❉ A comprehensive history of one of the finest purveyors of broken-hearted soul.
Listening to this extensive thirty-five track anthology is a little bit like coming into a half-told story where you’re left listening to the part where everything suddenly starts going right and just keeps on going. Put simply, you don’t have a career covering 14 years on one record label without considerable success. The Manhattans managed over 20 Top 40 R&B Singles hits, 9 Top 20 R&B Album hits (including a Best Of) along with a number of crossover Pop hits and two Top 5 UK hits during their tenure at Columbia. In America they were one of the most consistently successful soul acts of the 70’s. Yet in the couple of years just before this it must have looked like none of this was possible.
Formed in the early 60’s in New Jersey, The Manhattans set upon the name, and a steady recording career, in 1965 recording for a couple of respectable independent soul labels notching up a number of minor R&B chart hits whilst never managing to make it really big. In 1970 their lead singer George Smith contracted spinal meningitis forcing the band to look for a temporary replacement. They chose a young singer from North Carolina, Gerald Alston. Smith never recovered, passing away in the December of that year, and the band decided to continue with Alston as the lead vocalist. The change of vocalist signalled a change in fortunes as they finally had their first top 3 R&B hit in 1972. Yet shortly after their label, Deluxe – a subsidiary of King Records – folded when King’s main star, James Brown, left the label leaving The Manhattans without a recording contract. Fortunately Columbia Records stepped in, having followed the band for a while and sensing that they were on the cusp of something big.
The band’s trademark sound was Alston on lead with harmonies from original members Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Edward “Sonny” Bivins, and Richard Taylor. Their success was built on slow ballads largely telling tales of unrequited or broken hearted love, drenched in strings. The anthology presents the songs chronologically with the first disc, Kiss And Say Goodbye, covering the 70’s output. Opener There’s No Me Without You sets the tone, with Alton’s gentle tenor blended with vocal harmonies and lots, and lots of strings. This is soul music which neatly updated the doo-wop ballad with a touch of gospel clearly apparent in Alton’s voice.
Listening through the singles here the band fall into a type, albeit a very, very successful one. Included are their two biggest UK hits Hurt and Kiss And Say Goodbye which was also an American Pop number 1 single. They are both beautifully crafted and are pretty much the definition of the classic 70’s soul ballad. Other highlights include the Bunny Sigler penned Don’t Take Your Love which has a very Philly soul feel, and a pair of songs showing the group’s gospel side to great effect, the album cut There’s No Good In Goodbye and a wonderful cover of the Billy Joel song Everybody Has A Dream.
The second disc, Shining Star, covers their 80’s songs. Initially the formula is pretty much the same, the only differences being that the tempo rises ever so slightly and the songs have an ear on the pop market. The set opens up with the aforementioned Shining Star which put the band back on the map, hitting top 5 on both the US R&B and Pop charts. Despite its soulful edge this is a great pop ballad and one of the strongest songs in the entire set. As the ’80s progressed musical production moved away from what made the core sound of The Manhattans with the introduction of more synthesisers and electronic drum and string sounds.
What’s surprising is how well the group adapt to this. 1983’s Crazy is quite a sudden stylistic leap but it’s a fantastic song the band sounding comfortable in their new surroundings. Don’t Say No, a duet with BJ Nelson is a classic mid-80’s soul ballad is another highlight showing how well the group could adapt their sound. There’s also the Bobby Womack produced I’m Through Trying To Prove My Love To You which echoes their earlier works. Despite the quality of the material the hits had dried up and the band left Columbia in 1987, with Alston penning a solo deal with Motown, which is where the story here ends.
The two discs here provide a comprehensive history of both album cuts and all the hit singles. The quality rarely drops and suggests that The Manhattans should be remembered as one of the finest purveyors of the broken hearted soul ballad there has ever been.
❉ ‘I Kinda Miss You – The Anthology: Columbia Records 1973-87’ is released by SoulMusic Records, a division of Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99.