Sure, we all know and love “Want Ads,” but while it was Honey Cone’s biggest hit, it was certainly not the only great record they made. Last week I heard one of their earlier hits on the radio and it inspired this week’s column.
I’ve discussed the legendary team of Eddie Holland, Jr., Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland in this space before. History tells us that they were responsible for some of the greatest records to come out of the Motown hit factory, which means some of the greatest records there have ever been. When the team fell out with Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Jr. in 1968 they left Motown to start their own label. That is how Hot Wax Records was born, and if the label was not as well known as Motown, it remains beloved of soul music aficionados everywhere.
It is meaningful that the very first signing by Hot Wax was an LA-based trio called Honey Cone. The group had been formed by Carolyn Willis, Shelly Clark, and lead singer Edna Wright (sister of Darlene Love) in 1969. The three were not without experience in the music world. Clark had been a member of the Ikettes, Willis previously sang with the Girlfriends, and Wright sang gospel with the Cogics. Wright and Willis had also been part of the Blossoms, the most famous backing group on the west coast, and a counterpart to the Sweet Inspirations on the east coast.
Honey Cone hadn’t been together very long when they were spotted by Eddie Holland. He signed them to Hot Wax and released their first single, “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar.” It was a promising debut with the single reaching #26 on the Billboard R&B chart. It was the very first Hot Wax release. The follow-up, “Girls, It Ain’t Easy”, did even better making it all the way to #8 on that chart. Although the song was written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, and has a classic Motown sound, ongoing contractual problems with Motown resulted in it being credited to R. Dunbar and E. Wayne.
It was the following year that Honey Cone hit the big time though. “Want Ads” was released in 1970 and got off to a slow start. It took four months for the record to even hit the charts, but when it did, it flew like a rocket. Eventually “Want Ads” landed at #1 on both the R&B and pop charts. Honey Cone had another #1 R&B hit in 1971 with “Stick Up,’ which also reached #11 on the pop chart. More hits followed including “The Day I Found Myself,” and “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show,” both released in 1972.
The future looked bright indeed for Honey Cone, but the hit parade ended as suddenly as it had begun. The group released three singles in 1973, “If I Can’t Fly,” “The Truth Will Come Out,” and “Ace in the Hole.” None of them saw much success. It’s no coincidence that at this time Hot Wax (as well as Invictus, the other Holland-Dozier-Holland label) began to experience financial problems. While their records were popular, including hits by Freda Payne, Laura Lee, and the Chairmen of the Board, the labels apparently weren’t being paid by their distributors.
It must have been terribly frustrating for the women of Honey Cone, and they called it quits in 1973. Hot Wax and Invictus folded a year later and as a result all five of the albums that Honey Cone had recorded for Hot Wax went out of print, although compilations emerged years later. Both Honey Cone and Hot Wax had a short time in the spotlight, but they left behind some unforgettable music.