One Track Mind: The Spinners, "I'll Be Around" (1972)

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From the first chunky guitar chords, the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around” is a different kind of a song about getting dumped, and still loving her anyway, and thinking to yourself — and then saying out loud — that you’ll wait for as long as it takes for her to return, since there’s always a chance, no matter how remote, that these things work out in the end.

A lean bass signature enters next, then the soaring strings required of any soul effort of the period, and some sly conga work by Larry Washington. Bobby Smith cries then winks — “now it’s up to me, to bow out gracefully,” he sings, though you somehow know from the start that he won’t — in a performance as nuanced as the brilliant arrangement.

It’s Philly Soul, personified — even if the group started out as four high school students in Ferndale, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Thank producer Thom Bell, who fashioned a two-chord burst of mournful resolve on “I’ll Be Around” that neatly echoes the chorus’ vocal lines.

The date is rounded out by the Philadelphia International house band, including drummer Earl Young; bassist Ronnie Baker; guitarists Norman Harris, Roland Chambers and Bobby Eli; and vibraphonist Vince Montana, among a cast of many. Bell plays piano; Don Renaldo led the strings group.

The Spinners, who had named themselves after a hubcap on Smith’s 1951 Crown Victoria, were on their way. “I’ll Be Around” led to a run of subsequent hits — including 1974’s “Then Came You,” 1975’s “Games People Play” and 1978’s response to the disco-and-dance thing, “The Rubberband Man” — that made the Spinners the best-selling male vocal group of the 1970s, and second only to the Drifters in the Atlantic library of hitmakers.

Bell and the group hit a creative vista, however, with the 1972’s “Spinners” LP. Practically its own greatest hits package, that Atlantic recording is home to “I’ll Be Around,” as well as “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “Ghetto Child,” “How Could I Let You Get Away” (actually, the flip side to “I’ll Be Around”) and “One of a Kind (Love Affair).” He brings the same kind of lush sophistication to this project that marked celebrated earlier work with the Stylistics and Delfonics — think, “La La Means I Love You” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” — but with an updated street-level vibe.

Bell then mixed in orchestral elements of the big band sound of the previous decade, making for a fluttering, hypnotic effect that was faster than a standard ballad but a beat slower than a dance song.

The result: Three-minutes bursts of exquisite soul glory like “I’ll Be Around,” which eventually spent five weeks at No. 1 on the R&B chart, the Spinners’ first, and reaching No. 3 on the pop hit parade, as well.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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