The Fascinations were, among other things, the perfect vehicle for Curtis Mayfield's pop songwriting. While his songs with the Impressions were getting funkier and more socially conscious, the Fascinations' sides show just how good Mayfield was at crafting straight, buoyant pop. Originally from Detroit, the Fascinations sound less like classic Mayfield soft soul and more like a synthesis of Motown-style ebullience with the nuance of Chicago soul. One gets the sense that he saw them as viable competitors with the Motown Sound™. And while Curtis' role with the Opals and the other OKeh artists was as songwriter or in collaboration with Carl Davis, Mayfield was much more involved with the Fascinations, writing, producing, and performing on their recordings. At times they can sound almost like the Impressionettes.

Hold On

But all the credit shouldn't just go to Mayfield. Lead singer Bernadine Boswell Smith's voice is totally amazing-- girlish and raw and so, so good. Sounding like she's constantly singing in the red, she transforms snappy little teen pop into awesome declarations of love and heartbreak.

Take, for instance, the first song Mayfield cut with them on ABC-Paramount:

The Fascinations - Mama Didn't Lie

Jan Bradley had already scored a hit with the song a year or two earlier (Although the liner notes to the Curtom Story seem to suggest Mayfield originally wrote the song for the Fascinations):

Jan Bradley - Mama Didn't Lie

Where Bradley's voice sounds clear and innocent, Boswell Smith sings with gospel-style force. The Fascinations' version is a more spirited recording, but in an era during which Motown was still coaching the blackness out of singers' voices, it wasn't really "hit material." I will say the Bradley version is beautifully produced-- great bottom end.

For the hell of it, here's a Joe Meek produced version by Flip & the Dateliners:

Flip & the Dateliners - Mama Didn't Lie

Sounds like 70s Cambodian pop. When I hear Joe Meek I think, Timbaland who? If only Meek would've stuck around long enough to record with Beyonce. They would give a whole new meaning to great bottom end. Alas, the world can only sustain so many "king's of men" at once.

Anyway, the Fascinations next single was "Tears in my Eyes." It failed to do much and ABC dropped them soon after.

Tears in my Eyes

When, in 1966, Mayfield formed his own label (Mayfield) he focused on pushing the Fascinations. The first release was the song "Say It Isn't So." It was a hit in Chicago but failed nationally.

Say It Isn't So

You can really hear the Motown influence on the flip-side:

I'm So Lucky (He Loves Me)

Their next single, "Girls Are Out to Get You," was their one bona fide hit, reaching #13 on the R&B charts, and scraping the pop charts. In the early seventies the song was a hit in the UK, inspiring a brief Fascinations reunion for an overseas tour.

Girls Are Out to Get You

b/w You'll Be Sorry

The b-side is one of my favorite Fascinations tunes. I've been listening to it on repeat for the last few days. When I played it for the ol' GF, she looked totally bored and said "I always forget you like this kind of music." So I guess it's not for everyone.

If you like what you hear, an out-of-print compilation is posted over at the blog Soulful Divas ---> HERE

1 comment:

Titus said...

That last song "You'll Be Sorry"-- Incredible