Ashford and Simpson: Remember me as a sunny day

Posted: February 22, 2019 in music, Record reviews
Tags: ,

Ashford and Simpson discography

The bottom line:
I’m stretching the rules of the forgotten bands game with this choice, because songwriters Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are remembered – but only by writers and music nerds.

Songwriters don’t become famous unless they become famous performers. Just ask Bernie Taupin, the lyricist behind Elton John. Neil Diamond, Willie Nelson, and Carole King (but not her former husband and writing partner, Gerry Goffin) began as writers but broke as performers.

Their story:
Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson met in a gospel choir and were songwriting partners and performers for 50 years until Ashford’s death in 2011.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “You’re All I Need to Get By.” Ashford and Simpson wrote all three.

“Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor” were two signature tunes for Ray Charles. He can thank Ashford and Simpson.

Ten of the 11 songs on Diana Ross, the first Diana Ross solo record, were written by Ashford and Simpson.

“I’m Every Woman,” Chaka Kahn’s first hit after she left Rufus? Let me see, I knew it a second ago…oh yes, Ashford and Simpson.

“Stairway to Heaven”? No, they didn’t write that one, but if you’ve been following the legal battle over “Stairway” it could be that Led Zeppelin didn’t write it either.

Ashford and Simpson recorded a long line of their own albums. I’ve listened to them all, though after awhile I only gave each record three tracks before moving on. Their work is good-natured, and our heroes sing like angels (Simpson’s range is astronomical, and Ashford knows that a good husband always backs up his wife), but the music is mostly waterlogged disco.

All these albums with the couple’s happy photos on the covers – is there a meaning here? Yes there is, and I didn’t have to work too hard to find it.

The music of Ashford and Simpson, the music they wrote for themselves, stands for partnership, commitment, and, as another writer who made his name as a performer, Lionel Ritchie, once wrote for Diana, everlasting love.

Moment of glory:
Writing for Gaye, Charles, Ross, and Kahn should be glorious enough, but I’ll pick sharing their 1996 release, Been Found, with poet Maya Angelou.

The one album to own:
Diana Ross. (The first one, with “Remember Me” and her cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” Her record company named three albums Diana Ross.) Want an Ashford and Simpson just for Ashford and Simpson? I’d advise against it, but you might try their last record, The Real Thing (2009), which was recorded live in a small club.

Tomorrow, forgotten bands continues with a band that intersected with my personal universe.

  1. Sallie V Dawson says:

    The only two they wrote and sang that I liked was Is it Still Good to Ya and Solid. I think they liked writing more than performing. The problem with songwriters who perform their own songs for me is that it is hard for me to like the renditions of other performers. Stevie Wonder is a prime example. I have only enjoyed Boys II Men perform two if his songs and even though I have other performers do Candle in the Wind, nobody moves me Elton John when he sings it.

  2. Wm F Seabrook says:

    “Songwriters don’t become famous unless they become famous performers”

    Right off the bat, Burt Bacharach, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and I seem to remember Franz Schubert abandon his singing career after his disastrous performance on the 1814 European Song Contest.

    • Run-DMSteve says:

      Hold on there, son. That ain’t what I call rock ‘n’ roll. (Except for Schubert. That guy rawked. He terrified the judges in 1814.)

      Burt Bacharach’s name is plastered all over his soundtrack albums, such as Butch Cassidy and Casino Royale, and it’s prominent on the albums he wrote for other people, such as Dionne Warwick. Plus he was a performer. Stephen Sondheim was the genius behind West Side Story and he was part of the 1970s NYC party scene. That’ll get your name around. Rodgers and Hammerstein were the beneficiaries of the publicity barrages for Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and especially The Sound of Music. If you were alive in 1965, as I was (though I was but a sprout), you don’t think of The Sound of Music as The Sound of Music, you think of it as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music.

      BTW, you could’ve added Leonard Bernstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber, though they would make this list even more white and male.

      My point is that these very talented composers were given a boost into the public consciousness by outside forces. This would never have happened to someone like Willie Nelson, for example. He’d still be spinning records at his radio station and writing songs for other people if he hadn’t gotten out on the road again and made a name for himself.

      Good point, though, and I like it when my loyal readers (all three of them) decide to write in and mix it up!

      • wmfs says:

        Yes, have to agree really. Did you ever hear Schubert’s Sex und Drohen mit Rock and Rollen (D.36)? Yeh, that cat was wild!

      • Run-DMSteve says:

        The album with the two naked supermodels on the wrap-around cover? My parents took it away from me when I brought it home from the record store!

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