SOLAR LP BXL1-3105, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 14-16 and CD 3, Track 2-3 from The Whispers, SOLAR LP BXL1-3521, 1979
CD 3, Track 1 from SOLAR 12-inch single YD-11895, 1979
CD 3, Tracks 4-8 from Imagination, SOLAR LP BXL1-3578, 1980
CD 3, Tracks 9-12 from Love Is Where You Find It, SOLAR LP S-27, 1981
CD 3, Tracks 13-14 from This Kind of Lovin', SOLAR LP BXL1-3976, 1981
CD 4, Tracks 1-4 from Love for Love, SOLAR LP 60216, 1983
CD 4, Tracks 5-8 from So Good, SOLAR LP 60356, 1984
CD 4, Tracks 9-12 from Just Gets Better with Time, SOLAR LP 72554, 1987
CD 4, Tracks 13-14 from Happy Holidays to You, SOLAR LP BXL1-3489, 1979