The Manhattans – 1969 – Doing Their Best Things
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The Manhattans are one of the stalwarts of our music – and due to embark on their 2011 tour with Gerald Alston – almost 50 years after they originally got together. With huge hits like “Kiss and Say Goodbye”, “Hurt” and “Shining Star” as part of their repertoire, it’s hard to imagine they won’t be performing to sell-out audiences even today. However, they originally struggled to get that elusive break, and actually started out with a different lead singer altogether. George “Smitty” Smith may not be as well-known as Gerald Alston, but he is in every way as soulful a singer. And thanks to our regular visitor and contributor, Raphy, we are able to give you a flavour of where it all began.
So come with us and check out those wonderful early Manhattans recordings from the late 60s on Carnival Records – you’ll be amazed at their vibrant soulfulness even back then.
A1 Can I 3.03
A2 Follow Your Heart 3.01
A3 Searchin’ For My Baby 2.51
A4 Baby I’m Sorry 2.43
A5 I Wanna Be (Your Everything) 2.47
B1 Baby I Need You 2.43
B2 Call Somebody Please 2.34
B3 Sweet Little Girl 2.44
B4 I Betcha (Couldn’t Love Me) 2.45
B5 Teach Me (The Philly Dog) 3.03
Review by Trakbuv
Whenever I think of The Manhattans, I can’t help but draw comparisons with another wonderful outfit, The Main Ingredient. Both had careers that were straddled by tragedies. In the case of the Main Ingredient, the sudden loss of lead singer, Donald McPherson, to leukaemia opened a new era for the band as Cuba Gooding took the helm. In the case of The Manhattans, lead singer George “Smitty” Smith hit his head badly after accidently falling from a truck. Undiagnosed for some time, it became evident that he had a brain haemorrhage. He passed away on December 16, 1970. In this instance, with several likely candidates for his replacement, Gerald Alston confidently filled his role and ushered a wildly successful period for the band. Ironically, Mr Alston had already been approached earlier while he was with the The New Imperials, whereupon he turned the offer down. And while both Cuba and Gerald have outstanding soulful credentials with voices that are immediately recognisable, I still have a preference for their sweeter counterparts, Donald and George.
The group actually did not hail from their namesake, but from nearby Jersey City, NJ, and originally comprised of George Smith (lead), Winfred “Blue” Lovett (bass and lead), Kenny Kelley (tenor), Richard Taylor, and Edward “Sonny” Bivins (tenor). They had been part of The Dulcets, (although incorrectly printed as The Dorsets on the single) with Smitty, Blue and Sonny teaming up with Ethel Samuels and Buddy Bell to release a one-off single entitled “Pork Chops” on the Asnes label. They formed The Manhattans soon after, but were in competition with another band for the same name. It was decided that whoever had the first hit could officially keep the title, which was duly achieved by our Manhattans in 1964 with the release of “I Wanna Be (Your Everything)”. It was released on Joe Evans’ Carnival Records, although they had already auditioned for Motown while Joe was there. They had previously had two releases on Carnival before the breakthrough, the lovely “For the very first time”, and the even more soulfully stirring “There goes a fool” – love this song.
They released many singles following “I Wanna Be” and all we’re released on two albums: “Dedicated For You” from 1966 and “For You and Yours” from 1968. Neither album contained album-only tracks. The album in the spotlight this week, “Doing Their Best” is a compilation taken from those two long players and consequently a best of collection of their singles output for Carnival Records. And you really do get an exceptional peep show into the majesty that was The Manhattans. “Can I” is a decent enough doo-wop ballad that is a given that golden gilt by Smitty’s smooth yet crunchy vocals (peaking at #23 R&B, 1966). And on to one their best songs EVER – the splenditious “Follow Your Heart” – a real showcase for this incarnation of the band – and definitely one for any doubters of The Manhattans without Gerald Alston (#20 R&B, #92 Pop, 1965). Glorious. “Searchin’ For My Baby” is another cream track, with a fabulous background vocal arrangement, rock ‘n’ roll edged guitar and Smitty upping his grittiness on a real mean groover (#20 R&B, #135 Pop, 1965). “Baby I’m Sorry” is a sweet and tender ode with Smitty’s more subdued mood just adding to its pathos. And the rhythmic, melodic and downright huggable “I Wanna Be” has all the hallmarks of a hit soul record and it’s easy to appreciate why this was their first hit record and their most successful for the label (#12 R&B, #68 Pop, 1965).
“Baby I Need You” is a rich ballad as good as anything The Temptations were delivering from the same era, and they were rewarded for its maturity by another commercial success (#22 R&B, #96 Pop, 1966). “Call Somebody Please” was the b-side of “There goes a fool” and it demonstrates the amazing change from the doo-wop tendencies of 1964 (when it was released) to the more soulful swing doors of 1965. “Sweet Little Girl” has several leads vying for attention and has the wistful grace that The Impressions perfected with Curtis – yes, it’s that good !! The catchy “I Betcha” is another lovely feather in the cap, and another charthitter and a grower, with Smitty adding a rasp to his versatile repertoire (#23 R&B, #128 Pop, 1966). “Teach Me (The Philly Dog)” is one of those gimmicky numbers that seemed to proliferate back then, and again, it’s the delivery that puts this handclapper above many of its contemporaries – surprisingly catchy !!
It became clear that Joe’s Carnival label didn’t have enough clout to encourage the growth of The Manhattans any longer. So in moving them to a larger flowerpot, Joe tried to negotiate a deal with Atlantic Records, but unfortunately that fell through. The consequential move to DeLuxe Records was a relative disappointment, although they did produce a very fine album with Smitty still in control in 1970 for the label, which is available here in our back pages.
The Manhattans eventually got their big break with Columbia Records and the release of the platinum seller “Kiss and say goodbye” in 1976. But I still have a very warm and affectionate place for their time with Smitty. And I hope this album gives you a taste of the innocence and open-eyed wonder and celebration that was soul blossoming on the outgoing coat tails of doo-wop.
There is an excellent in-depth biography of The Manhattans here