In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!
’70s AM radio soundtracked nearly every childhood car journey I ever took. It was in the backseat confines of my Mom’s white Chevy Nova with the sunflower painted on the side (those ’70s were swingin’) that I first became acquainted with The Spinners’ 1975 hit “They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)”. It was love at first listen. The song ended up marking an important personal milestone for me; it was the first 7-inch I ever bought with my own pocket money (one dollar, and seven cents to be precise). It was purchased at a local record haunt/head shop called “The Etc Shop” (now that’s what I call ’70s) from its cool lady proprietress, Naomi. I played the 45 over and over in my blue shag-carpeted bedroom, mimicking every one of the song’s vast array of vocal inflections. From Bobby Smith’s smooth lead to the spare but crucial contributions of bass singer Pervis Jackson (whose voice was as deep as the earth’s core), I sang along and “got down” as hard as a 9-year-old white suburban soul-loving gal possibly could.
The reason I bring all that silliness up is to better explain and emphasize just how ubiquitous and popular The Spinners’ hits were in the ’70s. Everybody knew Spinners’ songs. From PTA moms to the Soul Train dancers. From cheeseball crooners on variety shows (see here) to the freakin’ Muppets (you’ll see). Yes, even shy, weird little girls growing up on Long Island absolutely adored The Spinners.
Between 1970 and 1980, the group landed 12 songs in the Billboard pop top 20 with seven of those going top 5. “I’ll Be Around”. “Rubberband Man”. “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love”. “Then Came You”. “One Of A Kind Love Affair”. And on and on. Every single Spinners hit is an evergreen, soul-pop classic.
The Spinners were signed to Motown in the ’60s but were regarded as one of the lesser lights there and as such, didn’t get a ton of recording opportunities. When their contract with the label expired in 1972, they signed with Atlantic Records (at the suggestion of their friend Aretha Franklin). Complicating matters was the fact that their lead singer at the time, G.C. Cameron, was contractually obligated to remain with Motown. Even though he had to part ways with the group, that didn’t keep him from leaving a spectacular parting “gift.” He thought his cousin, Philippé Wynne would be an ideal choice to replace him in The Spinners. It turned out to be true and then some. Once Wynne joined, the group began utilizing a three-man lead vocal team which also included Bobby Smith and Henry Fambrough (I should note that Smith performed the lion’s share of leads).
And of course, once they’d left Motown their days of recording in Detroit were done. They began working with soulful string-meister/genius producer ‘n’ songwriter Thom Bell at the latter’s home base, Philly’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios. Genuine soul magic and megahits ensued. In 1977, the group released an album whose title, in its sweet, sugary ’70s way, perfectly encapsulates the group’s career and basically says it all: Happiness Is Being with the Spinners
Philippé Wynne, Bobby Smith, Pervis Jackson, and long-term group member Billy Henderson have all passed away, as has producer Thom Bell. In honor of their gifting us with pure soulful joy for decades and finally getting inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we now present to you some seriously smile-inducing Spinners covers. Get down…
The Tripwires- They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play) (The Spinners cover)
“They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)” was a top 5 pop hit in 1975 and features a truckload of gorgeously clever melodic twists and turns ( as well as a sweet guest vocal from Evette Benton). It is a straight-up hook-fest and thus is perfectly suited for the power pop treatment. This 2016 cover by Seattle supergroup The Tripwires (featuring former members of Screaming Trees, The Minus Five and The Young Fresh Fellows) is pure candy-coated, skinny-tied goodness.
Delroy Wilson- It’s A Shame (The Spinners cover)
A top 20 pop hit in the summer of ’70, “It’s A Shame” was written by the magnificent Syreeta Wright, Lee Garrett, and a 20-year-old Stevie Wonder, who also produced it. Not only is it one of the most joyfully melodic cheating, been-done-wrong songs ever, it’s also one of the finest singles Motown ever kicked out period ( G.C. Cameron’s lead vocal is wild and brilliant ). It was the most successful track of The Spinners’ seven-year association with the label.
Reggae star Delroy Wilson recorded a slew of soul covers during the ’70s and ’80s including a solid chunk of Motown tunes. His 1974 version of “It’s A Shame” is a short, sweet, crying-in-the-sunshine doll.
The M.G.’s-One of a Kind Love Affair (The Spinners cover)
This is not quite the original M.G.’s (of Booker T. and the M.G.’s fame) but rather a re-constituted version featuring two original members (drummer Al Jackson, Jr, and bassist Duck Dunn) and two newly recruited M.G.’s (guitarist Bobby Manuel Hammond and B-3 organist Carson Whitsett). This incarnation of the band made one album in 1973 which is where this charming little instrumental cover of “One of a Kind Love Affair” can be found. It is a compelling oddball that sounds like it should be soundtracking a scene in some early ’70s TV show…but it also resembles a virtuosic jam session at a music store in the mall during that same era i.e. when the organ was alpha-dog. Press play, close your eyes and you can practically smell the onion rings and taste the Orange Julius.
Bonus Weirdness: Philippé Wynne sang lead on the poppin’, percolating original. A rumor has circulated for years that Wynne sang something a little suggestive aka nasty in the middle of the track. Is it “hug” or is it the f-word? The controversial moment occurs at approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds into the song. Listen here, and judge for yourself.
Joan Osborne-I’ll Be Around (The Spinners cover)
The Spinners’ anthem of heartbreak, resignation, and desperation, “I’ll Be Around” (composed by Thom Bell and Phil Hurtt) is an absolute stunner ( now and forever). What elevates it into the realm of true specialness is Bobby Smith’s lead vocal, namely the way he sings “I’ll” as a two-syllable word: It is positively freakin’ iconic.
Joan Osborne has proven herself to be a pretty masterful interpreter. Her 2002 album How Sweet It Is is full of fabulously soulful covers including this handsomely understated version of “I’ll Be Around”. Joan’s cover exudes a different emotional vibe from the original. This is no sad goodbye, it is a warm embrace.
Lynda Carter and The Muppets-The Rubberband Man (The Spinners cover)
The 1976 #2 pop hit “The Rubberband Man” is both silly and life-affirmingly joyous. Philippé Wynne’s vocal is positively electric-elastic-fantastic ( And let’s add a bow of gratitude also for the group’s “Shoo-doop-doop-doop-doop-doop-do-do!”).
Lynda Carter was the star of the campy, classic Wonder Woman TV series and a true ’70s icon, celebrated on posters and gifted with five TV specials of her own, where she would sing and perform skits whilst looking extremely beautiful. As a result of her popularity and versatility, she often showed up as a guest on the nighttime variety shows that were dominating the TV airwaves back then. In 1980, she appeared on The Muppet Show and performed in an astonishingly literal and knowingly ridiculous interpretation of The Spinner’s most popular and beloved song, “The Rubberband Man”. She, Kermit, and the crew deliver it with genuine good humor (of course) but they are relegated to mere sidemen and extras once “The Rubberband Men” appear, and begin playing with, uh, themselves. “Hey y’all prepare yourself for the rubberband man” indeed.