LOOSE ENDS-A LITTLE SPICE.
LOOSE ENDS-A LITTLE SPICE.
After Carl McIntosh, Jane Eugene and Steve Nichol founded Loose Ends in 1981, the group went on to record five albums between 1984 and 1990. During this time, they also released nearly twenty singles, two of which Hanging On A String(Contemplating) in 1985 and Slow Down in 1986 reached number one in the US R&B Charts. Loose Ends’ fusion of Philly soul and London R&B, lead to the band becoming one of the biggest UK soul and R&B groups. Their music was just as popular on both sides of the Atlantic during this period. Although best known for the 1985 hit Hanging On A String(Contemplating), there’s much more to Loose Ends’ music than just one single. They were signed to Virgin Records in 1981, releasing a trio of singles before they released their debut album A Little Spice, which was rereleased by SoulMusic.com in November 2011. However, before I tell you about their debut album, I’ll tell you about Loose Ends’ career up until the release of A Little Spice.
When Steve Nichol and Jane Eugene met at a party at The Guildhall School of Music in 1981, the pair decided to form a group. Steve a keyboard player, was a talented music student, influenced by Herbie Hancock and The Crusaders, while Jane would become the vocalist. Together they started writing songs, while the group had grown to include about nine members. It was then Steve and Jane realized they needed another member, a bass player. That’s where Carl McIntosh came in. Having auditioned a number of bass players, they realized that Carl was the one straight away. Not only did he play bass, but he could also play guitar. That was the clincher, and Loose End was born. After that, the rest of the group were fired, with Loose End becoming a trio. However, this original name had to be changed, when a company of the same name threatened the group with a lawsuit. So an s was added, and the group would become Loose Ends.
Quickly, Loose End were signed to Virgin Records by Mick Clark who worked in A&R for Virgin. Straight away, Mick spotted the group’s potential, signing them on a singles deal. After much deliberation, Chris and Eddie Ammoo of Real Thing were chosen as producers. Their debut single was In the Sky, which failed to chart. The follow-up was We’ve Arrived, written and produced James George Hargreaves and Tony Ajagbe. It too, failed to chart. By then, the group had been forced to change their name from Loose End to Loose Ends, after a company with the same name threatened the group with a lawsuit. Now called Loose Ends came their third single.
Next in the producer’s chair for single number three was Peter Walsh, who previously produced Heatwave, Simple Minds and Beggar and Co. The song chosen was Don’t Hold Back Your Love, which like its predecessors, failed to chart. This meant Virgin had to stick or twist, as they’d an option to sign Loose Ends for an album. Luckily they did, and that album would become A Little Spice.
Having had three separate producers for their first three singles, producer number four would enter. Nick Martinelli was based in Philadelphia, and previously, had produced for the WMOT label. Mick Clark at Virgin had one of Nick’s productions, Brandi Wells’ Brandi album and loved the production. So contact was made between Virgin and Nick Martinelli, with the result being Loose Ends were heading Philly bound.
With ten tracks written by Loose Ends, it was up to Nick Martinelli to work his magic with the group. Recording took place at the Alpha Studios in Philadelphia. This was familiar territory for Nick, where he’d record his earliest albums, right through to the albums he recorded for Philly World Records. Nick had assembled some great session players for the recording of what would become A Little Spice. On guitar was Herb Smith, bassist Ron Jennings, saxophonist Bobby Malach while Dr. Gibbs sprinkled percussion throughout the album. With these session players accompanying Loose Ends, the ten tracks were recorded. Now that their debut album A Little Spice was recorded, all that was left was for its release.
On the release of A Little Spice in 1984, it reached number forty-six in the UK. When the album was released in the US in 1985, it reached number forty-six in the US Billboard 200, while reaching number five in the US R&B Charts. In total, three singles were released from A Little Spice. The first was Tell Me What You Want, which reached number seventy-four in the UK. Emergency (Dial 999) the second single, reached number forty-one in the UK. Choose Me (Rescue Me), the final single reached number fifty-nine in the UK and number forty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Overall, A Little Spice, with Nick Martinelli’s producing saw the group realize the potential Mick Clark saw in Loose Ends. However, what does A Little Spice sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.
Opening A Little Spice is the first single from the album Tell Me What You Want. It’s a combination of drums, keyboards and percussion that open the track, giving way to Carl’s impassioned vocal. Behind him, a rocky guitar sizzles across the arrangement, before Jane takes over the lead vocal. Her vocal has a sweet sound, which contrasts to the emotion and passion of Carl’s. Providing another contrast is the dramatic, rocky guitar. Overall the arrangement is quick and catchy, fusing R&B and soul with an eighties twist. This is perfectly suited to the vocals and signifies the next chapter in Loose Ends’ career, from where they’d eventually conquer the UK and US.
Feel So Right Now is one of the best tracks on A Little Spice. It sees Loose Ends drop the tempo way down to 83 beats per minute. A jazz tinged introduction opens with just a jazzy guitar weaving its way across the arrangement, as percussion, drums and keyboards enter. Then, the subtle vocals enters, before Jane delivers the vocal with a tenderness. When Carl enters, he sings call and response with Jane, while the arrangement meanders beautifully and subtly along. As the guitars chime, keyboards drift in and out, while drums are played carefully. Truly, it’s a gorgeous track, with beautiful vocal and an understated arrangement. Taken together, it’s a stunning combination, one of the highlights of A Little Spice.
With a title like Let’s Rock, it doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination to say that this track will be very different to its predecessor. Percussion, bursts of punchy horns and vocal, give way to crisp drums, as the tempo hits 120 beats per minute. As the vocals enter, Carl sings lead, while keyboards, drums and bass provide the backdrop. When they unite, they demonstrate their considerable vocal talents. Later, the arrangement takes on an eighties sound, combining funk, electro and soul. Synths, a vocoder and drum machines are used, while effects are used on some of the vocals and the track takes on a dramatic, frenzied sound. Although the track has a real eighties sound, it has aged well as Loose Ends combine three musical genres in one song.
When So Much Love opens, the tempo drops slightly, as Loose Ends take another opportunity to demonstrate just how talented vocalists they were. After punchy, eighties drums enter, keyboards augment their sound, adding bright, joyful sound. Then, when Jane’s vocal enters, it’s a combination of emotion, passion and beauty. Her vocal is answered by Carl, whose vocal sounds just as emotional. These vocals draw you in, you listen intently to the lyrics as the song reveals its charm and beauty. The arrangement doesn’t overpower the vocal, instead it’s sympathetic to them. It’s just keyboards and drums that drive the track along, allowing you to concentrate on the emotive, heartfelt vocals, on another beautiful track from Loose Ends.
(Emergency) Dial 999 was the second single from A Little Spice, and to me, is the best of the trio of singles. From the opening bars, you realize the song is something special. The tempo is quick as the combination of rhythm section and keyboards open the track. With the bass line prominent, drums pound and keyboards add flourishes of drama, quickly the track reveals its delights. When Jane’s vocal enters, it’s delivered first softly and sweetly, before becoming a combination of a passion, power and drama. Meanwhile the bass and drums pound prominently, while flourishes of keyboards drift in and out of the arrangement. What makes this the standout track from A Little Spice are an arrangement that’s a seamless combination of soul and funk, and of course Jane’s dramatic and impassioned vocal.
Music Takes Me Higher is the fourth of six tracks co-written by the three members of Loose Ends, with this one of three tracks written in America. It’s very different from the previous tracks, with its laid0back, shimmering and meandering arrangement that combines soul and jazz. Opening with the rhythm section, before a chiming, jazzy guitar, percussion and keyboards combine. Then as Jane’s vocal enters, it’s stronger and soulful, as she adds some drama to her delivery. Quickly, the vocal changes hands, becoming gentler and more subtle. Jane’s vocal is powerful, while the arrangement winds its way behind her, mixing jazz and soul seamlessly. While the track is quite different from other tracks, this is another of the highlights of A Little Spice, with its laid back sound and feel-good vibe.
Choose Me (Rescue Me) is a track that combines eighties sounding keyboards with jazzy horns and flourishes of keyboards. Add to this a mid-tempo arrangement and a heartfelt, inviting, almost desperate vocal from Jane as she pleas for someone to “rescue me.” Meanwhile, Carl and Steve contribute backing vocals, before, the sultriest of saxophone solos drifts above the arrangement. Accompanying the saxophone are keyboards and the rhythm section, which augment this sultry sound. Why this track stalled at number fifty-nine in the UK Charts is beyond me, given its sultry sound and pleading vocal from Jane. Together, they’re an irresistible combination.
Closing A Little Spice is the title track A Little Spice is a compelling, mostly instrumental track. It’s a jazz tinged samba, with a mid-tempo arrangement. The track gradually reveals a myriad of Spanish guitar, percussion and keyboards, while Steve plays trumpet and Donald Robinson flute. Steve’s rasping, soaring trumpet solo. It gives way to Jane’s sweet vocal which makes a brief and welcome appearance. It’s accompanied by punchy backing vocalists as the track and Loose Ends’ debut album heads towards a beautiful Latin tinged ending.
Revisiting Loose Ends’ debut album A Little Spice brings back memories of nearly thirty years ago, when they combined their own unique combination of Philly soul and UK R&B. With tracks like Tell Me What You Want, When So Much Love and (Emergency) Dial 999 plus the two slower tracks Feel So Right Now and Music Takes Me Higher, A Little Spice is a combination of uptempo tracks and some beautiful slow tracks. Add to this the Latin tinged A Little Spice, then Loose Ends debut album A Little Spice was a highly accomplished and polished fusion of Philly soul and UK R&B. This was just the first step on a musical journey that would see Loose Ends become one of the biggest UK R&B bands of the eighties, resulting in two US R&B number one singles and four further successful albums. While the trio of singles released from A Little Spice were commercially successful, Loose Ends world would be turned upside down when they released their second album So Where Are You Now? This would contain one of their best known and most memorable track, Hangin’ On A String (Contemplating) which would give Loose Ends their first US R&B number one single. That was all still to come, and would help cement their reputation as one of the UK’s biggest R&B groups. However, the album that launched Loose Ends’ career was A Little Spice, which was rereleased by by SoulMusic.com in November 2011, allowing us to rediscover the magical music of Loose Ends again. Standout Tracks: Tell Me What You Want, (Emergency) Dial 999, Feel So Right Now and Music Takes Me Higher.
LOOSE ENDS-A LITTLE SPICE.