Originally published in MusicHound R&B: The Essential Album Guide,
Gary Graff, Josh Freedom du Lac, and Jim McFarlin (eds.); Visible Ink
Press (Detroit, MI): 1998.
Formed 1960 in Newark, N.J. Members: Richard Taylor (1960-1985), Kenneth
Kelly, Gerald Alston (1972-1988), Edward "Sonny" Bivins, Winfred
"Blue" Lovett, George "Smitty" Smith (1960-1971)
In the 1960s and 1970s, as in many other periods in the history of rhythm
and blues, the male vocal group sound was a distinct and conservative
thread that tied contemporary music to its recent past. Groups such as
the Dells, the Temptations, the O'Jays, the Impressions, and the Spinners
were all either part of the 1950s doo-wop scene or directly descended
from it. Whereas the disco era of the 1970s destroyed the careers of many
great soul vocalists of the 1960s, many of these same vocal groups were
able to thrive into and beyond the radical stylistic changes that disco
initiated. This must be because the male vocal group sound is easily adaptable
to a wide variety of musical settings.
Since the days of the Ravens, the Ink Spots, and the Mills Brothers,
vocal group music has always affirmed values such as showmanship, choreography,
precision, presentation, style, and class--another indication of the music's
inherent conservatism. In the 1960s, other vocal groups were always measured
against the standard of the Temptations, with their neatly pressed sharkskin
suits, precise choreography, and the chilling vocals of the two coolest
humans on the face of the earth, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin. At
least in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, however, there were
many fans who believed that the Manhattans were as good or better. On
stage with their matching suits and trademark white gloves, the Manhattans
were every bit as smooth, precise, and explosive as the Temps. What's
more, they too were fronted by two outstanding lead singers, Winfred "Blue"
Lovett and George "Smitty" Smith.
Lovett was the group's leader, and was also an outstanding songwriter
whose compositions with producer Joe Evans and fellow Manhattan Sonny
Bivins gave the group a string of hit records on Carnival Records in the
mid 1960s. As lead vocalist on the group's more straightforward pop/soul
recordings, Lovett's baritone projected a warm, relaxed persona in hits
such as "I Wanna Be," "The Boston Monkey," and "Baby,
I Need You." The Manhattans' more memorable early recordings, however,
were sung by Smith, a distinctive stylist whose readings of songs such
as "Can I," "I'm the One That Love Forgot," and "Follow
Your Heart" conveyed a discomforting sense of anguish and despair.
Particularly in live performance, Smith's voice seemed to be directly
wired to the spines of his listeners.
When Smith died of an illness suddenly in 1971, the Manhattans' survival
seemed unlikely. Yet they were able to replace Smith with Gerald Alston
(nephew of Shirley Alston of the Shirelles), another fine singer whose
style paid obvious homage to Sam Cooke. More of a pop singer than either
Smith or Lovett had been, Alston's incorporation into the group enabled
the Manhattans to break well beyond their status as the standard-bearers
for the New York doo-woppers and achieve major national success. With
Alston handling all lead vocals and Lovett relegated to providing spoken
introductions a la Barry White, the Manhattans moved to Columbia Records
in 1973. At Columbia, producers Bobby Martin, a former colleague of Gamble
and Huff in Philadelphia, and later Leo Graham, who also produced Tyrone
Davis, helped the Manhattans craft an impressive string of elegant pop/soul
hit ballads; most notably "Kiss and Say Goodbye," a platinum-selling
number one pop and R&B hit in 1976. Despite their high gloss and pop
pedigree, however, these recordings always maintained continuity with
the original Manhattans sound through strong, doo-wop influenced ensemble
Alston left the Manhattans in 1988 and went on to pursue a solo career
on Motown, with moderate success.
Buy first: Taking nothing away from the Manhattans'
great Columbia recordings of the 1970s, the Carnival recordings represent
their most original and transcendent work. These are available in a number
- [Dedicated to You/For You and Yours] (Kent/UK, 1993, prod. Joe Evans)
- [Dedicated to You: Golden Carnival Classic, Pt. 1] (Collectables,
1991, prod. Joe Evans) (5 bones)
- [For You and Yours: Golden Carnival Classics, Pt. 2] (Collectables,
1991, prod. Joe Evans) (5 bones)
- [Best of the Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye] (Sony, 1995, prod.
Various) (4 bones) is a fine retrospective of their Columbia recordings.
- [Back to Basics] (Columbia, 1986, prod. Various) (4 bones) is notable
for the production contributions of the great Bobby Womack. This was
Alston's final recording with the group, and also featured the vocals
of Regina Belle, who went on to a very successsful solo career after
debuting with the Manhattans here. "Where Did We Go Wrong,"
a lovely Alston/Belle duet, was the hit from this disc.
- [Dedicated to You] (Carnival, 1966, prod. Joe Evans) (5 bones)
- [For You and Yours] (Carnival, 1967/Carnival, 1982, prod. Joe Evans)
(4 1/2 bones)
- [There's No Me Without You] (Columbia, 1973, prod. Bobby Martin) (4
- [Summertime in the City] (Columbia, 1974, prod. Bobby Martin) (3 1/2
- [That's How Much I Love You] (1974, prod. Bobby Martin) (3 1/2 bones)
- [The Manhattans] (Columbia, 1976, prod. Bobby Martin) (3 1/2 bones)
- I Wanna Be Your Everything (DJM, 1976, prod. Joe Evans) (5 bones)
- [It Feels So Good] (Columbia, 1977, prod. Leo Graham) (4 bones)
- [There's No Good in Goodbye] (Columbia, 1978, prod. Leo Graham) (3
- [Love Talk] (Columbia, 1979, prod. Leo Graham) (3 bones)
- [After Midnight] (Columbia, 1980, prod. Leo Graham) (3 bones)
- [Greatest Hits] (Columbia, 1980, prod. Various) (4 bones)
- [Follow Your Heart] (Solid Smoke, 1981, prod. Joe Evans) (5 bones)
- [Best of the Manhattans] (Embassy, 1981, prod. Various) (4 bones)
- [Black Tie] (Columbia, 1981, prod. Leo Graham)
- [Forever by Your Side] (Columbia, 1983, prod. Leo Graham)
- [Sweet Talk] (Valley Vue, 1989, prod. Leo Graham, Gary Taylor) (2
- [Heart & Soul of the Manhattans] (Castle, 1992, prod. Various)
- [Collection] (Castle, 1993, prod. Various) (4 bones)
- [One Life To Live] (Sony Special Products, 1995, prod. unknown) (3
Worth searching for: The Manhattans recorded two LPs
for Deluxe, a subsidiary of Starday-King of Nashville, between their Carnival
and Columbia recordings.
- [With These Hands] (Deluxe, 1970, prod. Buddy Scott) (3 bones) was
George Smith's last LP with the group, and includes such uncharacteristic
material as "Georgia on My Mind" and "By the Time I Get
- [A Million to One] (Deluxe, 1972, prod. Various) (4 bones) was the
first LP with Alston. "One Life to Live," from this LP, was
one of their best.
Influenced by: The Moonglows, the Dells, the Flamingos,
Sam Cooke, Johnnie Taylor
Influenced: Boyz II Men