During her tenure at Motown (1966-74), Bronx-born Valerie Simpson was best known as a writer and producer. In tandem with long time partner Nick Ashford, she was responsible for a slew of classics – including ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Your Precious Love’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’. In 1970 Berry Gordy honoured Ashford and Simpson by handing them the job of producing Diana Ross’ solo debut. The success of that LP encouraged Gordy to hand Simpson a contract as an artist in her own right (the Motown rumour mill, by the way, suggests that Val had already fronted the Motown mics… deputising in the studio for Florence Ballard AND Ms Ross). The result was two albums – 1971’s ‘Exposed’ and ’72’s ‘Valerie Simpson’, both now reissued as a twofer by Universal imprint, Caroline.
‘Exposed’ didn’t fare particularly well (it peaked at 30 R&B and it’s only single ‘I Can’t Wait Till Tomorrow’ had no chart impact) but it nevertheless is a quality album, exuding a strong gospel feel – hardy surprising given the singer’s church-reared background. Hear that old time gospel at its best on the lengthy opener, ‘I Don’t Need No Help’. It’s a brave choice for an opening track. ….a two minute acapella introduction followed by a further five minutes of just singer and piano accompaniment. It’s an intense piece of work and maybe turned off potential buyers who maybe were expecting the poppier flavours of her earlier songs. In fairness that lovely lightness comes later on with things like the version of her own ‘Love Woke Me Up This Morning’ and the jaunty ‘I Just Wanna Be There’.
The eponymous sophomore album fared less well than the debut – just making the R&B top 50, though the album’s sole single, ‘Silly Wasn’t I’ did make the pop hot 100. That simple song is the album highlight and in the excellent notes (put together by SJF’s Charles Waring) Ms Simpson regrets not making the song last a little longer. Whatever, at 2 minutes 12 seconds I think it’s just right… an underrated Motown classic. Sadly there’s little else here that would fall into that bracket, but for Motown collectors the release will be hugely welcome.