It’s almost ironic that when The Whispers released Bingo in 1974, which was arguably the best album of their career so far, its success was derailed by a lack of promotion. Bingo was The Whispers’ fourth album, and their first foray outside of their native California. It also saw a change of producer. Their three previous albums had been produced by Ron Carson. For Bingo, The Whispers headed to Philly, where they were given a Philly Sound makeover. Producing Bingo were Baker, Harris, Young, the legendary rhythm section, who had moved into production. They produced ten of the tracks on Bingo, an album which was Philly made. Each of the eleven tracks were written, arranged and produced by Philly’s finest and featured the classic lineup of M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house band. Before I tell you about Bingo, I’ll tell you about The Whispers career up till then.
The Whispers had formed in Watts, Los Angeles in 1964, when twin brothers Walter and Wallace “Scotty” Scott joined forces with Nicholas Caldwell, Marcus Hutson and Gordy Harmon .In 1973, there was a change to The Whispers’ lineup. Gordy Harmon left The Whispers. He was replaced by New Orleans born Leavill Degree, who previously, had been a member of The Friends of Distinction. This was the lineup that featured on 1974s Bingo. That would be nine years after The Whispers released their debut single.
A year after The Whispers were formed, they released their debut single The Dip. I Was Born When You Kissed Me was then released in 1966 and Needle In A Haystack in 1967. These three singles were released on the Dore label. After leaving Dore, The Whispers released a series of singles on Soul Clock.
Between 1969 and 1970 The Whispers were signed to the Soul Clock label. The released a series of singles, including This Time Will Come and Remember in 1969, with Planets of Life, I’m the One and Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong released in 1970. After releasing these singles on Soul Clock, Where Have You Been was released on Roker Records. The next step for The Whispers was signing to Janus, where they’d release four albums between 1972 and 1974.
Now signed to Janus, The Whispers released their debut album in 1972. The Whispers Love Story was released in 1972, reaching number 186 in the US Billboard 200 and number thirty-four in the US R&B Charts. Life and Breath was The Whispers’ sophomore album, released in 1972. It reached number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. 1973s Planets of Life then reached number forty-eight in the US R&B Charts. Although these three albums had charted, the commercial success The Whispers enjoyed, didn’t match their talent. For The Whispers fourth album, which became Bingo, it was decided a new producer was needed. Maybe this would see a change in fortune for The Whispers.
With The Whispers having travelled from Los Angeles to Philly, work began on their fourth album Bingo. Bingo was an album written and recorded in Philly. Of the eleven tracks on Bingo, Norman Harris cowrote seven tracks on Bingo, four with Allan Felder and Bunny Sigler. These were A Mother For My Children, Someone’s Waiting, the title-track Bingo and God Gave Me Everything. Norman also cowrote What More Can A Girl Ask For and Broken Home with Allan Felder and cowrote Will You Be Mine with Ron Baker, who wrote Once More With Feeling. The Sigler Brothers Bunny and Jimmy cowrote Little Red Riding Hood with Allan Felder, while Allan and Bunny cowrote Don’t Take Your Love with Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey. Where There Is Love which was penned by the songwriting team of Bruce Hawkes, Charles Simmons and Joseph B. Jefferson, was the other track on Bingo. Recording of Bingo would take place at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios in Philly.
Joining the five members of The Whispers were the classic lineup of M.F.S.B, Philadelphia International Records’ legendary house band. This included This included a rhythm section of Baker, Harris, Young and guitarist Bobby “Electronic” Eli. They were joined by vibes virtuoso, Vince Montana Jr, Larry Washington on congas and pianist Bunny Sigler. Add to that Don Renaldo’s Swinging Strings and Horns. This all-star lineup of musicians provided the backdrop for the twin lead vocals of Walter and Wallace “Scotty” Scott. Once Bingo was recorded, it was released in 1974.
On the release of Bingo, the album suffered from a lack of promotion. The Whispers’ record label, Janus, failed to promote the album properly. This meant what was meant as a new start for The Whispers, saw Bingo stall at number forty in the US R&B Charts. Four singles were released from Bingo during 1974. A Mother For My Children reached number ninety-two in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-two in the US R&B Charts. The title-track Bingo then reached number forty in the US R&B Charts. What More Can A Girl Ask For then reached number sixty in the US R&B Charts. Where There Is Love then reached number fifteen in the US Dance Charts. Although Bingo featured three minor hit singles and proved to be The Whispers most successful album since their 1972 debut album The Whispers Love Story, this wasn’t enough for Janus. Following Bingo, The Whispers left Janus. This seems ironic. After all, it wasn’t The Whispers fault Bingo had been badly promoted. However, at least Bingo saw The Whispers leave Janus on a high, as you’ll realize, when I tell you about Bingo.
Opening Bingo is A Mother For My Children, produced by Baker, Harris, Young and Bunny Sigler. It’s an uptempo start to Bingo, with keyboards, swirling strings, growling horns and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm creating a pulsating heartbeat. When the vocal enters, it’s quick, emotive and filled with hurt and despair. Punchy harmonies sweep in, as if sympathising with the plight of two motherless children. The interplay between The Whispers is peerless, driving each other to greater heights of emotion and soulfulness. Meanwhile, horns rasp, strings dance and the rhythm section create an uptempo, sometimes dramatic backdrop. Drama comes courtesy of Earl Young’s drums, while Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and keyboards provide a subtle contrast. Together, M.F.S.B. and The Whispers prove a potent musical partnership. It’s no surprise that this was the most successful single released from Bingo. What is a surprise, is a track so emotive, hook-laden and soulful wasn’t a much bigger commercial success.
Plucked strings and a subtle sprinkling or percussion open Someone’s Waiting. The tempo is much slower and Baker, Harris, Young’s arrangement much more understated. As the heartfelt vocal enters, just a subtle rhythm section, driven along by Ron Baker’s bass, joins Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, lush strings and gently, rasping strings. Soon the drama in Walter’s vocal grows, matched by the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, grizzled horns and stabs of piano. Harmonies match the vocal for hope and emotion. They’re tender, beautiful and heartfelt, cascading, a perfect match for the drama and beauty created by M.F.S.B and the vocal. This results on one of the most moving, heartfelt and dramatic songs on Bingo.
Will You Be Mine was written by Ron Baker and Norman Harris, with Baker, Harris, Young producing the track. Layers of Don Renaldo’s strings and sultry horns combine with the rhythm section. They set the scene for Walter’s vocal, which in tender, growing in power and sincerity. Harmonies answer his call. They’re tenderness personified. While M.F.S.B. provide a lush, string drenched, Philly backdrop, Earl Young’s drums inject occasional bursts of power and drama. They signal the arrangement and vocal to grow in power, passion and sincerity. This string laden Philly makeover really suits The Whispers. Not only does it bring out the best in the song, but The Whispers’ vocal prowess.
Just a chiming guitar and percussion combine subtly as Little Red Riding Hood gets underway. There’s a really understated, sultry sound to the arrangement, which allows The Whispers to showcase their harmonies. A lone sultry horns drifts above the arrangement, as the vocal interplay between The Whispers is seamless and peerless. They feed-off each other, driving each other to greater heights. Strings tug at your heartstrings, as the arrangement meanders beautifully along. The tightest, tenderest harmonies and a sultry horn matching the vocal a truly impassioned and deeply moving vocal.
The title-track Bingo closes Side One of Bingo. You realize straight away, something special is unfolding. Blazing horns, swirling strings and a thunderous Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section combine with cascading harmonies. Then the vocal soars dramatically above arrangement, delivered with power, feeling and raw emotion. This seems very real. Meanwhile, a myriad of grizzled horns, dancing string, percussion and driving rhythm section provide a backdrop that reflects the turmoil, heartache and hope in the vocal.
Bassist Ron Baker wrote Once More With Feeling and produced it with Norman Harris and Earl Young. Not only does this track give Ron Baker the chance to showcase his songwriting skills, but lay down a booty-shaking bass line. Earl Young matches him every step of the way. They’re joined by lush strings and Thom Bell influenced horns. The Whispers deliver tender, understated harmonies, which compliment the heartfelt, impassioned vocal. While their tenderness and subtlety are very different to the arrangement’s thunderous, booty-shaking heartbeat, together they prove a perfect foil.
God Gave Me Everything sees The Whispers give thanks for the one they love. Strings are plucked, before horns bray, strings shiver and a burst of the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm signal the arrival of The Whispers’ harmonies. As one, they deliver tight, tender and thankful harmonies, before Walter’s lead vocal enters. With Vince Montana Jr, subtly sprinkling vibes, horns rasp and melodic keyboards wander in. Then a burst of drums signals M.F.S.B. and The Whispers to become one. Strings sweep, horns growl and The Whispers go on to give a vocal masterclass. The harmonies become tighter, more heartfelt and soulful, while the lead vocal grows in intensity and fervor. Soulful and jazzy describes the music, but inspired best describes the performances of The Whispers and M.F.S.B. Of all the songs on Bingo, this Baker, Harris, Young production is the best.
Where There Is Love was produced by Bruce Hawkes and Charles Simmons. This is one of the uptempo tracks on Bingo. Growling horns and dancing strings join Baker, Harris, Young in providing an uptempo, joyful backdrop for The Whispers. What follows is some peerless interplay between the five Whispers. The lead vocal combines power, passion and joy, while tight, sweeping, cooing harmonies prove a perfect foil. Norman Harris adds his chiming, jazzy guitar as The Whispers are swept along by cascading strings punctuated by sultry horns. The result is a joyful, infectiously catchy slice of Philly Soul.
What More Can A Girl Ask For has a jaunty, almost melodramatic backdrop. A harpsichord, shimmering strings, percussion and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes provide this. Baker, Harris, Young provide the emotive, sometimes dramatic heartbeat for a fervent, impassioned and questioning vocal. Harmonies float in, joining the lushest of strings, harpsichord and vibes, creating a wistful, melancholy backdrop for The Whispers vocal tour de force.
Allan Felder. Norman Harris and Ron “Have Mercy” Kersey cowrote Don’t Take Your Love. Instantly, a pulsating arrangement unfolds. Key to this are Baker, Harris, Young who provide the heartbeat. Add to this swirling strings, braying horns and flourishes of piano. Then there’s Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and Norman Harris’ jazz-tinged guitar, playing subtle, but roles. It’s as if The Whispers are spurred into action. Their harmonies are tighter, punchier and more soulful, while Walter’s lead vocal is more commanding and assured. They feed off each offer, driving and encouraging the other to greater heights. Their contributions are questioning, pleading and begging, Don’t Take Your Love. Given the sincerity in their vocals, this must prove irresistible.
Closing Bingo is Broken Home, written by Allan Felder and Norman Harris. Baker, Harris, Young provide a shuffling arrangement, which is influenced by Latin and lounge music. Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, quivering strings and percussion combine giving the arrangement its Latin and lounge influence. When wistful horns and the rhythm section join the now lush strings, a pensive, thoughtful vocal enters. Harmonies subtly sweep in, while bursts of Earl Young’s drums and flourishes of strings reinforce the hurt and heartbreak in the lyrics. Not once does the arrangement overpower the vocal or harmonies. This allows you to focus on the lyrics. They’re delivered pensively and gently. This breathes meaning and life into the hurt, confusion and sadness in the lyrics. Who am I they ask and where am I from? Although this is a thoughtful, melancholy track to close Bingo, it demonstrates the quality of songwriting Bingo.
Ironic and frustrating must have been what The Whispers thought when Bingo wasn’t promoted sufficiently well. Here was their best album to date, with some of the hottest, most creative and talented songwriters, arrangers and producers all collaborating on Bingo. Then there was M.F.S.B. providing a musical backdrop. Anger must have been nearer to the emotions The Whispers were experiencing. After all, Baker, Harris, Young and their musical colleagues provided some of the best songs The Whispers had set eyes on. This spurred them to greater heights of soulfulness, surpassing and then some, their previous albums. Before Bingo was released, The Whispers must have thought they could replicate the success of other groups that had been given a Philly Sound makeover. So when their record company failed to promote Bingo properly, the album may have spawned three minor hit singles in the US R&B Charts and proved their most successful album since their debut, but that was a small crumb of comfort. Worse was to come for The Whispers.
Following Bingo, The Whispers left Janus Records. It would be two long years before The Whispers released another album. They must have rued Bingo’s lack of promotion. After all, groups like Blue Magic and artists like Major Harris had enjoyed huge commercial success with Norman Harris and his Philly friends. Bingo proved to be an opportunity lost for The Whispers. Although The Whispers would enjoy three gold and two platinum certified albums between 1979 and 1990, maybe if Bingo had been better promoted, success might have come The Whispers way earlier. Instead of The Whispers hitting the jackpot with Bingo, it’s remained a hidden gem in their back-catalogue, for nearly forty years. Standout Tracks: A Mother For My Children, Will You Be Mine, God Gave Me Everything and Broken Home.