ASHFORD & SIMPSON: ‘The Warner Bros. Years: Hits, Remixes & Rarities’ (Label: Rhino)

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ASHFORD & SIMPSON: 'The Warner Bros. Years: Hits, Remixes & Rarities'

Mention Ashford & Simpson to any British person over 30 and the odds are that they’ll recall the duo’s big romantic anthem from 1984, ‘Solid,’ which peaked at number 3 in the UK singles chart. Ironically, though, I truly believe that the Big Apple-based songwriting team were already past their best by then, even though they were enjoying the biggest commercial success of their careers. Indeed, as this excellent new 2-CD retrospective illustrates, the twosome’s ’80s work for Capitol really does pale in comparison with their earlier recordings for Warner Bros. Husband and wife team, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, joined the Loony Tune label in 1973 after a fertile stint penning and producing hits at Motown for the likes of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell and Diana Ross. They experienced a few modest Stateside R&B chart entries from ’73 until ’77, when a change of direction – they decided to swim along with the disco tidal wave – got them attention and eventually resulted in the Top 20 smash, ‘Send It.’ A year later, they almost topped the R&B lists when their hypnotic dance floor groove, ‘It Seems To Hang On,’ stalled at Number 2 and stayed there for 5 weeks (interestingly, the song’s groove and chord sequence became the template for many smooth soul records in the following decade) . Both those tunes can be found on this commendable new compilation, which includes several of the duo’s hard-to-find 12-inch disco mixes – including ‘One More Try,’ ‘Tried, Tested & Found,’ ‘Found A Cure,’ and ‘Love Don’t Make It Right’ – and a bonus CD of remixes. The emphasis here is on the duo’s soul-infused dance floor burners and so some of their great ballads – ‘Crazy,’ ‘Destiny’ and ‘Let Love Use Me’ – are omitted. Even so, this is a top-notch set packed with great music, like ‘Found A Cure’ and their brilliant original version of ‘Top Of The Stairs.’ You’ll also find the duo’s rendition of the song ‘Bourgie Bourgie,’ which they originally cut as an instrumental (it was later given words and a vocal melody and taken into the charts by Gladys Knight & The Pips). To my mind, the remixes on CD2 are largely redundant – sure, there’s nothing too radical that will upset the purists and the likes of Tom Moulton, Joey Negro and Paul Simpson stay true to the spirit of the originals, but overall it seems a pointless exercise. Nevertheless, this is a pleasing compilation packed with beats and grooves that would make even the most arthritic of lower limbs twitch in anticipation of boogieing down on the dance floor.
(CW) 4/5