Thursday, April 2, 2009

It's A Shame - Part 2

Taking our "It's A Shame" theme just another step further ... and sticking with The Motown Label for another day ... it became a natural step to next feature The Spinners' biggest hit for the label.

The Spinners formed back in 1961 and were first discovered by the legendary Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows, who signed them to his Tri-Phi label. (In fact, Fuqua first dubbed them "The New Moonglows" before allowing them to pursue their own identity as The Spinners ... and then he sang the lead vocal on their first chart hit, "That's What Girls Are Made For", which rose to #27 in 1961.)

When Tri-Phi merged with Motown, (it was a "merger" in more ways than one ... Fuqua married Berry Gordy's sister), The Spinners enjoyed their second Top 40 Hit as "I'll Always Love You" rose to #35 in 1965. After that, the group went through a five year dry-spell. While none of their own records were charting, they were most often touring as the opening act for all the other big name acts on the Motown roster. For all intents and purposes, The Spinners were forgotten and ignored. (One source we found said that the group spent most of their time acting as road managers and chaperones for The Supremes, The Marvelettes and Martha and the Vandellas. They also drove The Temptations around Detroit and picked up The Jackson Five at the airport! They even helped out by taking inventory at the Motown shipping department! Sounds like they did just about EVERYTHING ... except record hit music!!!)

As the '60's ended, Stevie Wonder was pushing to take more control of his own career. Stevie wanted to write and produce his own songs, as many of the other Motown artists were beginning to do. As more a means to pacify his evolving star, Motown Founder Berry Gordy told him to cut a "practice" track with The Spinners ... so Wonder went off and wrote "It's A Shame". In fact, he not only wrote and produced the track but also handled a good percentage of the instrumentation featured on the recording. Unfortunately, Gordy sat on the track for a while, feeling that he'd kept his end of the bargain by allowing Little Stevie the opportunity to gain some experience in and around the studio ... most likely also figuring in the factor that this was, after The Spinners ... and The Spinners just weren't having hit records for Motown. He really had no reason to believe that this record would perform any differently. (Keeping all things in perspective, at various times The Spinners were billed as "The Detroit Spinners" and "The Motown Spinners" just to better identify them and avoid confusion with a British act of the same name who WERE hitting the charts overseas.)

We talked recently about the times that Berry Gordy misjudged the potential of some of his releases, citing Berry's initial refusal to release Marvin Gaye's version of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" and Stevie Wonder's recording of "For Once In My Life" as prime examples of the few times that Berry flat out got it wrong. This would prove to be the case for The Spinners' hit "It's A Shame", too ... a song that eventually rose to #14 when it was finally released in 1970. A year later, The Spinners had already negotiated a new contract for themselves with rival Atlantic Records. After they made the move, they racked up fourteen Top 40 Pop Hits and were virtually never OFF the radio!

Pop / Soul classics like "I'll Be Around" (#1, 1972); "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love (#1, 1973); "Then Came You" (ALSO #1, 1974, recorded with Dionne Warwick[e] ... who added an "e" to her last name for her label switch); "Games People Play / They Just Can't Stop It" (#2, 1975); "The Rubberband Man" (#2, 1976) and remakes of classics like "Working My Way Back To You" (#2, 1980) and "Cupid" (#4, 1980), that were reworked into medleys with brand new pieces of music called "Forgive Me Girl" and "I've Loved You For A Long Time", followed ... and all of these remain soft rock and oldies radio staples today.

It's A Shame ... that nobody at Motown released that The Spinners were just one year away from hitting the big time!