I can’t do proper justice to the legacy and accomplishments of the late Nickolas Ashford and Jerry Lieber, two of America’s great songwriters, both of whom passed yesterday. Jay Smooth has a great Ashford tribute post up while Funky 16 Corners hooked one up for Leiber, including a few of the songs I was going to include on my site.
I will say this much: the amount that songwriters contribute to the world is almost never, ever repaid back in the recognition we give them. Singers earn the lion’s share of the fame and I’m not suggesting they don’t deserve it (except for wack singers), it’s just that the public credit for the writers is so tiny by comparison (though their residual checks can help stem the pain). And so it’s easy to remember a song as scintillating as Marlena Shaw’s “California Soul” without remembering that it’s an Ashford and SImpson composition (for many years, even I thought it was a Gerald Wilson song).
So I just wanted to say how much I dearly appreciate the labor and genius of all songwriters out there, past, present and future.
In the case of the late Mr. Ashford, I pulled out a trio of songs by them that have been personal favorites even if at least two of them aren’t as obvious “classics” as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or the like:
Nick and Valerie: I’ll Find You
From 7″ Glover, 1964)
Hua put me up on this a couple of years back; it made my Love Me/Leave Me mix from ’09 but I didn’t write much about it at the time. This was Ashford and Simpson’s first recording together, included in a batch of songs they sold the rights to for a measly $75 back in the mid 1960s. The single didn’t do very well and its failure actually helped compel Ashford and Simpson to turn more towards songwriting instead of recording, at least until the mid 1970s when their own singing careers took off again.
The Gimmicks: California Soul
From In Acapulco (Swedisc, 1971)
From what I can tell, the first group to record this was Motown’s Messengers, back in 1967. In 1968, it blows up, ending up with Gerald Wilson, the 5th Dimension and Ashford himself, on an obscure Verve promo (Youtube has a decent collection of the various versions). But let’s just be real: nothing’s f—ing with Marlena Shaw’s version (big up to producers/arrangers Stepney and Evans who murder this).
But if I had to pick a second runner? Sweden’s Gimmicks, all the way.
Valerie Simpson: I Don’t Need No Help
From Exposed (Tamla, 1971)
Simpson dropped a few solo LPs in the early 1970s, before her and Ashford relaunched their singing careers. This song mapped onto a few people thanks to Ghostface’s Theodore Unit but it does little to capture the incredible majesty of the original. This song needs to be played at maximum volume on massive sound systems, outdoors. Crank this up and tell me it doesn’t stop you dead in your tracks.
As for Leiber, I respected the hell out of he and Stoller’s accomplishments but it’s not like I go around, pumping “Hound Dog” on the regular. As noted, Funky 16 Corners already showed love for “Down Home Girl,” originally recorded for the Coasters and I wanted to give a nod to the Coasters’ version of the two men’s “Love Potion No. 9,” originally recorded by the Clovers in 1959.
Awesome and rare Coasters’ LP from ’72 with King production at the height of the label’s funk years. I still need to get this song on 7″.