The songs of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson could occupy a whole Hall Of Fame to themselves. There can’t be any students of popular music who are not familiar with at least a few of their classics, be they their own hits like ‘Solid’ or those they wrote for Motown’s ‘A’ list artists, such as ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’ for Marvin & Tammi and ‘Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’ for Diana Ross.
These and many like them are as much a part of our lives as getting up in the morning. Less well known outside of connoisseur soul circles are the songs they wrote in the years immediately leading up to ‘Ain’t No Mountain’, with their original collaborator Joshie “Jo” Armstead. Between 1964 and 1967, the trio collaborated on a significant number of superior songs to provide hits for artists including Chuck Jackson and Maxine Brown, Betty Everett, Aretha Franklin and scores more.
This month we celebrate their three-way collaborations with “The Real Thing”, the latest volume in our songwriter series and the first to appear on Kent. This CD brings together just about all of the most notable “JoValNick” compositions and embellishes them with a handful of early songs that Ashford and Simpson wrote without Jo. Given that it’s a Kent CD, the soul content is very high – as well as those already mentioned, others who bring the songs to life include the Crystals, the Coasters, Candy and the Kisses, Tina Britt, the Shirelles, the Apollas, Marie Knight and blue eyed soulster Ronnie Milsap. (The inclusion of many of those and other equally notable names will ensure that it also goes straight onto the shopping list of every girl group aficionado…)
And as for those songs, there and many among those who will buy it who will not be familiar with at least one version of ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’, ‘Running Out’, ‘Cry Like A Baby’ or ‘You’re Absolutely Right’. These are part of the very fabric of 60s soul and it would be impossible to imagine life without them after almost 45 years!
Mick Patrick has maintained the perfect balance between the strikingly familiar and sensationally obscure that we always continue to aim for throughout this series and he is to be congratulated for doing so, given that Nick, Valerie and Joshie worked together for a much shorter period of time than most of those who’ve so far appeared in the series.
Valerie and Nick are said to be hard to please when it comes to reissues of their early work, but they can feel justifaibly proud of this splendid revelation of the genesis of their songwriting (as can Ms Armstead).
Looks to me like this could be The Real Thing! Ain’t Nothing Like It…
By Tony Rounce