It’s a shame the way The Spinners’ Motown catalogue has been overlooked in the CD era, and quite frankly, for all time. The group exploded in popularity under the aegis of producer/arranger/composer Thom Bell at Atlantic Records in 1972,...
It’s a shame the way The Spinners’ Motown catalogue has been overlooked in the CD era, and quite frankly, for all time. The group exploded in popularity under the aegis of producer/arranger/composer Thom Bell at Atlantic Records in 1972, with their first three singles all hitting No. 1 R&B and Top 20 Pop (two went Top 10 Pop). But The Spinners had been making sweet music since 1954 and recording since at least ’61, and made Motown their home since the folding of Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi Records in 1963. Now, the earliest days of the beloved soul group is chronicled thanks to the latest release in Kent Records’ splendid, ongoing Motown series, with Truly Yours: Their First Motown Album with Bonus Tracks.
Truly Yours is, in fact, an expanded edition of…
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…The Spinners’ debut long-player for Motown, 1967’s The Original Spinners. Despite the release date, its songs dated back as far as 1961, and was a compendium of the group’s work up through that date. The Original Spinners has never been on CD before, and Kent has generously expanded it with fourteen bonus tracks, more than doubling the original twelve-song line-up. Ten of these fourteen songs are previously unissued. This isn’t the complete early Spinners; compiler and annotator Keith Hughes notes that over 30 unreleased tracks were whittled down to the fourteen selected for this disc. Perhaps the rest will emerge on an expanded edition of The Spinners’ second and final Motown album, 1970’s 2nd Time Around?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however. The 26 tracks here from tenor Bobby (sometimes spelled “Bobbie”) Smith, tenor Chico Edwards, baritone Henry Fambrough, bass Pervis Jackson and tenor Billy Henderson are essential to any soul collector. (Fambrough and Smith, for the record, still perform as part of The Spinners today.) The Original Spinners, and therefore this disc, contains all eight sides from the Spinners’ first four singles, plus the original 1961 Tri-Phi label recording “That’s What Girls Are Made For” and three “new” songs. When Harvey Fuqua and then-wife Gwen Gordy closed Tri-Phi and migrated to her brother Berry’s Motown family, The Spinners were among the acts selected by Berry to join the roster.
Expectedly for an album drawn from various sources, The Original Spinners doesn’t have a consistent sound, but it does have twelve prime slabs of Detroit soul. Five of its twelve tracks were produced by Ivy Jo Hunter following Harvey Fuqua’s promotion to the A&R department, and Hunter’s productions are among its strongest moments. The lack of success of compilation title track “Truly Yours” is, well, truly inexplicable. And just as delicious is “I Will Always Love You,” both from the pens of Hunter and William Stevenson. These Motor City stompers are every bit as strong as many of the songs climbing the charts from the Temptations and the Four Tops, yet these never took off. “Truly Yours” made it to No. 8 R&B and No. 35 Pop, in 1965 while “Love You” stalled at No. 16 R&B and a dispiriting No. 111 Pop in 1966. (The latter was, actually, first assigned to the Temps!) Stevie Wonder’s “I Cross My Heart,” co-written and produced by Hunter, is built around a storming groove but lacks the hook that might have propelled it to the hit level. Hunter even grafted a beat onto the 1934 standard “For All We Know” in a version originally intended for the Marvelettes.
As was commonplace at Motown, numerous producers took a crack at an artist. Smokey Robinson got into the act, gifting The Spinners his rollicking “Like a Good Man Should.” Before A&R occupied most of his time at Motown, Harvey Fuqua continued to lead the Spinners’ artistic direction. His “Where is the Girl” is a strong pop-oriented ballad that languished on the flipside of “Truly Yours,” and deserves wider notice. Fuqua’s “Tomorrow May Never Come” is more doo-wop than Motown, closer in spirit to the embryonic sound of “That’s What Girls Are
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