Cult Classic: The Manhattans-There’s No Me Without You.

Like so many other soul groups, success took time to come The Manhattans’ way.  The Manhattans had already released seven albums before making a commercial breakthrough with 1976s The Manhattans. It was certified gold, and 1977s It Feels So Good and 1980s After Midnight repeated the feat. However, before their 1976 breakthrough album, The Manhattans were one of soul music’s best kept secrets.  

The Manhattans had signed to Carnival Records in 1964, and released For The Very First Time as their debut single. However, it failed to chart and so did the followup There Goes A Fool when it was released later in 1964. However, the group’s luck changed the following year.

I Wanna Be Your Everything was released as a single in 1965, and reached number sixty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and twelve in the US R&B charts.  

The same year,  The Manhattans released their debut album Dedicated To You on Carnival Records, and it reached number nineteen in the US R&B charts. It featured the singles Searchin’ For My Baby and Follow Your Heart which both reached number twenty in the US R&B charts. 1965 had been an important year for The Manhattans.

By 1968, eight of The Manhattans’ singles had reached the top forty the US R&B charts. Two had crossover and given them minor hits in the US Billboard 100. This was something to build on as they prepared to release their sophomore album. 

This was Sing For You and Yours, which  was released by Carnival Records in 1968.  Just like their debut album it failed to chart. This was a huge disappointment for The Manhattans and was the last album they released on Carnival Records.

They signed to Deluxe, a subsidiary of King Records in 1969. This was a fresh start for a group whose last hit single was I Call It Love in 1967.  It had stalled at ninety-six in the US Billboard 100, but reached twenty-four in  the US R&B charts. The Manhattans  hoped that better times were ahead for the group.

Now signed to Deluxe, they embarked upon a college tour and played at Kittrell College in North Carolina. That was where The Manhattans met The New Imperials and their lead singer Gerald Alston. They were so impressed by his performance that they asked him to join the group. However, he declined to do so. Little did he realise that their paths would cross the following year.

In 1970, The Manhattans returned with their third album With These Hands. It featured five originals and five standards and was well received by critics. However, the album failed to chart. The single If My Heart Could Speak reached ninety-eight in the US Billboard 100 and thirty in the US R&B charts. It was the group’s first hit single in three years. Then From Atlanta To Goodbye reached forty-eight in the US R&B charts. Things were looking up for The Manhattans. 

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. George Smith fell and later, took ill and was unable to perform. The Manhattans started looking for a replacement and approached The Cymbals’ lead singer, Lee Williams. However,  he was unwilling to leave his current group. This was when they approach Gerald Alston he agreed to join the group and became The Manhattans new lead vocalist. It was the start of a new era for the group.

Tragedy struck on on  December the ‘16th’ 1970, when The Manhattans’ original lead vocalist George Smith died of a brain tumour  twelve days before his thirty-first birthday. He had been a member of the group since they formed in Jersey City in 1962. It was a huge loss for The Manhattans.

In 1972 they returned with their fourth album A Million To One. It reached thirty-five in the US R&B charts and was the first time one of The Manhattans had charted. Things got even better when A Million To One reached forty-seven in the US R&B chats and then One Life To Live reached number three. This was perfect way to end their three year spell at Deluxe. Next stop was Capitol Records where the next chapter in their career began with There’s No Me Without You. 

Now signed to Capitol Records, the five members of The Manhattans Richard Taylor, Edward Bivins, Winfred “Blue” Lovett, Kenneth Kelly and Gerald Alston were about  to encounter a man who would play a crucial role in their career. This was arranger and producer Bobby Martin, who was something of a musical veteran.

He was currently playing an important part in the success story that was  Philadelphia International Records. Bobby Martin wasn’t the only member of Philly’s musical elite to play a part in the recording of There’s No Me Without You. M.F.S.B. would accompany The Manhattans on their major label debut.

For There’s No Me Without You  The Manhattans contributed six of the ten tracks. Edward Bivins wrote There’s No Me Without You and cowrote The Other Side of Me with Gerald Alston. Wilfred Lovett wrote We Made It and Wish That You Were Mine. He also cowrote Soul Train with Little Harlem and It’s So Hard Loving You with Charles Reed.

Other tracks included Kenneth Kelly’s The Day The Robin Sang To Me and You’d Better Believe It which was penned by John Fowlkes and Roger Genger. Teddy Randazzo cowrote the other two tracks. With Roger Joyce he cowrote I’m Not A Run Around and with Victoria Pike and Souren Mozian he penned Falling Apart At The Seams. These ten tracks became For There’s No Me Without You, which was recorded at Joe Tarsia’s Sigma Sound Studios in Philly.

At Sigma Sound Studios, M.F.S.B. were accompanying The Manhattans on There’s No Me Without You. M.F.S.B’s lineup included the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section, plus guitarists Bobby “Electronic” Eli and Roland Chambers. They were joined by organist Lenny Pakula, Larry Washington on congas, vibes virtuoso Vince Montana Jr and violinist Don Renaldo, who was the string and horn contractor. Adding backing vocals were The Sweethearts of Sigma, Barbara Ingram, Evette Benton and Carla Benson. Once There’s No Me Without You was recorded, it was released in 1973 and The Manhattans hoped their major label debut would be a commercial success.

On the release of There’s No Me Without You in 1973, it reached number 150 in the US Billboard 200 and number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. Sales of the album were helped by the success of the single There’s No Me Without You. It reached number forty-three in the US Billboard and number three in the US R&B Charts and became The Manhattans’ most successful single. Wish That You Were Mine then reached number nineteen in the US R&B Charts. Bobby Martin’s Philly Soul makeover resulted in The Manhattans’ most successful album and was a very different to their previous albums.

There’s No Me Without You opens with the title-track There’s No Me Without You. Earl Young’s pounding drums, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and percussion combine to create a heartbreakingly beautiful backdrop for Gerald Alston’s pleading vocal. Harmonies sweep in. Elegantly and beautifully, they sooth his hurt. Meanwhile, the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section add drama, while  vibes, lush strings and Norman Harris’ guitar add to the beauty. Later, when a half-spoken vocal and harmonies enters they adds to sadness, emotion and heartbreak of what was The Manhattans’ most successful single.

From the opening bars of We Made It, you realize something special is unfolding. Understated, wistful and meandering describes the arrangement. So too does sensual and beautiful, which describes The Manhattans harmonies and vocals. Here, they indulge themselves, demonstrating that when it comes to harmonies, The Manhattans were one of the best. The cascading, pleading and hopeful harmonies are laden with emotion, joy and hope. Quite simply, We Made It, with its doo wop influence is simply sensual and beautiful.

Wish That You Were Mine is another of the slow, beautiful ballads that The Manhattans do so well. Percussion, Vince Montana Jr’s vibes and Norman Harris jazzy guitar provide a melancholy backdrop for the half-spoken vocal. Gerald Alston’s vocal is tinged with regret at the hurt at the hurt he’s about to cause his friend. As the drama builds, harmonies sweep in, adding to the chaos and heartache that’s about to be unleashed. Muted horns, sweeping strings and an understated Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section add to the atmospheric, emotive backdrop to the vocal tour de force.

Swathes of strings sweep and horns rasp as I’m Not A Run Around unfolds. Norman Harris’ guitar chimes and Earl Young’s drums pound dramatically. Having set the scene for Gerald Alston as he lays bare his soul. He assures and pleads with sincerity and emotion: “I’m Not A Run Around.” Harmonies cascade, adding further reassurance, while Baker, Harris, Young provide the arrangement’s heartbeat. By the end of the track, so impassioned and heartfelt are his pleas that you can’t help but believe him.

Soul Train closes SIde One of There’s No Me Without You. There’s an increase in tempo as The Manhattans kick loose, against a tougher, funkier arrangement. Baker, Harris, Young provide the necessary funk, while Gerald’s vocal is sassy and powerful. Chanted harmonies, blazing horns and searing guitars play their part in adding a dramatic and funky backdrop for your journey on the Soul Train.

You’d Better Believe It opens Side Two of There’s No Me Without You. It’s a return to the balladry of much of Side One, but with a twist. Heartfelt, tender harmonies are cascading strings and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes, while Baker, Harris, Young add to the emotion and beauty. The only differences are guitars drenched in reverb, while the arrangement has a real sixties influence. This works well, bringing out the interplay between the lead vocal and some peerless harmonies.

Norman Harris’ chiming guitar dances across the introduction to It’s So Hard Loving You. Cooing harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and Manhattans accompany the pleading, impassioned vocal. The harmonies and lead vocal take centre-stage, with M.F.S.B. providing a subtle backdrop. This includes growling horns that add to the sheer emotion of The Manhattans’ vocal prowess.

It doesn’t take long to realize that The Day The Robin Sang To Me is one of the best tracks on Side Two. Ron Baker’s probing bass joins swathes of lush strings, woodwind and cooing harmonies from The Sweethearts of Sigma and Manhattans. Their tenderness and beauty are the perfect foil for Gerald Alston’s vocal, while the husky half-spoken vocal provides a contrast. Add to this Larry Washington’s congas, a wistful flute and sensual harmonies. A combination of a gorgeous meandering, intricate arrangement and The Manhattans at their very best make this fusion of jazz, Latin and Philly Soul an enchanting and timeless track.

Keyboards and the Baker, Harris, Young rhythm section open Falling Apart At the Seams. Soon, producer Bobby Martin works his magic. Strings sweep and swirl, Norman Harris adds his jazzy guitar and Vince Montana Jr sprinkles his vibes. This seems to encourage The Manhattans to raise their game. Gerald Alston’s lead vocal is even more heartfelt and impassioned, while the harmonies are tighter, more soulful and filled with feeling and meaning.

The Other Side of Me closes Side Two of There’s No Me Without You. It seems The Manhattans are determined to close the album on a soulful, emotive high. Just keyboards, Baker, Harris, Young and Vince Montana Jr’s vibes accompany Gerald Alston’s heartbroken vocal. Harmonies sweep in, trying to sooth his hurt and heartache. He delivers each word as if he’s experienced the hurt he’s singing about. Baker, Harris, Young add to the drama, while pizzicato strings pluck at your heartstrings and The Manhattans bring There’s No Me Without You to a heartbreakingly sad, but beautiful close.

While There’s No Me Without You was The Manhattans’ fifth album, it was their major label debut.  Producer Bobby Martin and M.F.S.B. play their part in the sucess of There’s No Me Without You. From the opening bars of There’s No Me Without You right through to the closing notes of The Other Side of Me, The Manhattans never miss a beat. Their vocal and harmonic prowess is peerless. It’s no surprise that There’s No Me Without You was the most successful album of their career. However, this is relative as the album stalled at 150 in the US Billboard 200 although it reached a respectable nineteen in the US R&B chart. Despite this, the album didn’t sell in huge quantities. 

It would be three more years until they made their commercial breakthrough with 1976s million-selling The Manhattans. They repeated this feat with 1977s It Feels So Good and 1980s After Midnight. They were the most successful albums of  The Manhattans’ long career. However, that is only part of the story. There’s No Me Without You proves that there’s much more to The Manhattans’ music than these three albums. Indeed, There’s No Me Without You is an album packed full of quality soul music.

Producer Bobby Martin, M.F.S.B. and The Sweethearts of Sigma all played their part in the sound and success of There’s No Me Without You. They played their part in The Manhattans’ Philly Soul makeover on There’s No Me Without You, which although not their most successful album, is one of their finest and helped transform the New Jersey group’s fortunes after eleven years together.

Cult Classic: The Manhattans-There’s No Me Without You.


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