Joel Goldenberg: The Best of Spinners

The Spinners in action.

Before we get to this week's album entry, indulge my current obsession for an instant.

Ever since I got my Samsung S9 phone, I've been fiddling around with the sound settings, especially the choice between Dolby Atmos Music, Dolby Atmos Movie and Dolby Atmos Auto. (The latest phone, the S10, adds Dolby Atmos for gaming.

Dolby Atmos intrigues me, as it purports to feature sound coming from multiple directions. When I first tried the music mode, I didn't hear anything special. Then I tried the movie mode and heard a nice expansion of the sound — then, after several months, it all started to sound stale.

I then switched back to music mode, and downloaded a Spotify playlist called "80's (sic) mix with Dolby Atmos." I had tried it before in the movie mode, and heard a few nice effects.

Then I tried it again in music mode, and WOW! The sound expands greatly height wise, and on some songs, you can hear effects above you, behind you, to the side, and below you to the left and right. One of the best songs on the playlist is the Herbie Hancock synth-dominated instrumental Rockit. Even on a standard classic rock song like Loverboy's Working For the Weekend, a trio of percussive sounds seems to descend.

Many Abba songs have the Atmos effect as well, thanks to adventurous engineer Michael Tretow and the group's propensity for multi-layered vocals and effects. Standouts include the synth sound and backing vocals on Watch Out, Hey Hey Helen, and the birdlike sounds on Eagle.

I will be exploring more songs in this mode and will make more recommendations.

And now to The Best of Spinners:

•••

My current top song on my own YouTube Music Absolute Essentials playlist is my all-time favourite Elton John song, Are You Ready For Love.

"What?" you ask. What about Your Song, Benny and the Jets, The Bitch is Back...

Nope, Are You Ready For Love is one of the most life-affirming songs I've ever heard, with a wonderful, soulful production.

The thing is, Elton didn't write it and it wasn't produced by his usual guy in the control room, Gus Dudgeon. After the 2-LP set Blue Moves, Elton and his songwriting partner Bernie Taupin parted ways for a while, and Elton, wanting to do something different, hooked up with Philadelphia producer Thom Bell. The results were recorded in 1977, and released as a mini-album two years later. The song Mama Can't Buy You Love from those sessions was released and was a sizeable hit, but apparently Elton wasn't hot on what he was provided to sing and a full album was never recorded.

The mind boggles. Thom Bell was responsible as producer for some of the best soul songs of the late 1960s and early 1970s by groups like the Delfonics, the Stylistics and, especially, the Spinners.

From around 1972 to 1977, the Spinners were on a veritable hot streak, especially on the songs sung by lead vocalist Philippe Wynne, who had a very appealing scatting style.

As was the case for many albums that I purchased in the 1980s, my shopping was influenced by the 1979 edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide. The entry on the Spinners was so rapturous on their whole catalogue that I had to get at least a sampler, and Best of received a four-star review.

The reviews were correct — songs like Could It Be I'm Falling In Love, I'll Be Around, Mighty Love, Then Came You (with Dionne Warwick(e)) and (They Just Can't Stop It) Games People Play are among the best the '70s had to offer.

But there's a slight wrinkle to the story...

The version of the Best of I bought was on 8-track tape, probably for $3.99 or so. That tape was one of the few I played over and over again — the others were the Beatles' Rubber Soul (U.S. track listing), Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits and Kiss's Double Platinum.

What I didn't know when I got the tape was that this version had a significant difference from the version released on LP. While the vinyl had the shorter single edit of one of my top-two Spinners song, The Rubberband Man, the 8-track had the full-length album version.

The album version is better — you get to not only hear more of Wynne's peerless scatting, but he actually sings on the chorus. On the single edit, he sings pretty much everything else but, or pokes his voice in slightly on the soaring chorus, like a musical tease.

I felt very privileged. By the way, the 8-track of Double Platinum also differs from the LP version, for the better — the instrumental intro for Rock Bottom leads into Calling Dr. Love, while on the LP, it leads into She.

Still, the Best of Spinners isn't perfect — it lacks my all-time favourite song by the group, and Wynne's last with them, Throwing A Good Love Away. In one way, there's no excuse — the Best of came out in 1978, and the song was released in 1977.

But perhaps it was for the best — the song was more than seven minutes long and as the LP featured single edits, the song would not have been featured the way it deserved to be heard.

But the 8-track?

Oh, and by the way, the Spinners sing on Are You Ready For Love, and are especially prominent on the full-length version.

Next time: K-tel's Today's Super Greats.

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