Monday, June 13, 2005

The Spinners - It's A Shame / WCBS-FM RIP

The Spinners
I selected this song to blog more than a week ago, mainly because it’s one of my all time faves – a veritable monument to sweet soul, the greatness of the Motown organization and the music of the late 1960’s/early 70’s in general. ‘It’s A Shame’ manages to work as a great soul 45, great pop 45 and all around great song (not always the same thing…) at the same time. Then I heard the news, that WCBS-FM, really the last great radio station in the New York area was changing formats. A shame indeed… First, the record…. Co-written by Stevie Wonder, Lee Garrett and Syreeta Wright, and sung so well by the Spinners, ‘It’s A Shame’ was released on Motown’s VIP subsidiary (also home to R. Dean Taylor’s mighty ‘There’s a Ghost In My House’) and was a sizable hit (probably the biggest hit I’ve ever covered here, hitting #4 R&B and #14 Pop). From the chiming guitars of the opening, the surprisingly hard/funky drums and the sweet harmonies, right through the escalating tempo and powerful horns, the tune sounds like a slice of the summer of 1970 (or what the Summer of 1970 would have sounded like in the absence of widespread riots, Kent State etc.). Among the cool footnotes to the record is the Wonder/Garrett one-two punch. Stevie Wonder is of course a huge star known to millions (Wright was his longtime writing partner and eventually his wife). Lee Garrett on the other hand, despite a lengthy career – and the amazing ‘I Can’t Break the Habit’ 45 for Philly’s Harthon label – remains an unknown quantity to everyone but soul collectors. Garrett was also (like Wonder) blind. So, back to the radio… WCBS-FM, in it’s incarnation as an “oldies” station (maybe the greatest oldies station ever) came on the air in 1972. I was ten years old, and in the beginning, all I knew of the station was it’s humorous TV commercials. Over the next year or two, my radio listening increased dramatically and I spent a lot of time listening to WCBS. It was the first place I ever heard soul music, British Invasion, 60’s punk (at least the stuff that charted) and the ONLY place I heard old-school R&B and doowop. The stations playlist (and it’s air talent, many of whom had spent the 60’s working at Top 40 powerhouses like WABC-AM) had a huge formative effect on my musical tastes*. Even the shows that I only listened to on occasion, like Don K. Reed’s Doowop Shop - where Reed would play all manner of obscure 45s and 78s – inspired me with their attention to “forgotten” but great music. As time wore on, and other New York radio giants fell to market research and changing times, WCBS was always there. It was especially important because as other “oldies” stations started up in the market, and beat the same two dozen songs into the ground mercilessly, WCBS was always there, like an oasis in the desert playing something interesting. Last week the ownership (Infinity Broadcasting, the same bunch that helped drive Howard Stern to satellite) fired the air staff (including NY radio legends Cousin Brucie and Harry Harrison) and changed to a “Jack Radio” format (whatever the f*ck that is…). Just like that, WCBS-FM was no more. It’s true that the clues were there that something was going to happen. Management had curtailed some of the station’s more esoteric tendencies in the last few years, but even then it was still great. So there you have it. Commercial radio in New York City is now dead. You can still catch great stuff on public radio, and WFMU is still the greatest free-form station around, but that stuff reaches a very small market. Infinity says that the old format will still exist was an internet station, but really…. Take some advice from someone that knows (and has been a satellite listener for almost two years). Get a satellite hookup. Both Sirius (which I have) and XM are doing things that you just can’t hear on commercial/terrestrial radio anymore. The satellite programmers are taking chances, and the results – while not always smooth – are always interesting. “It’s a Shame’…. *Interestingly enough, many fellow collectors/music fiends in the same age range tell similar stories about being exposed to cool old music for the first time on WCBS-FM.


Blogger Todd Lucas said...

You know, "It's A Shame" really is a great song. I found a clean copy of the 45 out thrifting a few months ago. Nice, nice stuff. Too bad the oldies outlets (at least the ones I've been exposed to) almost never give it a spin.

As a side note, I do have this song on an old WCFL (Chicago) aircheck from 1970. As you would expect, it sounds equally great in its own time.

6/13/2005 06:40:00 PM  
Blogger The Stepfather of Soul said...

Infinity did the same thing to WJMK, Chicago's oldies station (the handwriting was on the wall when they made them stop using the word "oldies") ... I know that radio is a business and it's all about the numbers, but the fact of the matter is that these major corporations are going to be the death of any good radio, regardless of the idiom.

6/14/2005 04:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i play this on my (college) radio show all the time. you can listen to the station streaming:

6/15/2005 03:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This song brings back really cool memories for me! Summer of 1970 - first time to live away from home in Birmingham, Alabama away from parents and experiencing life on my own! What a blast!

12/28/2005 03:56:00 PM  

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