We all know the adage, “You win some, you lose some.”
Nowhere is that more true than in the recording industry. The emphasis is always, of course, on the successes — the hits. But the landscape is also strewn with failures — the flops.
Every recording artist, no matter how big they are, and how many hits in their catalogue, has had their share of misses, some they would forget if they could.
There can be all kinds of reasons for a record not making it. Sometimes quality is lacking. At other times it might come up short in commercial appeal. There may be a lack of promotion. Sometimes people just don’t like the record, or it sounds so much like other records. The possibilities are plentiful. One legendary Motown artist had a reputation for blaming the record promotion man if one of his records stiffed. Ike Turner went so far as to say that if an Ike & Tina Turner record failed, it was Tina’s fault because she “didn’t sing it right.” (Never mind the fact that the record may have been substandard.) Some records have a low chart showing (like No. 85 in the Top 100) while others miss the charts completely. NOT MANY artists have as many hits to their credit as Stevie Wonder, but those who are familiar with, for example, “Treat Myself,” “Tomorrow Robins Will Sing” and “Workout, Stevie, Workout,” are few. Earth, Wind & Fire had so many hits that a threedisc box set was required to showcase them. But raise your hand if you recall “Spread Your Love,” “Moonwalk” and “I Think About Lovin’ You.”
Anybody remember the 5th Dimension’s version of “Love Hangover”? Most likely you don’t and that’s because the better version by Diana Ross crushed it. (They were out at the same time.) Prince was a virtual hit machine, but “The Morning Papers,” “Just As Long As We’re Together” and “7” are just vague memories to a limited number of people.
The Temptations have had numerous greatest hits collections, and many of the songs are classics, but they had poor showings with, among others, “Error of Our Ways,” “More on the Inside” and “How Can You Say That It’s Over?”
And then there’s James Brown. The Godfather of Soul’s box set consisted of four discs. But that doesn’t negate the less than spectacular sales of “Stay With Me,” “Star Generation” and “Oh Baby Don’t You Weep.”
Few female artists are even in the same league as Aretha Franklin when it comes to major hit records, many of which are iconic. So the poor performance of “This Is For Real,” “Someone Else’s Eyes,” “If You Need My Love Tonight” (with Larry Graham) and “Half a Love” had be disappointing. (I thought “Half a Love” was great.)
SHALAMAR is fondly recalled, but people are inclined to scratch their heads at the mention of “I Owe You One,” “You Can Count On Me” and “Don’t Get Stopped in Beverly Hills.”
Sly & the Family Stone was a groundbreaking group, but by a certain point it was clear that Sly’s writing and producing skills had declined to an alarming extent. Hence, such duds as “Le Lo Li,” “If It Were Left Up to Me” and “Family Again.” One of Luther Vandross’ finest recordings and
most beautiful songs was “So Amazing.” Why it only made it to No. 94 on the Billboard magazine Top R&B Singles chart, and never showed up on the Pop chart, is inexplicable.
Mary Wells ranks as one of the foremost songstresses in the history of R&B, but she too came up short a number of times, as with “Strange Love,” “Such a Sweet Thing” and “I’m Learning.”
Parliament/Funkadelic had a boatload of hits that made them a supergroup in that genre, but there was also a “canoe” of misses, including “One of Those Summers,” “Connections and Disconnections,” “Smokey” and “Ride On.”
WHICH BRINGS to mind the legendary Smokey Robinson. Unless you are a hard-core fan, in the most “intense” sense of the word, you probably draw a blank on “Shoe Soul,” “Easy to Love,” “Who’s Sad?” and “Don’t Play Another Love Song.”
The O’Jays totally deserve having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and they’ve had something like 50 solid hits. But “Let Me Show You (How Much I Love You),” “Heartbreaker,” “Don’t Take Your Love Away” and “Peace” are among the group’s disappointments.
Ashford & Simpson are among the best. However, not every song was “solid as a rock” in terms of chart position. Placing below No. 75 were “Been Found,” “I’m Not That Tough,” and “It’ll Come, It’ll Come, It’ll Come.”
What about the glamorous superdiva, Diana Ross? Well, a very limited number of people remember “If You’re Not Gonna Love Me Right,” “Up Front,” “Sleepin’” and “Take Me Higher.”
THE ISLEY BROTHERS are all-time favorites all over the world, but some of their records are forgotten, such as “Come My Way,” “All In My Lover’s Eyes,” “You Better Come Home” and “I Once Had Your Love (And I Can’t Let Go).”
The public and radio programmers “walked on by” these Dionne Warwick songs: “I Didn’t Mean to Love You,” “Sure Thing,” “(I’m) Just Being Myself” and “Where My Lips Have Been.”
Did Marvin Gaye have any non-successes? Yes, a few, including “Joy,” “Heavy Love Affair” and “Sandman.”
Al Green is a legend, but even legends have to take a “next time” attitude when a record has a poor showing. A gambling man would wager that songs like “I Can’t Stop,” “Wait Here” and “Your Heart’s In Good Hands” are not remembered by most people.
Fortunately for Al Green, and nearly all of the other artists cited in this story, there were far more hits than non-hits, and that is something to be more than grateful for.