Ashford and Simpson’s names are right up there with the cream of soul writers. Their achievements at Motown and subsequently “freelancing” for people like Chaka Khan, Patti Labelle and Quincy Jones means that their track record stands comparison with the very best … and that’s before we even start to discuss their careers as performers! What is interesting, however, is that the duo’s musical odyssey began long before those halcyon Motown days. In the early sixties a hopeful yet impoverished young Nik Ashford pitched up in New York City where he struck up a gospel-based musical relationship with Bronx-born Valerie Simpson. They performed together in a group called The Followers before recording as a duo; then a meeting with some-time Ikette Josephine Armstead led to more serious attempts at song writing and eventually a mutual connection to Luther Dixon led to a writing contract with Florence Greenberg’s Scepter label. The catchy, contemporary songs penned by the threesome (in various permutations) were soon sought after by artists beyond the Scepter stable and when Ray Charles found and recorded their ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’, Ashford and Simpson were snapped up by Motown and the rest is, of course, history. This new, wonderful 24 tracker takes a look at those heady, writing days in New York City and it proves that even then Ashford and Simpson were masters of their craft. A measure of that mastery can be seen by the calibre of the artists who recorded the duo’s songs – amongst them The Crystals, the Shirelles, the Coasters, Doris Troy, Betty Everett, Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson and Aretha. The Aretha track dates from her days at Columbia and is the catchy ‘Cry Like A Baby’ – a great song and performance, though there’s plenty to rival it. Doris Troy’s ‘Please Little Angel’ is as perfect a sixties uptown ballad as you could hope for while the Diplomats’ ‘Love Ain’t What It Used To Be’ is every bit as good. In fairness, though, there just isn’t any filler here and interestingly compiler Mick Patrick has opted for the Coasters’ original version of ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’… the song which the text books say started it all for Ashford and Simpson… this compilation shows how wrong that assumption is!