After their two previous albums 1973s Spinners and Mighty Love released in 1974, had reached number one in the US R&B Charts, resulting in both albums being certified gold, when The Detroit Spinners released New and Improved, in December 1974, they hoped to make this a trio of US R&B number one albums. Since Thom Bell had been guiding the group’s career, there had been an upturn in their fortunes. Now they were on a hot streak, where seemingly nothing could go wrong for them. Could what was their fifth album, New and Improved, continue the run of US R&B number one albums?

New and Improved was recorded at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where so many hit singles and albums were recorded. A total of eight tracks were recorded, with Dionne Warwick joining the group on Them Came You. Joseph B. Jefferson cowrote three songs on the album with Bruce Hawkes and Charles Simmons, while the Linda Creed and Thom Bell songwriting partnership contributed two songs. One of these was Living A Little, Laughing A Little which was the second single released from New and Improved. Backing The Detroit Spinners were members of M.F.S.B., Bob Babbit bassist of the Funk Brothers, Jack Faith arranger and producer at Philadelphia International who played flute and alto saxophone. With such a stellar band of musicians backing them, Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith, Phillipe Wynne, Henry Fambrough and Pervis Jackson soon completed their fifth album. Would New and Improved match the success of its two predecessors?

New and Improved was released in December 1974, reaching number nine in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts and was certified gold. This was the group’s first album to enter the US Billboard 200. Three singles were released from the album. Then Came You, which features Dionne Warwick the first single released from New and Improved, reaching number one in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts. Living A Little, Laughing A Little was the second single, reaching number thirty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number seven in the US R&B Charts. The final single was Sadie, which reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number seven in the US R&B Charts. So, New and Improved was not only a critically acclaimed, but a huge commercial success, matching the success of their two previous albums. However, does it sound as good as its two predecessors Spinners and Mighty Love?

Sitting On Top of the World is the track that opens New and Improved. This is the first of a trio of tracks co-written by Joseph B. Jefferson, Bruce Hawkes and Charles Simmons. Shivering, swirling strings, piano and rhythm section combine to create a dramatic and powerful introduction. After this, the tender and thoughtful lead vocal from Bobby Smith enters, while the rest of the group sing harmonies. While the drums provide the track’s heartbeat, flourishes of piano combine with strings to create a dramatic backdrop for the vocal. Later, subtle and gentle backing vocalists that include Linda Creed, Barbara Ingram Carla Benson and Evette Benton enter, providing a musical contrast, and combining beautifully with the lead vocal and accompanying harmonies, resulting in a beautiful song bathed in emotion, that evokes a sense of pathos.

Smile While We Have Each Other in the second of the trio of Joseph B. Jefferson, Bruce Hawkes and Charles Simmons penned tracks. This songwriting partnership contributed six of the eight tracks on their previous album Mighty Love. Here, they contribute another quality track. It opens with just piano, then bass and harp before the drums and sad strings enter. When Billy’s vocal enters, it’s a pensive, thoughtful delivery of the lyrics he gives. Then, when the harmonies enter and combine with the quivering strings this highlights this only seeks to amplify the underlying sense of sadness in the song. The lyrics focus on the temporary sense of a relationship, one  that’s struggling, where mistrust and suspicion are prevalent, with one partner not knowing what the other is doing. Thom Bell’s use of slow, drums, where dramatic pauses are used adds to an stunning arrangement, made all the better by a vocal where sadness and emotion are prevalent throughout the track.

Then Came You sees Dionne Warwick join The Detroit Spinners and sings a duet with Bobby Smith. Against an arrangement that combines elements of Philly Soul with a sprinkling of funk that track is quick, joyful and hook laden. With searing wah-wah guitars, swirling, sweeping strings and piano, the track literally bursts into life, with Bobby and Dionne delivering Sherman Marshall and Phillip Pugh’s lyrics with a combination of emotion, joy and passion. Here, the drumming is stunning, a combination of power and drama, and when combined with bursts of rasping horns, lush strings and piano, this is easily, one of the best arrangements on New and Improved. Meanwhile, Dionne rolls back the years, delivering a vintage vocal, while Bobby Smith is spurred on to even greater heights, combining beautifully, and quite brilliantly, with Dionne and a stunning Thom Bell arrangement on one of the album’s highlights.

Closing side one of New and Improved is There’s No One Like You, which has a beautiful introduction when chiming guitars, combine with piano, harp and rhythm section before lush strings sweep in. Then, when Bobby’s tender and gentler vocal enters, it’s accompanied by backing vocalists and the rest of the group. The lead vocal changes hands, while the subtle harmonies are gorgeous. Drums add bursts of drama, while strings and harp combine effectively, and are augmented by short bursts of horns. When combined with Bobby’s beautiful gentle vocal, the result is a gorgeous track, and the perfect way to close side one of the album.

Side two of New and Improved opens with the first of two Thom Bell and Linda Creed tracks Living A Little, Laughing A Little, which was the second single released from the album. A piano plays slowly and slightly dramatically, before guitars, a flourish of harp and rhythm section enter. They give way to sad strings and brief bursts of horns. It’s only then that Bobby’s lead vocal enters, before changing hands quickly. Quickly, the song starts to build, while backing vocalists, quivering strings and harp combine behind them. However, when the song starts to move up a gear that you realize how good a track this is. It takes a while to get going, but when it eventually unfolds and reveals itself, it’s a track full of emotion and drama.

Guitars chime, before the piano enters, as Sadie begins. It’s another song laden with emotion and featuring a lovely understated Thom Bell arrangement. While guitars reverberate, the rhythm section plays thoughtfully while a piano plays a vital role in the arrangement. With backing vocalists sympathetically accompanying Bobby’s heartfelt vocal, guitars almost weep in sadness at the song’s beautiful lyrics. Although the arrangement is the most complex on the album, it’s a fitting and sympathetic accompaniment to the vocal. It allows the vocal and therefore the lyrics to shine and take centre-stage.

The second Thom Bell and Linda Creed track is Lazy Susan, which sees piano and chiming guitars combine, before the arrangement quickly grows. Drums dramatically punctuate the track, combining with blazing horns and swirling strings. They give way to the lead vocal about a beautiful, free-spirited woman, whose voice and beauty almost mesmerises and hypnotizes men. Meanwhile, Bobby delivers the lead vocal with passion and enthusiasm, the rest of the group contribute tight harmonies. This they do against a backdrop where dramatic drums, strings and horns all play vital roles in Thom Bell’s excellent arrangement.

New and Improved closes with I’ve Got To Make It On My Own, an uptempo track. It has a classic Thom Bell arrangement, where sweeping, swirling strings, rhythm section and piano, combine with guitars and rasping horns, before Bobby’s thoughtful yet determined lead vocal enters. He’s unwilling to rely on anyone to help him, instead wants to make his own way in life. With backing vocalists augmenting the group’s harmonies, the lush swirling strings are key to the track’s hugely catchy arrangement. Bursts of rasping horns, a tight rhythm section and flourishes of harp all play their part on one of the best arrangements on the album. This joyful, uplifting and uptempo arrangement is Thom Bell at his very best. He brings out the very best in the Detroit Spinners, on a fantastic track laden with emotion and passion.

Like their two previous albums, Spinners and Mighty Love, New and Improved, saw The Detroit Spinners fifth album, reach number one in the US R&B Charts and saw it certified gold. Not only that, but it became their first album to enter the top ten in the US Billboard 200. Sadly, this run of number one US R&B albums was broken with their next studio album Pick of the Litter, which only reached number two. However, it still sold enough copies to be certified gold, like Happiness Is Being With The Spinners. During this incredible spell, The Detroit Spinners were one of the most successful groups in soul music. This isn’t surprising given how talented a group they were, the quality of songs they had available to them and the musicians who accompanied them. The other factor was producer Thom Bell. One wonders what would’ve happened if The Detroit Spinners hadn’t teamed up with Thom Bell? Would they have found anything like the success they did, or would they have continued to struggle like they had before meeting him? Personally, I think Thom Bell was vital to The Detroit Spinners success, and although they may have had some success, it took Thom Bell to transform them into multi-million selling soul superstars. New and Improved was just the latest in a series of stunning albums from The Detroit Spinners. This started with Spinners took in Mighty Love, New and Improved, Pick of the Litter and Happiness Is Being With The Spinners. Each of these five albums feature some of the best music The Detroit Spinners ever recorded in their long and illustrious career. Standout Tracks: Then Came You, There’s No One Like You, Lazy Susan and I’ve Got To Make It On My Own.


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