Monday, November 03, 2008

The Blue Peter Files #2

These dark nights have really brought on the torpor. But I've finally shaken off the hibernating tendancy to bring you the second instalment on the theme "here's one we made earlier".

Most people of a certain age will be familiar with The Whispers, but in the UK maybe only for their club classic “And The Beat Goes On”. This hit in 1980 in the UK (my time compass was a bit off with this one, I remembered it being earlier). It was the first real hit they had in the UK. I don’t frequent clubs anymore but I’m betting this one will still be played, it is, as they say, a classic of its type.

“And The Beat Goes On” and other records The Whispers cut in the late 70s and early 80s such as “It’s A Love Thing” were aimed very much at the club scene (I’ll call it “club scene” as disco was becoming a dirty word by then). I still have fond memories of playing those records and, of course, still have the 12” singles.

But, beyond the beat and the commercial gloss of those records, you don’t have to concentrate very hard to hear some very polished close harmony singing. They were a polished act with good reason, as the group had been singing together since 1962.

The Whispers started out life as the Eden Trio, singing on street corners in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Although originally a trio they soon developed into a five piece: Walter and Wallace Scott, Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson, and Gordy Harmon.. They acquired the name The Whispers in 1964 after being picked up by Lou Bedell at the Hollywood based Dore label. There they would release nine singles between 1964 and 1967, including “The Dip” which has been a favourite on the Northern scene for many years.

It would appear they took a gap year in 1968, but in 1969 they resurfaced on the Soul Clock label and that’s when the American national R&B and Pop hits started. Their second release on Soul Clock “The Time Will Come” broke into the national US R&B charts in August 1969. Their next release didn’t do anything but then, in 1970, their fourth release on the label “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong” went top 10 in the US R&B charts and made it to #50 in the pop charts. This single was something of a double header – flip it over and you found “Needle In A Haystack”. This had a feel to it that placed it earlier than 1970, and indeed it was because it had originally been released in 1967 on Dore.

At the end of 1970 they moved to Janus Records and scored a string of R&B hits that also occasionally dented the pop charts, including the wonderfully titled “I Only Meant To Wet My Feet”. Then in 1975 there was another label move to the Soul Train / Solar stable, where they stayed until the early 80s. Both “And The Beat Goes On” and “It’s A Love Thing” made the top 10 pop charts in the UK but they would have to wait until 1987 with “Rock Steady” to crack the US top 10 pop charts.

As I said I have a soft spot for their Solar hits – they bring back good memories. Their Janus output left me fairly cold back in the day as it was a bit too sweet for my liking – but on listening to some of it again I’m warming to it (must be my age). I admit I am not really familiar with their output after the early 80s. It’s their early output on Soul Clock and Dore that really does it for me though – clean, melodic, arrangements that complement the group’s beautiful voices and really allow them to shine - great soul music.

From 1964 right through to 1995 The Whispers enjoyed chart pretty much unbroken chart success, initially locally, then nationally, and finally internationally. In 1971 the group experienced their one and only personnel change – Gordy Harmon decided to leave in 1971 and was replaced by ex Friends of Distinction Leaveil Degree. Due to ill health Marcus Hutson had to retire from performing in 1989, and sadly passed away in 2000. Apart from that The Whispers are still intact and still performing.
Forty years from now I wonder how many recently formed groups you will be able to say that about?

The Whispers - The Time Will Come 1969

The Whispers - Needle In A Haystack 1967/1970

The Whispers - And The Beat Goes On 1979

(I know some of you have an aversion to zshare but as savefile seems to be having problems again it has to be zshare again I'm afraid).

Buy "Planets Of Life - The Soul Clock Recordings"


Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard The Time Will Come. I like it. Thanks!

mike_hunkin said...

I always associated the Whispers with the '78 club hit "Make It With You" their version of the song made famous by Bread. Surprisingly, to me, this wasn't a chart hit.

Anonymous said...

The Whispers were just given Pioneer Awards at the 20th R&B Foundation gala event in Philadelphia. They sang, and they still sound pretty good. Press coverage is at