Valerie Simpson is turning 70 years old today. That comes as very important in that today is Women’s Equality Day. As far as I’m concerned,Simpson is a pioneer female songwriter for so many reasons. She maintained a very close marriage and professional relationship with Nick Ashford until the day he died. She also kept her own name professionally throughout their career together. And this included,of course their salad years at Motown- spinning out hits for people such as Marvin Gaye & Tammi Tarrell. That’s not to mention the duo continuing to maintain a successful solo career well into the 1980’s.
Ashford & Simpson albums always tended towards the most elaborately arranged and musically diverse wife/husband duet albums I’ve ever heard. By the early 1980’s,the pair had hits for themselves and others in the form of punchy funk,streamlined disco and elegant ballads. In 1982 the pair decided to put together a concept album. A decade before the arrival of hip-hop’s G-Funk sub-genre,the couple decided to use the contemporary post disco musical basis to present very personalized vignette with a street level basis. it was called Street Opera. And its biggest hit was “Street Corner”.
A slow and steady 4/4 drum just starts right up at the beginning of the song and continues throughout until the very end. On the intro,there’s a low thudding piano chord. Before each one there’s a thick guitar rev. After that,the bass line chugs along underneath a higher pitched piano playing a lead melody-with a string synthesizer joining the horn solos just before Nick & Val’s vocal chorus kicks in. On the refrains,the musical theme calms to a processed electric piano based melody and rhythm. But that instrumental chorus from the intro provides the basis for the entire song until it fades out.
Instrumentally speaking,this is one of the most lushly constructed example of the funkiest end of the early 80’s post disco sound I’ve heard. The main musical theme doesn’t vary all that much. But each instrumental statement the song makes is very strong. Lyrically its a very liberating tale of a ghetto woman who is…well either mistaken for naive or mistaken for a prostitute. Either way,Valerie Simpson is telling a man asking her for a ride that “the little girl has grown”. So it showcases how feminine dignity exists alive and well on the street corners across America.
Filed under 1980's, Ashford & Simpson, concept albums, drums, Funk Bass, horns, Nick Ashford, piano, post disco, rhythm guitar, string synthesizer, Valerie Simpson, Women, Women's Equality Day
Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson have been strong musical examples for many songwriter/performers. Though we lost Ashford to throat cancer six years ago this August,the success of this happily married duo is important on two levels. For one,the pair were part of the transition from the age of the producer to the age of the artist in music-when they began recording albums on their own starting from the early 70’s. Additionally, they successfully beat the odds of the musician’s life as not being able to sustain married duos. Not to mention parlaying their success into other ventures.
This duo came right out of the church in more ways than one. They met at White Rock Baptist’s in Harlem. That’s when they first took a stab at recording as a duo. By 1966,they had penned a major hit for Ray Charles in “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. Later that same year,they landed at Motown records. They became the force behind the big Marvin Gaye and Tami Terrell hits such as”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need To Get By”. When Terrell became ill with a brain tumor,Simpson herself provided ghost duet vocals with Marvin for their final duet album Easy.
While the pair sang (and Ashford wrote for) the gospel quartet The Followers in the early 60’s,it wasn’t for another decade until the band signed to Warner Bros. as a duo and recorded their debut as such in 1974’s Gimme Something Real. Their fourth album came in 1977’s Send It. My first exposure to the duo and music from this album came from my father via a James Earl Jones hosted social security PSA album called Genius On The Black Side,which profiled important black musicians. And the name of the song included on that from this fourth album is called “Don’t Cost You Nothing”.
Christopher Parker’s hit hat and snare heavy drums start out the groove,with Francisco Centeno proceeding to deliver one of my personal favorite slap bass solos of the late 70’s. Eric Gale delivers some liquid rhythm guitar,along with the hand claps as the groove advances. The drum begins delivering a driving 4/4 dance beat with the liquid guitar accented by Simpson’s bluesy piano and Gale’s BB King like tone on a lower guitar line. This comes to prominent on the breakdown of the song. After a dramatic upscale,the bass and guitar allow Gale to deliver one of his bluesy lines in a solo before the song fades out.
During the time that Ashford & Simpson were about to unleash Chaka Khan’s debut solo hit in “I’m Every Woman” and Angela Bofill’s powerful album cut “Rough Times”,they were both really getting the disco era funk groove down pat with songs like “Don’t Cost You Nothing” on their own. Along with it’s strong late 70’s funky hump,especially the stomping bass,Simpson’s piano along with Gale’s bluesy guitar and Simpson’s grunting vocals really allow this song to get it’s groove on big time. And showcases how this duo,generally known for love ballads,really knew how to give up the funk.
Filed under 1970's, Ashford & Simpson, disco funk, drums, Eric Gale, lead guitar, Motown, Nick Ashford, rhythm guitar, slap bass, Valerie Simpson, Warner Bros.