When Nick Ashford passed away on Tuesday, the music world was robbed of a true legend. Nick, along with his partner (and later wife) Valerie Simpson, had a quarter-century run as one of the greatest songwriting teams in pop and soul music history.
Nick and Valerie met in 1963. Within three years, they’d already scored a #1 hit with Ray Charles’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. Flash-forward a couple of years, and the duo had written songs that would become standards thanks to an association with Motown Records: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “You’re All I Need To Get By”, “Your Precious Love”, “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing”. Whether in their originally recorded versions by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, or in the form of covers by Diana Ross (who they would later directly assist by writing and producing classics including 1979’s The Boss LP) and Aretha Franklin, or even when being sampled (Method Man’s “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need To Get By”, combining two Ashford/Simpson compositions, was a Top 5 pop hit and won a Grammy), these songs are as much a part of the Great American Songbook as anything written by Irving Berlin or Cole Porter.
Ashford & Simpson’s career as recording artists began in earnest the year they got married-1974. Starting off with Warner Brothers Records, they released a series of albums that did very well over the course of the disco era. Adapting their sound for a new decade, they scored their biggest hit as recording artists with “Solid”, which topped the R&B charts in 1984 and peaked at #12 on the pop charts a few months later.
The easy thing to do here would have been to post a video of “Solid”, but the truth is, among their core fans, there are other songs just as loved, and one of them (or at least one of the few with video accompaniment) is 1982’s “Street Corner”. Taken from their semi-concept album Street Opera, the song’s video featured Nick and Val dancing down what must have been the cleanest street in America at that time. Props are due for the duo being able to get what must have been a pretty sweet budget for a video in those days (particularly a video by an R&B act when the exposure for the genre was so limited), and cheesiness aside (OK, because of the cheesiness), the video is quite entertaining. A&S do their patented shoulder dance (I’ve seen them do it in several other performances/videos), and of course, Nick’s hair is lustrous. I wonder if he and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Verdine White had a secret “best perm” competition happening back in the day.
Jokes aside, Nick will certainly be missed, and we send our best wishes and condolences to Valerie Simpson and the rest of their family.
- Harlem Funeral Set For R&B Legend Nick Ashford (mediaanarchist.wordpress.com)
- Singer-Songwriter Nick Ashford Dead at Age 70 (tsminteractive.com)
- The Boss: Nick Ashford tribute mix by Kirk Degiorio (dangerousminds.net)
- Nick Ashford’s Chart Legacy: From Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye to Method Man and Jessica Simpson (musicbusinessheretic.wordpress.com)