-- Paul B Allen III: October 5, 2019


I remember thinking, “Where did these guys come from?” 

Their voices were beautiful. Their harmonies were stellar. Teen-aged me stood in the living room, mesmerized, as I listened to the music of this new group, the Originals, now playing on my parents Hi-Fi Stereo. 

One of the guys had a voice that reminded me of Melvin Junior of the Dells or David Ruffin of the Temptations. Another had a fantastic, high-flying falsetto voice, and again, those harmonies. “These guys are a little older,” I thought, “so, why haven’t I heard of them before?” 

The answer to that question was the same answer as to why precious few of us had ever heard of the Funk Brothers, Motown’s in-house studio band, or the Andantes, Motown’s in-house female vocal trio who graced innumerable Motown hits with their pristine background vocals, though remaining largely uncredited for their work. 

The Originals were another secret weapon of the Motown hit-making factory, and they were kept under wraps, used as in-house background vocalists for countless other Motown artists, and, for the most part, just like the Funk Brothers and the Andantes, not promoted as a group themselves. 

According to Wikipedia, “They recorded the song "Suspicion" in 1966, but it was never released as a single. Nevertheless, it has become a Northern Soul classic. The track has since been featured on many of their compilation albums and many Northern Soul compilations.” 

And, if it was never released as a single, there was no way that it would ever be played by our local radio station, KMEN 1290 AM, commonly referred to as K-MEN 129.  And in those days, if your single was not being broadcast via a brick and mortar radio station, you did not have a record. You had a coaster or a black Frisbee, your choice. Either way, nobody in the USA was ever going to hear that song. 

Thank God for the Northern Soul movement, located in the northern region of the UK, including Scotland. Many of the not as famous Motown artists and other lesser-known soul artists and their music were embraced by Northern Soul enthusiasts, allowing these artists to experience some measure of success and appreciation of their musical talent and their recordings. The Northern Soul movement reminded me of college or independent radio stations who played underground music or new music or album cuts. They have forever been adventurous, drawing outside of the lines and helping others to discover great music that was not garden variety or traveling down the beaten path.   

But as I was listening to their music in my folk's living room, it was now 1969 and things were about to change for the Originals. They had back to back hit singles from two different albums. The two songs were named “Baby, I’m For Real” (#1 on Billboard magazine’s Soul Charts and #14 on Billboard’s Pop Charts) followed by “The Bells,”  (#4 R&B and #12 on the Pop Charts. Remember when we talked about what constitutes a "hit record" in the Saturday Morning Song Chronicles article "One Hit Wonders" a few weeks ago ?). 

Why were the Originals now putting out hit records after laboring in near anonymity for years? These two particular songs had one other thing in common. The great Marvin Gaye. 

Marvin Gaye was such a phenomenal vocalist that people forget what a great songwriter he was as well. Marvin co-wrote and produced “Baby, I’m For Real” and “The Bells,” for the Originals. And though they had other songs in their career that hit the charts, these two songs would be the only "hit" records the Originals would ever have, as recording artists. 

Again, they, together with the Andantes at times, were the background vocalists on hundreds of Motown songs. However, according to Wikipedia, they were the background vocalists on at least nine of my favorite songs of all time. Some of these may have been your favorites, too. 

1966: "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" (Jimmy Ruffin; Soul)
1968: "Twenty-Five Miles" (Edwin Starr; Gordy) 
1968: "Does Your Mama Know About Me" (Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers; Gordy)
1968: "Malinda" (Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers; Gordy) 
1968: "For Once in My Life" (Stevie Wonder; Tamla) 
1968: "Chained" (Marvin Gaye; Tamla) 
1969: "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday" (Stevie Wonder; Tamla) 
1969: "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" (David Ruffin; Motown)
1969: "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" (Jr. Walker; Soul) 
1970: "War" (Edwin Star; Gordy) 
1973: "Just to Keep You Satisfied" (from the album "Let's Get It On"; Marvin Gaye
Tamla )

The Originals were: 

“Freddie Gorman, Walter Gaines, C.P. Spencer, Hank Dixon, and Joe Stubbs. Stubbs left after less than a year with the group, and Spencer left in 1973 and was replaced by Ty Hunter.” – Discogs 

But, time waits for no man.

“Joe Stubbs, brother of Four Tops lead Levi Stubbs, died on February 5, 1998. He had been with the group [the Originals] for about six months in 1966, as well a member of The Falcons, The Contours, and 100 Proof (Aged In Soul). 

C. P. Spencer died on October 20, 2004, and the group's spokesman Freddie Gorman followed on June 13, 2006.[3] Walter Gaines died on January 17, 2012, after a long illness.[4] 

Dixon is now the only surviving and active founding member of the original group 

Following the death of Freddie Gorman in 2006, longtime member Hank Dixon and Hank's daughter Terrie Dixon reformed The Originals as a live touring act, with Freddie's son songwriter and producer Dillon F. Gorman, plus the son of Gene Chandler, Defrantz Forrest, to complete the line-up.” – Wikipedia 

It appears that the great Jim Gilstrap is now a member of  Hank Dixon's touring group of the Originals. Gilstrap is an original member of Side Effect and has done background vocals for everyone from Dolly Parton to Quincy Jones.  He was also a member of Stevie Wonder's backing group, Wonderlove. If you have ever heard Stevie Wonder's hit song, "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life," then you heard Jim Gilstrap singing the opening two lines, "You are the sunshine of my life. That's why I'll always be around." His career has been so stellar that I would not be surprised if he was featured in a future Saturday Morning Song Chronicles.

The Originals were amazing. Please enjoy these historic videos of their hit songs and of some other songs they helped to become hits that we adore. 

See you next week at the Saturday Morning Song Chronicles.

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