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Pick of the Litter

The Spinners

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Album Review

For their fourth Atlantic Records outing, the Spinners — Henry Fambrough (baritone vocal), Billy Henderson (tenor vocal), Pervis Jackson (bass vocal), Bobbie Smith (tenor vocal) and Philippe Wynne (tenor vocal) — cook up another sizable serving of Philly Soul under the care of producer/arranger Thom Bell. Following on the heels of three sequential gold records, it is not particularly surprising that they would continue in the same vein. The danceable R&B grooves — especially the undeniably memorable "They Just Can't Stop It (The Games People Play)" — not to mention the soulful slow jams, were ultimately a factor in making Pick of the Litter (1975) the Spinners' most successful long-player. Although the entire affair clocks in at just over half-an-hour, they pack a great deal into the effort, commencing with the dynamic mid-tempo "Honest I Do." The four-on-the-floor tempo and compact string arrangement are part and parcel of what made their sound so instantly discernible among concurrent copycat combos. They likewise had Wynne's versatile vocals in their arsenal, which was no doubt a significant component in their second 7" side, the compelling "Love or Leave." Instrumentally, the distinctive distorted guitar and refined brass accompaniment are all courtesy of Bell's singular musical vision, and faultlessly executed by the equally unmistakable MFSB Orchestra. "All That Glitters Ain't Gold" is a catchy number sporting a brisk propelling rhythm and score foreshadowing Bell's work with Elton John on "Mama Can't Buy You Love." The batch of ballads on Pick of the Litter are proportionately excellent as well, highlighted by Dionne Warwick's second guest appearance. Fambrough's debut as a solo lead demonstrates a gentle and supple intonation, perfectly matched to Warwick's agile and affective style. The album's primary focus track was the aforementioned "They Just Can't Stop It (The Games People Play)." The slightly, albeit judiciously edited version became a crossover smash, landing in the upper reaches of the Pop Singles survey and topping the R&B countdown in July of 1975. Trading vocals with Wynne and Jackson — whose resonant "12:45" interjection became a hallmark of the song — is backing session singer Barbara Ingram. Because the group was touring at the time, Fambrough was unavailable to put the finishing touches on the recording. Bell was under the gun to complete the production, so he chose Ingram to step in, and in doing so lent a whole new dimension to the lyrical banter. Those seeking a thoroughly solid effort Philly Soul are encouraged to spin the appropriately named Pick of the Litter.

Biography

Formed: 1961 in Detroit, MI

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

The Spinners were the greatest soul group of the early '70s, creating a body of work that defined the lush, seductive sound of Philly soul. Ironically, the band's roots lay in Detroit, where they formed as a doo wop group during the late '50s. Throughout the '60s, the Spinners tried to land a hit by adapting to the shifting fashions of R&B and pop. By the mid-'60s, they had signed with Motown Records, but the label never gave the group much consideration. "It's a Shame" became a hit in 1970,...
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Pick of the Litter, The Spinners
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