I’ve been writing this column for over six years now. There have been well over 300 entries in the series. So every now and then I have to check to see if I’ve featured a certain artist or song previously. A dig through the Popdose archives revealed that I did write about the Originals previously, but it was way back in 2010, it was brief, and it featured another of their hits, “The Bells.” I want to expand on their story today, and feature another one of their great records.
The Originals first got together in Detroit in 1966. The original Originals were Walter Gaines, Freddie Gorman, C.P. Spencer, and Hank Dixon. They were all veterans of the Detroit vocal group scene, and before there was a Holland-Dozier-Holland production and songwriting team, there was a Holland-Dozier-Gorman team. As a member of that team, Gorman was the co-writer of Motown’s first #1 hit, the Marvelette’s “Please Mr. Postman.” Gorman came by the inspiration honestly, as he had actually been a mailman.
The group first made their name in the late ’60s as background singers, appearing on hits like “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” by Jimmy Ruffin, “For Once in My Life,” by Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin’s “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me),” and Edwin Starr’s “War,” and “25 Miles.” The Originals were the male counterparts of the Andantes, Motown’s female house backing group, and neither group was ever properly credited.
The Originals did release records under their own name for Motown, beginning in 1966 with the Leadbelly song “Goodnight Irene,” which featured Joe Stubbs (brother of Levi) on the lead vocal, but didn’t make the charts. Another 1966 release that didn’t chart was “Suspicion,” but in later years the song became a Northern Soul staple. In 1969 neither “We’ve Got A Way Out Of Love” or “Green Grow The Lilacs” managed to find any chart success.
One of the Motown artists that the Originals had backed on record was Marvin Gaye. They appeared on his “Chained,” and “Just to Keep You Satisfied.” When Gaye began to work with the group in 1969, they began to find success in their own right. Gaye produced and co-write the Originals two biggest hits, “Baby, I’m For Real,” and “The Bells.” Both records became soul classics.
The Originals had a very good year in 1970 with two album releases, and four Top 20 R&B hits. Things slowed down after that however, and no Originals record made the charts between 1971-1975, despite several album releases for Motown during this time. The disco era brought renewed success for the group though as “Down to Love Town” became a #1 dance hit for the group. They left Motown in 1977 and signed with Columbia Records. They released two albums for the label but didn’t find any success. After one last album for the Phase II label they split up in the early ’80s.
When Ian Levine began seeking out Motown veterans for his Motorcity label, the Originals signed on. They recorded a single for the label called “Take The Only Way Out,” and former member Stubbs, who had been in the group for about six months early on, released some solo recordings for Motorcity. There was also a duet recording with their former Motown labelmates the Supremes, “Back By Popular Demand,” in 1991.
Stubbs, Spencer, Gorman, and Gaines have all passed on. Hank Dixon is the only surviving founding member of the Originals, and he remains active musically.