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Nov 08

THE DETROIT SPINNERS – “Working My Way Back To You”

FT + Popular41 comments • 4,550 views

#455, 12th April 1980

This is one of those Number Ones that feels like a long-service medal: certainly you wouldn’t begrudge the band who made “Ghetto Child” and “Mighty Love” a hit this size, but “Working” isn’t quite up to that standard. It is what it is: a song out of time, wrenched out of an earlier era and brushed unsympathetically up to conform to current best practice.

Which meant disco, of course, but in the case of “Working” the disco framework feels too rigid for what’s quite a sinuous song. There should be room here for the song’s hesitation, regrets and triumphs to get across – as in the Four Seasons original – but the merciless beat levels these emotions out. Disco wasn’t emotionless music – quite the reverse! – but when applied by rote it could end up seeming that way. You half expect to see the suffix “’80” on the single sleeve.

That said, there’s enough quality and gusto here to make “Working” a very enjoyable record, and subtleties enough beyond the pumped-up chorus. The unhappy confession of emotional sadism and weakness; the supportive harmonies; the redemptive interpolation of “Forgive Me Girl” – a really effective use of the medley technique. Difficult to dislike.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Malice Cooper on 5 Nov 2008 #

    I don’t begrudge them a number one but this song is almost as hideous as those hateful medleys that started to dominate the charts later in the year.

    Bland, handclapping disco for mum and dad to enjoy.

  2. 27
    Chris Brown on 5 Nov 2008 #

    Even though I can recognise that ‘Ghetto Child’ is a better record, and perhaps ‘Rubberband Man’ is too, I have an odd and not-wholly-explicable idea that they’d have become insufferable had they been the Number One(s), so I’m OK with this enjoyable-but-not-earth-shattering one to have made the grade instead. I’m a bit surprised to notice that ‘I’ll Be Around’ wasn’t a UK hit in its original form though. Is there a good best-of?

    As I’ve probably mentioned before, I’ve never liked the Four Seasons sound, so somebody else singing their songs is usually preferable for me.

  3. 28
    AndyPandy on 6 Nov 2008 #

    All this talk of music that’s for “mum and dad” seems to be slightly snobby and naive in a middle class student way. As a young teenager at this time things like this and especially Fern Kinney were bought by the average working class (usually female) teenager who I grew up with. The kind of girls who bought records and loved out-and-out pop music but thats where their interest ended and in this way similar to a large proportion of young people in general ie not the small proportion of people like us who obsess about pop and come on sites like this).
    This was 1980 when the average “mum and dad” (notwithstanding the odd dance to chart stuff like this at a wedding disco)would have still been listening to Tom Jones or Englebert Humperdink and whatever else was on Radio Two – the stuff the acts used to do in the local pub/working mans club back then or maybe a bit of Sinatra or that type of easy listening if we’re getting a bit more classy.ie stuff that even the stereotypical council estate teenage girl I mentioned above would have viewed as old-fashioned and “for your mum and dad”.

  4. 29
    Tom on 6 Nov 2008 #

    A lot of it’s back-projection – because the song is a wedding disco staple now it’s hard to imagine it feeling any different. The anachronism of that doesn’t bother me particularly – pop’s contemporary context is fascinating and vital but I wouldn’t want to seal it there.

  5. 30
    wichita lineman on 6 Nov 2008 #

    Not sure on back-projection, Tom. By 1980 Radio 2 certainly weren’t playing Tom/Engelbert, they were playing this single, Dr Hook, Fern Kinney and other smooth disco-flavoured pop. Anybody with the Hamilton’s Hot Shots comp on Warwick from ’76 will know that daytime Radio 2 even made room for the Detroit Spinners’ UK flop Games People Play.

    This was never a cool club record, either, it was immediate wedding party fodder with an eye cocked towards folks who might remember the song from the first time around. So, maybe “mum and dad” is an imprecise way of putting it – “young mums and shopgirls” sound any better? Thought not. But I’m sure you get the gist.

  6. 31
    Malice Cooper on 6 Nov 2008 #

    I can only speak as someone who was 13 at the time and my mother had long stopped buying Tom Jones records (as had the rest of the British population) and was more into Boney M and Village People. I spent a lot of time at various friends’ houses and their parents seemed the same. Perhaps if you had a mum and dad who were 50+ ? But then I’m just naive in a middle class student way and ever so slightly snobby :-).

  7. 32
    AndyPandy on 6 Nov 2008 #

    No 30 actually on second thoughts you’re completely right about Radio 2 they werent playing much Tom Jones by then it was more Dr Hook, Kenny Rogers, bit of Abba maybe etc and yes “young mums and shopgirls” is a better decription of who I meant. But surely “mums and dads” when used on “Popular” (and not just about this number 1) is used in a context that applies to the “square” parents of late70s/early80s teenagers who would tend to be at least in their early 30s. And isnt it accepted in the music business that the vast majority of “pop” singles buyers (as opposed to more speciaised musical forms) are teenagers as opposed to those in their late 20s or early 30s.

    But you’ve (no31) just summed up what I was saying myself in my previous post by saying “BUYING records” (and I presume we’re talking about singles here).I doubt anyone was buying Tom Jones etc singles by that time (that’s obvious from those kind of singers absence from the chart).Just because they had the odd Boney M album for parties etc are you saying they were really on it big style on the Boney M tip?

    Or put simply to say that “parents” rather than their teenage offspring (who were after all all obviously only into “happening” music-press sanctioned music)were wholly responsible for putting stuff like this at No1 is extremely dubious.

    I remember some of the stuff played at youth club discos back then especially if the girls brought their own records in it sometimes got as dodgy as the Dooleys, the Nolans and Brown Sauce(don’t ask).

  8. 33
    wichita lineman on 7 Nov 2008 #

    Always room for a spot of Nolans and Dooleys in my house, AP. Obviously not their entire oeuvre(s), but to my ears Honey I’m Lost and Think I’m Gonna Fall In Love With You are classy UK pop-soul (Findon/Shelley, if I remember correctly, who were also responsible for Billy Ocean’s best singles) and Attention To Me was lauded in Record Mirror as a New Pop pinnacle. It’s the shopgirl in me.

    Brown Sauce flip, on an embarrassingly arcane note, is the very good early 80s Swap Shop theme.

  9. 34
    Malice Cooper on 8 Nov 2008 #

    Nothing wrong with Brown Sauce.

    Oh yes my mother and her Boney M affair. It started when she went to Kelly’s radio (our old chain of electrical and record shops at that time) and asked for “The record by those nice black people” which started her Boney M collection. She had previously asked for “I lost my heart to a deep sea diver” and “sister sludge” so she was always on to a winner. (see one, feel one, touch one)

    On to the very knowledgeable Wichita lineman’s point above, Ben Findon wrote Billy Ocean’s hits with a Mr Leslie Charles who now has long grey dreadlocks and calls himself Billy Ocean. “Shop girl” you may be, and just think you could have been called “Rhinestone Cowboy” .

  10. 35
    AndyPandy on 10 Nov 2008 #

    I met someone a few years ago who said that their friend had Billy Ocean as their landlord in the late 90s – they were a believable kind of person so I thought this was sort of a surreal as they said he was a proper “hands-on” rent collecting/ring him about repairs landlord. Anybody know if this could be true?

  11. 36
    Mark G on 10 Nov 2008 #

    Well, when SCowell berated some X-Factor finalist for doing a Billy Ocean song, as he wasn’t ‘current’ enough..

    (!)

    and (!) again…

    ..some mention was made afterwards about him being ‘a landlord now’…

  12. 37
    Vinylscot on 10 Nov 2008 #

    #30 wichita lineman – at the time the Hamilton hotshots album came out, David Hamilton was still a Radio 1 DJ, although his show was also heard on Radio 2, as many shows were back then, partly because of financial cutbacks, and partly because of limited frequencies.

    When he left Radio 2 in November that year 1986, he claimed that their music policy had become “geriatric” and that “there’s only so much Max Bygraves and Vera Lynn you can play.

    So I would go along with andypandy’s original thoughts that Radio 2, as a separate entity at least, was pretty much out of touch at that time (notwithstanding the occasional “Floral Dance” or similar aberration)

  13. 38
    AndyPandy on 10 Nov 2008 #

    I thought it was probably true as my acquaintance said it more in a “do you remember Billy Ocean?” way than in a “how about this my friend’s landlord…” way

  14. 39
    intothefireuk on 26 Mar 2009 #

    Confession time – firstly I haven’t been round these parts for nigh on 6 months and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then – so some catching up to do. Secondly this song sticks in memory mainly for being an ‘action’ song. I distinctly recall dancing somewhat awkwardly to it at a friends wedding (in fact he was the first one of us from school to get married – way too young of course) and starting a ‘spade digging’ action (possibly mimicked from TOTP ?) during the ‘working my way back to you’ chorus refrain. This led to the whole dancefloor ‘digging’ in synch with me. What a triumph it was. I don’t think I ever did it again. At least I hope I didn’t. As always with 80s onward ‘soul’ recordings, the production lets the whole thing down especially the anaemic rhythm section.

  15. 40
    punctum on 16 Oct 2009 #

    No one really expected the Detroit Spinners to get to number one in 1980; their last major hit, “The Rubberband Man,” had been in 1976, their divine original lead singer Phillipe Wynne had long since defected to Funkadelic, and by the time Atlantic hooked them up with Michael “Let’s All Chant” Zager as producer they were one sidestep away from the cabaret circuit.

    In truth 1972-6 was their golden era; although not at the centre of the Philly Sound, Thom Bell did bequest them some of his finest songs and productions – “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love?,” “Ghetto Child” – and the group performed them with elegant passion. There was something of a shudder that they had been “reduced” to going Eurodisco. Yet this became their biggest British hit and also reached #2 in the States, presumably courtesy of a young crowd who knew or cared little about their previous work.

    The Four Seasons cover – and yes, this was the fourth Four Seasons cover version to get to number one in Britain while never having been a hit for the group themselves – is despatched with Teutonic efficiency; lead singer John Edwards gamely gives it his best effort over a hugely unsubtle drum machine thud, and the song is strong enough to withstand the assault. However, the segue into Zager’s own song, the notably less impressive “Forgive Me Girl,” is contrived and brief, and the original song soon comes back into focus. It was clearly danceable enough to satisfy its buyers, but it is disco as studium writ large, and after another similar effort, coupling Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” with the anonymous “I’ve Loved You For A Long Time,” which promptly went top five, the Detroit Spinners did indeed make their delayed descent into nightclub revivalism. To cite their first Motown hit from a decade earlier, it’s a shame.

  16. 41
    Brooksie on 14 Feb 2010 #

    @AndyPandy # 28:

    I completely agree. People seem to forget that while songs like this went down well with most middle-class parents because they were catchy and unthreatening, it was always young people who determined the number one song from week to week. And like you, I could always see that the people buying records like this were primarily young girls, who liked good-looking boys and catchy tunes (preferably together, but if not, then one or the other would do).

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