Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Spinners [Atlantic, 1973] A-
  • The Best of the Spinners [Motown, 1973] C+
  • Mighty Love [Atlantic, 1974] B+
  • New and Improved [Atlantic, 1974] B
  • Pick of the Litter [Atlantic, 1975] A-
  • Spinners Live! [Atlantic, 1975] B-
  • Happiness Is Being With the Spinners [Atlantic, 1976] B-
  • Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow [Atlantic, 1977] B
  • Spinners/8 [Atlantic, 1977] C+
  • The Best of Spinners [Atlantic, 1978] A-
  • Dancin' and Lovin' [Atlantic, 1979] B-
  • From Here to Eternally [Atlantic, 1979] B-
  • A One of a Kind Love Affair [Atlantic, 1992] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Spinners [Atlantic, 1973]
Five hits make this soul album of the year, though it took me quite a while to get past Thom Bell's need to make everything smooth as a silk suit (never bothered me with the Stylistics because they were out-and-out silly, like a silk cardigan) and the lyrics' tendency to go nowhere after the hook (two by Yvette Davis are all but incoherent). In the end, it gets over on sheer melodic appeal and vocal beauty. Oddity: an exuberant big-band version of "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You." A-

The Best of the Spinners [Motown, 1973]
"It's a Shame" was their big hit--for Motown, I mean. The date was 1970. Their only other chart record for the label was five years before that and didn't go pop for the best of reasons--quality. C+

Mighty Love [Atlantic, 1974]
If like me you're more taken with "I'm Coming Home" than you ever were with "I'll Be Around," then like me you're not a Thom Bell fan or maybe even a Spinners fan. You're a fan of the Spinners' first tenor, Felipe Wind (sp?), whose vocal improvisations, as free as Al Green's though in more of a jazz scat mode, play against the Spinners' disciplined harmonies in a virtuoso demonstration of the limits of slick. B+

New and Improved [Atlantic, 1974]
The slow side is Dionne Warwicke in flight plus filler. The fast side is Phillipe Wynne (sp?) in flight plus good filler (good 'cause he keeps flying). The prizes are "Sadie," a mom song that should have broken pop, and "Then Came You," a love song that did. B

Pick of the Litter [Atlantic, 1975]
It isn't the production that puts the slow ones over, it's the Spinners proving themselves more than aides to Philippe Soul Wynn (sp?). Henry Fambrough's rich, creamy, ever-so-slightly burred tenor makes his two ballads glow. Bobbie Smith's more tightly focused timbre intensifies "You Made a Promise to Me." And Philippe's clipped, rapid-fire improvisations ride "Honest I Do" and "All That Glitters" straight into the sunset. A-

Spinners Live! [Atlantic, 1975]
A renowned show group whose supersmooth producer inhibits improvisation would seem like a good bet for a live double. But this one opens with "Fascinating Rhythm" and includes impressions of the Supremes, Tom Jones, and Louis Armstrong. It divides the pre-climactic "Love Don't Love Nobody" between two sides and mixes the horns and strings so high you long for supersmoothing. And it doesn't let you see their feet during "Mighty Love." B-

Happiness Is Being With the Spinners [Atlantic, 1976]
The physical pleasure--not quite luxurious, but much more than comfortable--of hearing these five men join their voices in song is undiminished, and the complete, seven-minute "Rubberband Man" is Phil (sp?) at his most expansive. But when I try to recall the tunes here I end up humming their kinfolk from other albums. B-

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow [Atlantic, 1977]
The first side would be their most featureless since they joined Thom Bell if it weren't for the asinine "Me and My Music," which I regret to report is catchy enough for a single. But the second is their most listenable since Pick of the Litter. Philippe Wynn (oh, the hell with it) walks away with an eight-minute fast one on top of an eight-minute slow one, but it's a disco-flavored showpiece, produced by Thom's brother Tony and featuring ringer singer John Edwards, that gets things going. Purists fear the worst from Tony's groove, and they may be right, but "Honey, I'm in Love With You" ain't it. Edwards sounds a little like Al Green, which of course has nothing to do with my enthusiasm. B

Spinners/8 [Atlantic, 1977]
John Edwards makes quite a different impression when he replaces Philippe Solo Wynn (sp?) instead of supplementing him--his style is so mellifluous it melts right into Thom Bell's (Tony Bell's, too). In fact, without Philippe's excesses the essential blandness of the whole concept squooshes down on their collective head. I'm all for responsible love, believe me--the trick is to keep it interesting. C+

The Best of Spinners [Atlantic, 1978]
Good stuff--how could it not be? And hurray for "Sadie," which never crossed over. But they should have included "I'm Coming Home" and the album-length "Rubberband Man," thus giving the departed Phylyppe Win (sp?) his propers. And AM radio being what it is, the ballads are all medium-tempo, not Henry Fambrough's natural speed--he likes to mull things over. A-

Dancin' and Lovin' [Atlantic, 1979]
New producer Michael Zager must think three out of six ain't bad. There's the Frankie Valli one-up, the disco double-entendre, and the P-Funk clone. But what happened to the Spinners? B-

From Here to Eternally [Atlantic, 1979]
Signs of hope here--a Stevie Wonder tribute that's almost as loving as Melissa Manchester's, good dance tune, good pop tune, and the wonderful John Edwards soul scat on the chorus and coda of "Are You Ready for Love." But the lyrics are banal at best and the melodies often annoying--both typified , wouldn't you know, by the verse of "Are You Ready for Love." B-

A One of a Kind Love Affair [Atlantic, 1992]
Through high-res doowop and mutant Motown, Bobbie Smith, Henry Fambrough, and Pervis Jackson have been at it since 1961. But they achieved greatness by providing late arrivals Thom Bell and Philippé Wynne a battlefield. Producer Bell was cool, calm, commercial, and classically trained; lead-singer-by-acclamation Wynne was a free radical, a soul man more out of it than Al Green. Midway between his departure in 1977 and his death in 1983, I saw Wynne do a P-Funk cameo that remains one of the most electrifying live performances I've ever witnessed. But neither his solo nor his group recordings do more than suggest this high-voltage charge. Instead, Bell--who used to give him the go-ahead to sing what he wanted and then not run the tape--works him for a creamy tension that sounds richer two decades later than it did when the Stylistics and Blue Magic were there to distract us. And Smith, Fambrough, and Jackson are what Wynne tenses against for two hour-plus discs. A

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1980s]: Philippe Wynne, 1941-1984. R.I.P.