Those of you who are regular readers of this column know that I have been in NJ on a writing retreat for about a month. This is the last column that I’ll be writing from NJ. I’m headed back to RI on Sunday. It’s been a good trip, and I accomplished what I hoped to in terms of the writing, but there’s still a long way to go. I thought it was only fitting that I close the NJ columns with a NJ artist. I didn’t plan it this way, but as it turns out choosing this artist will allow me to let you hear not only her version of a hit record, but two others as well. This week I’ve used a poll for the first time so that you can vote for your favorite.
Madeline Bell was born in Newark, NJ in 1942. She was a child of divorce, and was raised by her grandmother, who had been a singer. Bell took piano lessons and dancing lessons but found her true calling when she was in the fifth grade and she began to sing. She sang in school, she sang in church, and she sang on the corner with a group called Four Jacks and a Jill. By the time she was 16 Bell was in a gospel group called the Glovertones. They were weekend warriors, traveling hundreds of miles in a beat up station wagon to sing on weekends. During the week Bell was working in the meat department of a supermarket, where she was expert at wrapping chickens.
In 1961 Bell met a major gospel artist named Alex Bradford and auditioned her way into his group. Over the next two years she traveled all over the country with the Bradford Singers. Eventually the group was asked to appear in a show called Black Nativity which toured Europe. Bell fell in love with England, left the group, and settled there. In England, Bell met Dusty Springfield, and worked with her as a background vocalist. She also did sessions for Kiki Dee, Doris Troy, and Joe Brown, among others. After six years of session work in England an executive from Philips Records heard Bell sing and offered her a deal.
Springfield had been offered a song called “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” which had already been a hit for Dee Dee Warwick, another Newark native. Springfield passed the song along to Bell, who ended up having an even bigger hit with it. In a case of role reversal, Springfield sang backup on Bell’s record. The song appeared on Bell’s 1967 album Bell’s a Poppin’.
The album wasn’t doing much business, but the tapes were sent to the US and someone heard her version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and decided to press copies of it as a single. Radio stations liked it and as a result of the airplay the record began to move up the charts in this country. In April, 1968 the record was #26 on the Pop chart and #32 on the R&B chart. Bell returned to Newark with a hit record on the charts.
I’ve written a lot about Kenny Gamble over the last few weeks. I guess it’s the proximity to Philadelphia. Gamble has a role in this week’s column too, as the co-writer of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” along with Jerry Ross.
Bell had a nice sized hit, but without question the version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” that everyone remembers was the one recorded by the unstoppable Motown combination of Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations. The supergroup’s version was released on November 1, 1968 and soared to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The only record that kept it out of the top spot, maybe the only record that could, was Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
The co-producer of the Motown version of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was one Nickolas Ashford. In all, songwriter Jerry Ross produced ten versions of his hit song including covers by Jerry Butler, and Jay and the Techniques. Ashford & Simpson sang background on all ten of those records (including the original Dee Dee Warwick version), and the Jay and the Techniques version also featured Melba Moore.
Bell returned to England where she had some success as a solo artist before joining a group called Blue Mink, which had a string of Top 20 hits in the U.K. Bell kept busy as a session singer too, working with John Paul Jones, the Dave Clark Five, and Elton John. In the 1970’s she worked all over the continent as an in demand backing vocalist.
These days Madeline Bell lives in Spain and she’s still singing. Her most recent album, The Singer, was released this year. She’s a long way from N.J. but as I know all too well, you can take someone out of N.J. but you can’t take N.J. out of them.
All three hit versions of “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” are below. Vote for your favorite in the poll.