Over the years, The Jones Girls have been compared favorably with such luminaries of soul music as The Emotions, The Three Degrees and The Supremes, and their backing vocals have graced albums by some of the biggest names in music, including Betty Everett, Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. The career of three sisters of Detroit, Michigan, Brenda, Valerie and Shirley Jones started back in the sixties, when they recorded for a small Detroit based Fortune label. After success eluded them at Fortune, they moved to the label formed by Holland-Dozier-Holland Hot Wax-Invictus towards the end of the sixties. Sadly, again sales of their records were slow, and this lead to The Jones Girls becoming session singers, where they’d work for some of the biggest stars in music.

After The Jones Girls spent much of their time working as backing singers, by 1973 they were signed to the Gemigo label, a subsidiary of Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom Records. Gemigo had been set up for Leroy Hutson’s work as arranger and producer and it was for Gemigo that they recorded If You Don’t Love Me No More. This single wasn’t particularly successful, but paved the way for the follow-up single Will You Be There, which proved fortuitous for The Jones Girls, albeit in a round about way. Although Will You Be There wasn’t a commercial success, Gil Askey who arranged the single, and was also working with Diana Ross. 

Gil Askey recommended The Jones Girls as backing singers for Diana Ross’ forthcoming tour. This lead to The Jones Girls working with Diana Ross for two years, and gave them valuable experience and publicity. Ironically, before embarking on the tour with Diana Ross, The Jones Girls had recorded an album for Curtom, but it was never released. One of the tracks, Hey Lucinda was released as a single, but failed to do as well for The Jones Girls as it did for Betty Everett. She recorded her vocal over The Jones Girls’ backing track, and the single gave Betty a hit single. After working with Diana Ross, The Jones Girls worked with Linda Clifford on her 1978 album If My Friends Could See Me Now, which was the most successful album of Linda’s career.  However, the two years they’d spent with Diana Ross, and working with a number of other artists helped The Jones Girls secure a contract with one of the biggest record labels of that time, Philadelphia International Records.

The Jones Girls recorded their first album entitled The Jones Girls for Philadelphia International Records in 1979. With Gamble and Huff contributing three songs for the album, and the Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs songwriting partnership contributing two songs, it seemed that some of the most creative people at Philadelphia International were working on the album. This extended to the production of the album with Gamble and Huff and Dexter Wansel all involved. On the album was a track that would give the sisters their first million selling single, You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else. The single reached number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 100, number five in the US R&B Charts and number twelve in the US Dance Charts. When The Jones Girls was released, it reached number fifty in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. After a million selling single and top ten US R&B album, The Jones Girls and everyone at Philadelphia International must have been overjoyed at the success of their latest signing.

A year later in 1980, The Jones Girls released their second album At Peace With Woman, which saw many of Philadelphia International biggest names collaborate on the album. Gamble and Huff contributed three songs, Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs two songs and Thom Bell and Linda Creed one song. Teddy Pendergrass, Lou Rawls, Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs all collaborated on one track, Let’s Celebrate (Sittin’ On Top of the World). Like their debut album, production duties were shared around with Gamble and Huff, Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs and Jack Faith all involved. The result of this all-star line-up and The Jones Girls was an album that reached number seven in the US R&B Charts and number ninety-six in the US R&B Charts. Two singles were released from the album, with Dance Turned Into A Romance reaching number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts while I Just Love the Man reached number nine in the US R&B Charts. Although the album hadn’t reached the same heights in the US Billboard 200, a top ten US R&B album and single must have pleased Brenda, Valerie and Shirley Jones, who after over ten years of trying, had seen their career finally reach the heights their talent deserved.

During 1981, The Jones Girls headed for the Sigma Sound Studios, Philadelphia, to record what would be their third album, Get As Much Love As You Can, which this article is about. As well as recording at Sigma Sound Studios, new producer, arranger and pianist McKinley Jackson recorded three tracks on the West Coast. These three tracks were ASAP (As Soon As Possible), Let’s Be Friends Then Lovers and The World Will Sing Our Song, all produced by McKinley. 

Back at Sigma Sound, the other five songs were recorded for the album, including a track that would become synonymous with The Jones Girls, Nights Over Egypt. Penned by Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs, Nights Over Egypt was released as the second single from the album in 1982, reaching number twenty-three in the US R&B Charts. Since then, Nights Over Egypt has become not only one of the most popular Jones Girls song, but one of the most popular songs in soul music, often featuring on radio and compilation albums. Incognito covered the song on their 1999 album No Time Like the Future and was released as a single. Later the song was remixed by Masters At Work, and became one of their classic remixes. However, regardless of cover versions, the definitive and best version of Nights Over Egypt is by The Jones Girls. 

Nights Over Egypt wasn’t the only single released from the album. It was preceded by (I Found) That Man of Mine reaching number twenty in the US R&B Charts. On the album’s release, it only reached number 155 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts, which was disappointing given the standard of material on the album. After the disappointment of the lack of success of Get As Much Love As You Can, and their failure to turn The Jones Girls into the major stars their talent deserved, Gamble and Huff and The Jones Girls decided to dissolve their recording contract by mutual consent. Upon leaving Philadelphia International, they signed to Victor Records where they’d release just one album.

Two years after the released of Get As Much Love As You Can, The Jones Girls released their fourth album in 1983. Entitled On Target, the album failed to reach the heights of their previous album, reaching just number fifty-nine in the US R&B Charts. The style of music on the album was dance-floor oriented and the myriad of synths and drum machines smothered Shirley’s vocals. Although this style of music wasn’t really suited to The Jones Girls it yielded two US R&B hit singles, with On Target reaching number forty-three and 2 Win U Back reaching number forty-seven. However, after the modest sales of the album, Victor chose not to offer The Jones Girls another contract. However, two familiar faces would reenter their lives, Gamble and Huff.

1984 saw The Jones Girls released their fourth album for Philadelphia International, after an absence of three years. Sadly, Keep It Comin’ an album with some fine music on it, reached just number 201 in the US Billboard 200. After just one album, The Jones Girls left Philadelphia International, and wouldn’t release another album for eight years.

The final album The Jones Girls released was Coming Back in 1992, on the ARP label. Like their previous album, Coming Back failed to enter the charts. After this, The Jones Girls returned to doing session work, before Shirley decided to pursue a solo career. In 1986, Shirley released the top ten US R&B album Always In the Mood. On the album was Do You Get Enough Love, which was released as a single. When it was released, it reached number one in the US R&B Charts. 

Although The Jones Girls only released six albums, the music they released on Philadelphia International demonstrates just how hugely talented Brenda, Valerie and Shirley Jones were. Of these six albums, my favourite is 1981s Get As Much Love As You Can, which i’ll now tell you about.

Get As Much Love As You Can opens (I Found) That Man of Mine, a Gamble and Huff penned track, which gave the sisters their biggest US R&B hit to date, number nine in the charts. It’s a mid-tempo dance track with piano, organ and rhythm section accompanying the sisters, before Shirley sings lead vocal. Their voices are sweet, while the catchy arrangement sweeps along with the organ, piano, swirling strings and rasping horns playing important parts in the arrangement. On guitar Cecil Womack, drenches the arrangement with his funky playing. As the sisters, sing tight harmonies, the punchy arrangement is punctuated by bursts of dramatic horns and organ over four minutes. This stomping arrangement, catchy and hook laden is the perfect backdrop for The Jones Girls to strut their stuff, and deliver their joyous and sometimes sassy vocals beautifully.

Like the opening track Get As Much Love As You Can is a Gamble and Huff track, written and produced by them, while Richard Rome arranges the track. It features a quite beautiful, thoughtful and heartfelt vocal from Shirley, while Brenda and Valerie contribute backing vocals, as the lushest of strings sweep, Cecil’s guitar chimes and a bass meanders gently, while flourishes of piano add to the emotion and drama. As the track progresses, Shirley demonstrates her huge talent as a vocalists, her powerful voice soaring, as she delivers a stunning lead vocal. Behind her, her sisters play their part, matching the emotion and beauty in Shirley’s voice. When Shirley’s vocal, her sisters harmonies and a beautiful arrangement from Richard Rome are combined, the result is a graceful and tender ballad, that’s one of the album’s highlights.

Probably the best known track on Get As Much Love As You Can is the seminal Nights Over Egypt. Written by Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs and arranged and produced by Dexter, it’s one of the most memorable songs The Jones Girls recorded. Even over thirty years later, it retains the magical, timeless sound it had back in 1980. Opening with a mystical, meandering introduction where a combination of synths, rhythm section, harp and acoustic piano combine. The funkiest of basses plays its part before the sisters unite to sing gentle, tight harmonies. Their voices grow in strength and power, as the the arrangement peaks, before giving way to a lush, almost mystical and exotic sound, before lush strings sweep and swirl, as the vocal rejoins. Jack Faith plays flute on the track, while gentle, rasping horns escape from Dexter’s sublime arrangement. By the end of the track, you realize that you’ve been fortunate enough to hear a classic track, one where a number of hugely talented people help The Jones Girls create a track that would become synonymous with them in years to come. 

Dexter Wansel and Cynthia Biggs cowrote Love Don’t Come Easy, while Dexter arranged and produced it. This was the final track on side one of the album, and like   Nights Over Egypt and (I Found) That Man of Mine, is a mid tempo track. It opens with Grover Washington playing soprano saxophone, while Leon Huff plays acoustic piano and Miguel Fuentes contributes percussion. After this gentle, introduction a slightly, jazzy but heartfelt vocal from Shirley enters, as she asks her lover never to leave her, to be loyal and never say goodbye. It’s accompanied by Valerie and Brenda who contribute harmonies, while Grover drenches the arrangement with his saxophone and strings sweep in. As the song progresses, it just gets even better, and the combination of Leon’s piano and Grover’s saxophone combine beautifully with the strings. They provide the perfect backdrop for Shirley’s gorgeous vocal, which brings out the best in the song’s lyrics, especially when sung against such a lovely arrangement.

SIde two of Love Don’t Come Easy opens ASAP (As Soon As Possible), a track Shirley cowrote with McKinley Jackson, and one of the tracks recorded on the West Coast. It’s another love song, with a lonely Shirley asking her estranged partner to come home as soon as possible, as they can’t live apart. She sings the lyrics against  a quicker, funk laden arrangement, where the rhythm section and blazing horns combine to drive the song in the direction marked funk. When the vocal enters, it’s sung in a near falsetto style, with the other sisters singing harmonies, during what becomes fast, funky dance track. The smooth, flowing and funky arrangement is very different from the previous tracks in style and sound. It features a driving rhythm section, chiming guitars, braying horns and a myriad of keyboards and synths that turn it into a hugely catchy, almost infectious track, with hooks aplenty.

After a very different sounding, but hugely catchy track, the style changes on a beautiful thoughtful ballad Let’s Be Friends (Then Lovers). It’s a much slower track, with a lovely vocal from a cautious Shirley, who sings about becoming friends first, and getting to know each other, before becoming lovers. Valerie and Brenda contribute gentle, backing vocals while the arrangement features slow, lush strings, piano and guitars, that are key to Gene Page’s arrangement. It has a slow, wistful sound, that builds and builds, reaching a dramatic, yet beautiful crescendo after five and a half magical minutes. 

The World Will Sing Our Song is the last in a trio of consecutive McKinley Jackson produced tracks, with Gene Page again arranging the track. This is by far, the fastest track on the album, but you wouldn’t realize when the track begins. It has a gentle almost Caribbean influence as the track opens with the rhythm section and guitars combining. When the vocal enters, the sisters combine to sing with a tender, sweet style, while swirling strings and percussion join the arrangement. It’s a gentle, lilting and pleasant track, made all the better by the inclusion of strings that accompany the vocals. Their inclusion combines well with the vocal and gives the track a lovely, lush sound that’s joyous and uplifting.

Love Don’t Come Easy closes with the third Gamble and Huff penned track You’re Breaking My Heart, a track they also produced, with Richard Rome arranging it. It has a sweeping arrangement, with the lushest of strings accompanying Leon Huff on piano, while Cecil Womack’s guitar chimes and the rhythm section provide the song’s gentle heartbeat. Atop the arrangement sits Shirley’s heartfelt, sad vocal as she pleads with her partner not to break her heart. Adding to the drama, are Brenda and Valerie’s harmonies and the drums, while strings, piano and guitar add to the emotion and heartbreak. This results in one of the saddest and emotive songs on the album, thanks to Shirley’s vocal and the interplay between her sisters. Add to that Richard Rome’s sweeping and dramatic arrangement, and it’s the perfect way to end what has been a great album from three hugely talented sisters from Detroit, The Jones Girls.

I’ve long been a fan of The Jones Girls music, and out of the six albums they released, Love Don’t Come Easy is my favorite. It’s an album with a wide range of different styles of music, everything from heartbreaking ballads like You’re Breaking My Heart and Get As Much Love As You Can, to the seminal, almost mystical Nights Over Egypt and the infectiously funky, dance-floor friendly ASAP (As Soon As Possible). Add to this the Gamble and Huff penned US R&B hit single (I Found) That Man of Mine, and you begin to realize that this is an album long on quality and short on filler. There are neither any bad tracks or filler here, just eight great tracks from three hugely talented sisters from Detroit, Michigan, Brenda, Valerie and Shirley Jones, who together were The Jones Girls. With the help of Gamble and Huff, Dexter Wansel and Mckinley Jackson, they released a great album in Love Don’t Come Easy, which sadly, wasn’t the commercial success it deserved to be. With so many great songs on the album, it deserved to do so much better than number 155 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-five in the US R&B Charts. Sadly, as regular readers of this blog will know, great music doesn’t always equate to commercial success. Although over thirty years old, Get As Much As You Can still sounds great, with some of the songs on the album having a timeless quality. On the album, Shirley Jones demonstrates just how talented a vocalist she is, handling the slow ballads as comfortably as the quicker dance tracks. With the help of Brenda and Valerie’s harmonies, the three sisters produced music that rivalled groups like The Emotions, Three Degrees and The Supremes. That Jones Girls never found the fame and fortune of these groups is almost unjust. Nowadays, groups with only a modicum of the talent that The Jones Girls had, sell millions of records, and that seems equally unfair. However, unlike these groups,  The Jones Girls’ their legacy is some wonderful music which is both brilliant and timeless, and cherished by their many fans worldwide. If you’ve never heard Love Don’t Come Easy, you can now buy it as part of a two album set released on one disc by Edsel. As well as Love Don’t Come Easy, you also get Keep It Comin’, The Jones Girls 1984 album on Philadelphia International. This allows you Valerie, Brenda and Shirley Jones, who were The Jones Girls, at their very best. Standout Tracks: (I Found) That Man of Mine, Get As Much Love As You Can, Nights Over Egypt and You’re Breaking My Heart.


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