Between 1954 and 1966, The Drifters notched 32 entries on the Billboard Hot 100, with a thirty-third "bubbling under." Five of those hits reached the top ten. The African-American vocal group's fortunes were even greater on the R&B chart where, of 30 entries between 1953 and 1974, 23 reached the top ten. Despite an ever-changing lineup, The Drifters remain a beloved cornerstone of American pop and soul. Now, Cherry Red's Strawberry Records imprint has chronicled one period of the group's lengthy history on a new 3-CD box set, We Gotta Sing! The Soul Years 1962-71, which is out November 12 in the U.K. and the following week in North America.
Compiled by the late Bob Fisher who sadly passed away in October at the age of 74, We Gotta Sing! presents a session-by-session chronology of The Drifters' recordings for Atlantic Records between June 28, 1962 and January 5, 1971 plus a bonus track from 1982. As it begins in mid-1962, however, this set includes none of the classic Drifters recordings led by Clyde McPhatter (1953-1954) and Ben E. King (1959-1960). It opens with the iteration led by two former second tenors of the group, Rudy Lewis and Charlie Thomas. While the McPhatter recordings sonically are from a different era, the King recordings helmed by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are very much of a piece with the "soul years" represented here. With King on lead, the producers crafted polished uptown soul rooted in the best of both worlds: lush, orchestral pop melodicism with authentic R&B grit.
Some of the King-led hits include the epochal "There Goes My Baby" as well as "Dance with Me," "This Magic Moment," "I Count the Tears," and the chart-topping "Save the Last Dance for Me." Upon King's departure, Rudy Lewis and Charlie Thomas stepped up to split lead vocal duties, and the hits kept on coming: "Some Kind of Wonderful," "(Don't Go) Please Stay," "Mexican Divorce," "Sweets for My Sweet," and "When My Little Girl Is Smiling" among them.
While those earlier songs are absent (though "There Goes My Baby" appears in a live version), that's not to say that there aren't plenty of choice cuts here from the same pool of New York's finest songwriters. The first dozen tracks alone encompass tunes from Carole King and Gerry Goffin (the No. 5 Pop/No. 4 R&B "Up on the Roof," "Another Night with the Boys"), Burt Bacharach and Hal David ("Let the Music Play," "In the Land of Make Believe"), Otis Blackwell ("I Feel Good All Over"), Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil ("I'll Take You Home," the Leiber & Stoller co-writes "On Broadway" and "Only in America"), and Van McCoy ("Rat Race," also co-written with Leiber & Stoller). Rudy Lewis sang the lion's share, but Charlie Thomas and Johnny Moore (who joined The Drifters in 1955 and remained with them, on and off, for decades) also brought their burnished tones to the sessions. We Gotta Sing! chronicles the tail end of the Leiber and Stoller years but takes full flight with the introduction of another writer-producer-legend, Bert Berns (subject of the acclaimed documentary film Bang: The Bert Berns Story). Like his predecessors, Berns was well-versed in Latin soul influences and crucially infused them into his work with the group. He also brought an edge that was kept The Drifters active as Atlantic transitioned more to rock-oriented sounds.
Berns helmed such landmark Drifters productions as 1964's "Under the Boardwalk," a belated follow-up to "Up on the Roof" from songwriters Artie Resnick and Kenny Young which reached No. 4 Pop and No. 1 R&B; the same duo's similarly beachy "I've Got Sand in My Shoes" (No. 33 Pop/No. 21 R&B); Mann and Weil's "Saturday Night at the Movies" (No. 18 Pop/No. 8 R&B); and Goffin and King's "At the Club" (No. 43 Pop/No. 10 R&B). Berns - who also contributed many of his own inspired songs including "One Way Love" with Jerry Ragovoy, "He's Just a Playboy," and "I Don't Want to Go On Without You" with Jerry Wexler - remained with The Drifters through July 1966, overseeing all of their sessions save those for the Johnny Moore-led album The Good Life. An atypical, standards-focused album aimed at the supper club crowd, it featured elegant arrangements by Ray Ellis (Billie Holiday, Johnny Mathis) and production from Tom Dowd. But Berns was the last producer to have a long affiliation with the group.
Happily, this collection allows for many of his lesser-known productions to get a moment in the spotlight, including Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich's "I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing" (co-produced by Barry), the Mann and Weil composition which gives We Gotta Sing! its title, the Berns/Leiber/Stoller tune "You Can't Love Them All," and Berns and Barry's ode to "Aretha." This period yielded strong renditions of tunes from Philadelphia (Kenny Gamble and Jimmy Bishop's "Chains of Love") and Muscle Shoals (Dan Penn and Marlin Greene's "Far from the Maddening Crowd") and more songs from Brill Building stalwarts such as Mann and Weil ("Come on Over to My Place") and Mort Shuman ("Follow Me," with Kenny Lynch).
The third disc of the box focuses on these one-off sessions beginning in 1966 with producers including Bob Gallo, Ronnie Savoy, Bob Bateman and Lou Courtney, Swamp Dogg, Syl Johnson, and Paul Vance. Johnny Moore was consistently singing out front by this time, with Bill Fredericks also contributing some lead vocals. Each producer brought their own style which didn't make for a consistent sound but did allow for the familiar Drifters vocal blend to shine in varied settings. The Paul Vance-helmed tracks - 1970's "Black Silk" and "You Got to Pay Your Dues" - were co-written, arranged, and conducted by future hitmaker and Tony Award winner Rupert Holmes. The latter song became a favorite on the U.K. Northern Soul scene, setting the stage for The Drifters' next transformation.
Their obligations to Atlantic wrapped up after almost two decades, The Drifters relocated to England. They'd sensed the popularity of their older records with Northern Soul fans, and producer-songwriters Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway signed them to a contract. The result was a string of hits in the U.K. between 1973 and 1976 including six top tens, not one of which troubled the U.S. pop chart despite Cook and Greenaway's big hooks and effervescent productions.
We Gotta Sing! The Soul Years 1962-71 is one-stop shopping for some of The Drifters' most enduring songs and plenty of hidden gems, too. In addition to songs released at the time, the collection includes tracks that appeared in later years on various compilations, most notably Sequel's mid-'90s multi-volume anthology series. In addition, We Gotta Sing! premieres two lost tracks - "I Dig Your Act" (1967, produced by Bateman and Courtney) and "You and Me, Together Forever" (1969, produced by Swamp Dogg and newly mixed for this collection by Oli Hemingway) - and debuts on CD the 1982 Ben E. King "reunion" track "You Better Move On" (produced and arranged by Mike Leander).
Each disc is housed in its own custom paper sleeve within the clamshell case. A 28-page booklet has Bob Fisher's detailed liner notes plus credits (singers, arranger, producer, recording studio and date) and discographical annotation for each track. Unfortunately, the credits are marred by a number of errors and/or typos (the songwriter is Marlin Greene, not Madeline Greene; Leonard, not Elmer, Bernstein composed "Somewhere;" Antonio Jobim's middle name is Carlos, not Carlo; the My Fair Lady lyricist's name is Alan Jay Lerner, not Jay Lerner; and various other names are spelled incorrectly including tunesmith Terry Gilkyson and arrangers Teacho Wiltshire and Garry Sherman). Simon Murphy has handled the remastering.
Today, various groups of Drifters continue to tour, and a new musical entitled The Drifters Girl is scheduled to hit London's West End based on the story of the group's manager Faye Treadwell who took the reins when her husband George died in 1967. We Gotta Sing! is an engaging if partial chronicle of these soul pioneers' Atlantic years, not to mention a fitting farewell from historian and music lover Bob Fisher; combine We Gotta Sing! with McPhatter and King-era anthologies and you'll have a complete look at one of the most influential vocal groups in pop history.
- Another Night with the Boys (45-2162/LP SD 8093)
- Up on the Roof (45-2162/LP SD 8093)
- I Feel Good All Over (45-2201/LP SD 8093)
- Let the Music Play (45-2182/LP SD 8093)
- On Broadway (45-2182/LP SD 8093)
- Baby I Dig Love - Rudy Lewis (45-2193)
- Only in America (Pickwick LP 3029)
- Rat Race (45-2191/LP SD 8093)
- If You Don't Come Back (45-2191/LP SD 8093)
- I'll Take You Home (45-2201/LP SD 8093)
- I've Loved You So Long - Rudy Lewis (45-2193)
- In the Land of Make Believe (45-2196/LP SD 8093)
- Didn't It? (45-2225/LP SD 8093)
- Beautiful Music (Sequel CD RSACD 833)
- One Way Love (45-2225/LP SD 8099/SD 8093)
- Vaya Con Dios (45-2216/LP SD 8099/SD 8093)
- Under the Boardwalk (Single Version) (45-2237)
- He's Just a Playboy (45-2253/LP SD 8113)
- I Don't Want to Go On Without You (45-2253/LP SD 8113)
- Under the Boardwalk (Live) (LP SD 8101)
- On Broadway (Live) (LP SD 8101)
- There Goes My Baby (Live) (LP SD 8101)
- I've Got Sand in My Shoes (45-2253/LP SD 8113)
- Saturday Night at the Movies (45-2260/LP SD 8113/SD 8153)
- Under the Boardwalk (Album Version) (LP SD 8099)
- Spanish Lace (Single Version) (45-2260 mono)
- The Christmas Song (45-2261)
- I Remember Christmas (45-2261)
- Quando, Quando, Quando (LP SD 8103)
- I Wish You Love (LP SD 8103)
- Tonight (LP SD 8103)
- More (LP SD 8103)
- What Kind of Fool Am I? (LP SD 8103)
- The Good Life (LP SD 8103)
- As Long as She Needs Me (LP SD 8103)
- Desafinado (LP SD 8103)
- Who Can I Turn To? (LP SD 8103)
- Temptation (LP SD 8103)
- On the Street Where You Live (LP SD 8103)
- Night Shift (Sequel CD RSACD 817)
- In the Park (Sequel CD RSACD 817)
- At the Club (Single Version) (45-2268 mono)
- Answer the Phone (Single Version) (45-2268 mono)
- Looking Through the Eyes of Love (Sequel CD RSACD 835)
- Follow Me (45-2292/LP SD 8113)
- Chains of Love (45-2285/LP SD 8113)
- Far from the Maddening Crowd (45-2298/LP SD 8113)
- Come on Over to My Place (45-2285/LP SD 8113)
- The Outside World (45-2292/LP SD 8113)
- Spanish Lace (Album Version) (LP SD 8113 stereo)
- At the Club (Album Version) (LP SD 8113 stereo)
- Answer the Phone (Album Version) (LP SD 8113 stereo)
- I'll Take You Where the Music's Playing (45-2298/LP SD 8113)
- Nylon Stockings (45-2310)
- We Gotta Sing (45-2310)
- Up in the Streets of Harlem (45-2336)
- Memories Are Made of This (45-2325)
- You Can't Love Them All (45-2336)
- My Islands in the Sun (45-2325)
- It Takes a Good Woman (Sequel CD RSACD 836)
- Aretha (45-2366)
- Baby What I Mean (45-2366)
- Ain't It the Truth (45-2326)
- Up Jumped the Devil (45-2426)
- I Dig Your Act (previously unreleased)
- Still Burning in My Heart (45-2471)
- I Need You Now (45-2471)
- Country to the City (Sequel CD RSACD 836)
- You and Me Together Forever (previously unreleased)
- Your Best Friend (45-2624)
- Steal Away (45-2624)
- Black Silk (45-2746)
- You Got to Pay Your Dues (45-2746)
- A Rose by Any Other Name (Is Still a Rose) (45-2786)
- Be My Lady (45-2786)
- You Better Move On (UK 45 K11743)