Jr. Walker and the All Stars – “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Pop # 4, R&B # 1
By Joel Francis
“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” was Jr. Walker’s second chart-topper and first since 1965’s “Shotgun,” but the two songs couldn’t have been more different. While “Shotgun” was a raw roadhouse rumble with the horn dominating the vocals, “What Does It Take” was a smooth love song designed to drive traffic to the bedroom.
Although Walker penned many of the All Stars’ best numbers, like “Shake and Fingerpop,” “Hip City” and “Last Call,” he handed the reigns over to the songwriting and production duo of Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol in a bid for greater pop success in the late ‘60s.
On paper it looked like a solid decision. Fuqua and Bristol were trusted entities. The latter discovered Walker, and the former gave Walker his first record deal. When Fuqua’s Harvey Records were purchased by Motown, Fuqua, Bristol and Walker became part of the Hitsville family.
While Fuqua and Bristol were successful in taking Walker back to the top of the charts, they did it by depriving Walker of his signature sound. The great saxophone that propelled so many All Stars singles was relegated to anonymous responses that could have been handled by any session player. Walker has overcome his initial microphone shyness to deliver a credible vocal, but his delivery his hardly distinct. All the right elements may be in place, but the product is competently forgettable.
Any thoughts that Walker strayed too far from the sound that made him great are reinforced by Kenny G’s 1986 cover featuring Bristol on lead vocals.
David Ruffin – “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me),” Pop # 9, R&B # 2
By Joel Francis
Former Temptation David Ruffin stuck pretty close to his old band’s template on his solo debut. The Harvey Fuqua/Johnny Bristol song was slated to be the Tempts’ next single, but Ruffin was able to sweet talk taking the song with him when he was fired. With backing vocals provided by the Originals, the song sounds enough like the Temptations casual listeners could be forgiven for thinking the news of Ruffin’s departure was nothing but a bad dream.
The lyrics also deal with the frequent Temptations theme of lost love. Like he did in “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Since I Lost My Baby,” Ruffin ruminates over how a promising relationship soured and what to do with the loneliness and ache.
A Top 10 pop hit that just missed the top spot on the R&B charts, “My Whole World Ended” was a promising start to Ruffin’s new career. Unfortunately, the problems that plagued him in the Temptations continued to haunt. Because he wasn’t a songwriter, Ruffin was dependent on others for material, and Ruffin’s erratic behavior and continued drug use didn’t endear him to many Hitsville songsmiths. Ruffin caused further problems when he started forcing his way onstage during Temptations concerts. Fans were ecstatic to hear the old singer deliver the hits, but the group, with new member Dennis Edwards, was less than enthused.
Despite these problems, Ruffin maintained a decent solo career. Although he never matched the success of “My Whole World Ended,” he had several minor hits peaking with another Top 10 smash on 1975’s “Walk Away From Love.”
There was a flurry of immediate covers after the release of “My Whole World” in early 1969. The Chi-Lites, Kiki Dee and the Spinners all recorded interpretations of the song within 18 months of its initial release.
Edwin Starr – “Twenty-Five Miles,” Pop # 6, R&B #6
By Joel Francis
If the horn arrangement on “Twenty-Five Miles” sounds like something out of the Stax studio, that’s because it is. Motown songwriters Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol based their number on the obscure Wilson Pickett song “32 Miles Out of Waycross (Mojo Mama)” written by Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler and recorded in 1967.
It’s little surprise Fuqua and Bristol turned to a Pickett number when looking for material for Edwin Starr. Like Pickett, Starr was a strong baritone who sang from the throat. And like fellow Motown family member Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, Starr’s voice was seeped in the Southern style.
Unlike, Stubbs, however, Starr didn’t have a string of hits under his belt, which made him a bit of an outcast at the label. A Detroit native who somehow escaped Berry Gordy’s eagle eye for talent, Starr’s biggest hit. to date was the 1965 song “Agent Double ‘O’ Soul” recorded on the Ric-Tic label. Three years later, when Motown purchased Ric-Tick in 1968, Starr joined the Hitsville stable.
“Twenty-Five Miles” opens with Benny Benjamin’s athletic drumming and he stays front and center as the funky scoutmaster that keeps Starr’s (and everyone on the dance floor) feet relentlessly moving. The bass line echoes a horn line that has become a staple of marching and pep bands across the country. The listener never learns what happens when Starr reaches his destination, but the energetic vocals definitely prove that getting there is half the fun.
Although “25 Miles” was a Top 10 hit, it often been overlooked when acts mine the Motown catalog. For nearly 20 years, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were the only group to cover the song. Their version was released several months after Starr’s as an album track on “In the Jungle, Babe.” In 1989, UK dance outfit the Cookie Crew sampled “25 Miles” on their hit “Got to Keep On.” Australian boy band Human Nature covered “25 Miles” on their 2005 release “Reach Out: The Motown Album.”