April 25, 2006

NICK AND VAL



I saw two of my favorite songwriters, Ashford and Simpson, do their thing on Saturday night at Queens University's Colden Center--yeah, I hadn't ever heard of the place either! This duo has brought so much joy into our lives through their genius hits like Diana Ross's AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH and every track on her sensational THE BOSS album, as well as other hits like Gladys Knight's drag lip-synch classic I WILL FIGHT, which I assure you, if you grew up down south, you've pulled out many tip dollars out for whichever queen was mopping the floor with it. Nick and Val's biggest chart position as recording artists was the early 80's SOLID, but for the true A & S fans it was their funky, sophisticated disco for which they'll be remembered. FOUND A CURE, DON'T COST YOU NOTHIN', IT SEEMS TO HANG ON, GET UP AND DO SOMETHIN', STREET CORNER, HIGH RISE, the sublime slow-cooker RUSHIN' an my all time fav LOVE DON'T ALWAYS MAKE IT RIGHT. They threw enough of these in their set to satisfy. And they opened with an overture of BOURGIE BOURGIE, which A & S released as an instrumental. I guess they wrote the lyrics in for Gladys Knight later:

"Never have to work too hard.
Your face is your credit card."

Click this link to here samples of Ashford and Simpson-penned gems for Gladys, including TASTE OF BITTER LOVE wrote and produced this gold), I WILL FIGHT and BOURGIE BOURGIE: AMAZON.COM

Their concert took a little autobiographical turn, as they strutted down memory lane looking damn good for 60! I didn't even know that their first hit was LET'S GO GET STONED, recorded by Ray Charles. And Nick was homeless when he met Val. The two became staff writers for Motown, and penned Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell chestnuts like AIN'T NOTHIN LIKE THE REAL THING and YOUR PRECIOUS LOVE as well as many of Diane Ross's early solo material like her signature masterpiece REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEBODY'S HAND. Somehow--probably due in part to Valerie's church-trained piano-playing skills, their chords changes completely captured the late 60's/early 70's era and provided a spell-binding backdrop for Diana's voice on tracks like SURRENDER, REMEMBER ME, IF YOU SEE HIM, and the most fantastic version of the FOUR TOPS' REACH OUT, I'LL BE THERE that I've ever heard. I don't think I've ever listened to this without crying a little. (Great review for this rare album here: MYSITE This album's rare, but on one country's cover (japanese?) Miss Ross is wearing an afro, upper and lower spiky lashes and light blue liner in the eye's rim! Exquisite!)



The two songwriters didn't hesitate to boost Diana's nasal voice with gospel choirs and wild orchestrations, and rumor has it that they tricked her when recording THE BOSS, which they also produced with the finest studio musicians on earth. I've re-wound sections of these songs over and over in disbelief of how the instruments come together. Having finished the main lead tracks, apparently they coaxed her into recording a looser, more energetic take "just for fun." Diana, always wanting to be the lady, resisted, but they finally got their way and included bits of Diana "going off." The result is all those "whoo hoo hoo hoo's" you here her doing in THE BOSS's break. If you don't have this album, BUY IT NOW! The real ki-ki back in the day was the 12" mix of NO ONE GETS THE PRIZE which segued into THE BOSS. Honey, the queens went nuts to that one! But the album also features the very Diana IT'S MY HOUSE, the underrated ONCE IN THE MORNING (which HRH Princess Diandra used to synch at Boybar) and I AIN'T BEEN LICKED, a comeback song which starts off with the words:

"Roll down the gangway so they'll see that it's me.
I know you wondered about my recovery."

You gotta love any reference to a gangway! Lyrics are one of Nick and Val's specialties, and Val revealed that Nick had written the lyrics to I'M EVERY WOMAN, a hit for Chaka, Whitney and now Oprah's theme song. Now how would Nick know so much about being a woman? Don't you answer that! Nick's voice is noticeably weaker, but one bitter queen I went with said that his voice never was that good back in the day and that Valerie always carried their live shows. I have no idea, but he is still working those inexplicable fashions (pants with a drape-y side skirt?) of his with that dated, jheri-dripping weave. But, honey, I don't look for style tips from Aretha or these two. They were blessed with SO much in one department, as far as I'm concerned, they don't really need too much in ANY other department. And if you really wanna hear a rare gem written and produced by them, hunt for BAD COMPANY on Ullandah McCullough's 1981 solo album. This was a disco-era project which they wrote and produced for one of their back-up singers who had much stronger pipes than Diana.Excellent if you can find it. On WARM AND GENTLE EXPLOSION, Nick almost seems to be able to write about experiencing a woman's orgasm himself...But after all the joking about his effeminacy and hair and costumes, I honestly can't say that I think Nick's gay. I don't care if he is, but after this concert, I realized that Valerie is such a cute and sassy spitfire, I can't imagine a together lady like her sticking with a gay husband, especially since they aren't really making records anymore and times are so much more open these days. (The program used a 20 year-old pic!) Who would care if he came out now? I just wonder if that was him pulling up in the white Lincoln with plates that said "Dr. Butch"? Or what if it was her?

22 Comments:

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And we can't forget "Clouds."

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Blogger Lady Bunny said...

My bad! What an oversight! The most brilliant tack ever! Thanks! --B

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Blogger Tommy said...

"The Boss" has got to be one of my favourite Miss Ross albums! I love much of Valerie's solo material at Motown as well. I listen to some of it and can't help but imagine Diana's voice on it..

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Anonymous Tonie Walsh said...

Dearest Lady Bunny,
What a lovely, inspiring piece that brought me right back to a concert they gave in London's Hammersmith Odeon, about 1985 when "Solid" was huge. I love the way this talented, sassy husband and wife team have been working and loving together for such a long time...and if only to judge by their shows, they do it with such consummate grace. God bless them both for the joy they've brought us. I'll be playing that 12" instrumental of Bourgie Bourgie on Dublin's Pride Parade with my friend Panti and family next Saturday.
Kisses,
Tonie...sunny Dublin (Ireland)

p.s. And you're spot on about Diana's version of Reach Out, I'll be there. A slow scorcher with all the trademark A&S motifs and flourishes that remains - amazingly - little known.

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