Previously, I’ve reviewed a trio of The Detroit Spinners albums, starting with the first  album Thom Bell produced for the group, Spinners, released in April 1973 on Atlantic Records. This was the first album in a series of classic albums from The Detroit Spinners that started in 1973 and lasted until 1976. Starting with their third album Spinners, which reached number fourteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Spinners was the first of five albums being certified gold. Following Spinners, I reviewed Mighty Love, released in March 1974, which reached number sixteen in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. The previous Detroit Spinners I reviewed was New and Improved, their fifth and most successful album. It reached number nine in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B Charts. Pick of the Litter would follow in August 1975, and is perceived as the last of the quartet of classic albums produced by Thom Bell. 

Pick of the Litter was recorded at the Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia, where so many classic albums were recorded. With Bobby Eli playing guitar, Funk Brother Bob Babbit playing bass and M.F.S.B.’s horns and strings arranged by Don Renaldo on Pick of the Litter, it was an album that featured a number of creative people. Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Yvette Benton contributed backing vocals, while Dionne Warwick contributed a vocal on Just As Long As We Have Love. Like the three previous albums by The Detroit Spinners, Thom Bell produced the album and cowrote two songs, one with his regular songwriting partner Linda Creed. Of the other six tracks, Charles Simmons, Bruce Hawkes and Joseph B. Jefferson cowrote a trio of tracks, while Vinnie Barrett cowrote two tracks, one with Bobby Eli. Overall, some hugely talented singers, songwriters, musicians and producer all contributed towards Pick Of the Litter? Would it match the success of their three previous albums?

On the release of Pick Of the Litter in August 1975, the album reached number eight in the US Billboard 200 and number two in the US R&B Charts, resulting in the fourth consecutive gold disc for The Detroit Spinners. Two singles were released from the album, with Games People Play reaching number five in the US Billboard 100 and number one in the US R&B Charts, while the track reached number two in the UK. Love Or Leave, the second single released from the album reached number thirty-six in the US Billboard 200 and number eight in the US R&B Charts. Overall, Pick Of the Litter had been a success, critically acclaimed on its release, and a commercial success. Not only that, but Pick Of the Litter is seen as the last classic album released by The Detroit Spinners. After this, although they’d release some great albums, none of them would match the success of Pick Of the Litter, which I’ll now tell you about.

Pick Of the Litter opens with Honest I Do, co-written by Thom Bell, Sherman Marshall and Phillip Pugh. It’s a track that has a real “Spinners” sound, and features a stunning arrangement from Thom Bell. Dramatic drums, percussion and Bobby Eli’s chiming guitars give way to swirling, sweeping strings and piano during a quite brilliant and dramatic introduction to this uptempo and uplifting track. Then, Bobby Smith’s emotive and beautiful vocal enters, while the other Spinners and backing vocalists accompany him. Meanwhile, punchy drums, lush strings, percussion, harp and guitars combine. Together, they create the perfect backdrop for Bobby’s vocal as he sings about loneliness and love. With Thom Bell producing the track, the result is easily one of Pick Of the Litter’s highlights.

I Don’t Want To Lose You has a very different sound. Gone is the fuller, uptempo and dramatic arrangement, replaced with a more gentle, subtle sound. Accompanied by a piano, lush sad strings and drums Bobby’s vocal has a tenderness and sadness. The tempo is slower, but the arrangement is still beautiful Shimmering strings, flourishes of harp, percussion and piano, accompany drums and backing vocalists as Bobby sings about not want to lose his partner and how he loves her as she is. Although much slower, with a more understated arrangement, this is a really beautiful, heartfelt song, with a gorgeous vocal from Bobby Smith.

The tempo increases and it’s a much fuller arrangement on Love Or Leave, one of two singles released from Pick Of the Litter. Written by Charles Simmons, Bruce Hawkes and Joseph B. Jefferson, Thom Bell arranges the track with a much louder, fuller and dramatic arrangement. Searing, soaring guitars, piano and blazing horns open the track, while swirling, sweeping strings give way to Bobby’s vocal. It’s louder and stronger, while the rest of the group and backing vocalists accompany his vocal. Swathes of strings, punchy drums, piano and rasping horns provide a backdrop for Bobby to powerfully deliver his ultimatum “love me or leave me.” Like the backing vocalists, the arrangement rises and falls dramatically. This adds to the emotion and power of this fantastic track, that like the opening track, is one Pick Of the Litter’s highlights.

Closing Side One of Pick Of the Litter is the mid-tempo Sweet Love of Mine co-written by Vinnie Barrett and Bobby Eli. When the track opens, the sound is dark and dramatic. This changes slightly when a harp briefly enters, followed by drums that play slowly and subtly. When Bobby’s vocal enters, it’s full of sadness and heartache, his girlfriend having left him. Behind him, the other Spinners sing harmonies, while the strings and piano contribute to the sad sounding arrangement, as Bobby sings of his love for his girlfriend. Although it’s really sad sounding track, it’s quite beautiful. Both the arrangement and vocal have a similar sad sound, that’s quite irresistible.

Side Two of Pick Of the Litter opens with All That Glitter’s Ain’t Gold. It opens with a searing guitar solo, rhythm section and percussion, before the strings sweep in and the track really unfolds. Bobby’s vocal is louder and quicker, while arrangement is catchy, with its bursts of blazing horns, swirling strings, searing guitars. As the song progresses, the arrangement quickens, the sound growing almost frenzied and much more powerful. Meanwhile the other Spinners contribute tight harmonies, while Bobby’s voice grows in strength and power, like the arrangement. Although quite different from other tracks, it’s still got the same quality as the previous tracks. It also demonstrates the versatility of The Detroit Spinners and the musicians who played on the track, as well as producer Thom Bell’s ability to produce such a wide range of tracks.

It’s a very different sound that features on You Made A Promise To Me, a much slower track with a much more understated arrangement. With just piano, percussion and drums accompanying Bobby’s vocal, he sings the lyrics with a combination of tenderness and sadness. This sadness is caused by his girlfriend cheating on him. Adding to the sad sound are the strings that sweep slowly in, while drums add a touch of drama. However, it’s Bobby’s vocal that takes centre-stage as he sings with a tinge of sadness and regret this bittersweet but beautiful track written by Charles Simmons, Bruce Hawkes and Joseph B. Jefferson.

Games People Play gave The Detroit Spinners a number one single. The tempo is slow, with swathes of lush strings, piano and rhythm section accompanying Bobby and a female vocalisr, before the vocal changes hands, the Spinners sharing the lead vocal. The female vocal has a tenderness, while the way the vocal is arranged gives the track a lovely old fashioned sound and feel. So too does the rasping horns, sweeping strings and piano solo. The track just floats along, strings shimmering and shivering, while the group sing some lovely harmonies. Listening to this track, it’s no wonder it was such a huge success when released as a single, after all, it’s The Detroit Spinners at their very best.

Closing Pick Of the Litter is another slow track, Just As Long As We Have Love. A woodwind solo, gives way to sad strings, flourishes of harp and a slow, thoughtful rhythm section as the lead vocal enters, before changing hands. Enveloped in swathes of the lushest strings, Bobby sings about how they might not have much materially, but they’ve got love. Dionne Warwick contributes a vocal to this track, her vocal emotive and gentle, as it floats high above the beautiful arrangement. She plays a large part in the success of this track, really adding to its quality. As the songs heads towards it’s close, the arrangement marries emotion and drama, with the string playing an important part in this slow, sad and quite beautiful track that brings The Detroit Spinners sixth album to a close.

Like the trio of other albums by The Detroit Spinners that I’ve reviewed, Pick Of the Litter is another stunning album full of some quality music. Sadly, Pick Of the Litter was the last really consistent album from The Detroit Spinners. After Pick Of the Litter, although they continued to produce some quality music, the consistency wasn’t quite there. Pick Of the Litter, like the three albums that preceded it Spinners,  Mighty Love and New and Improved, all produced by Thom Bell was the last in a quartet of classic albums from the group. On Pick Of the Litter, like its three predecessors, The Detroit Spinners are in fine voice, with Bobby Smith’s lead vocal and the rest of the group’s harmonies merging seamlessly. Providing the backdrop for their vocals were members of M.F.S.B., Funk Brother Bob Babbit, while Barbara Ingram, Carla Benson and Yvette Benton contributed backing vocals. Making a guest appearance on Pick Of the Litter was Dionne Warwick, whose beautiful vocal graces the Pick Of the Litter’s final track Just As Long As We Have Love. What helped make the album so good, was the standard of songwriting, which featured a trio of tracks from the Charles Simmons, Bruce Hawkes and Joseph B. Jefferson songwriting partnership. So, overall, Pick Of the Litter was a quality album, by The Detroit Spinners, the last of four classic albums produced by Thom Bell. With Thom Bell’s help, The Detroit Spinners’ fortunes were transformed, turning the into one of the biggest and most successful soul groups of the seventies. Standout Tracks: Honest I Do, Love Or Leave, Pick Of the Litter and You Made A Promise To Me.


1 Comment

  1. russ barnes

    I have being researching who the female vocal is in Games People Play. Is it Barbara Ingram? I have been getting different answers in my search. Do you know for sure? Wiki says its Barbara. Thanks.

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