Ashford and Simpson ‘Send It’ (BBR) 4/5

ashford-simpsonSinger-songwriter pairing of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson were in full swing as performers when this album was originally released in 1977 and it contains one of their strongest and, perhaps, underrated dance floor numbers ever in ‘Don’t cost you nothing’. Almost forty years on, it still sounds amazingly contemporary with its beefed up percussion and heavy bass line and the extended 12″ version bonus cut is one of the hardest hitting disco singles ever to surface, and features an instrumental breakdown that is sheer disco heaven. Surprisingly, at the time it was only a minor hit and even just outside the disco top twenty, though it did go top ten in the R & B charts, an indication, perhaps, that Ashford and Simpson’s fan base was more soul-oriented than merely dance driven. A secondary detail to the genesis of the song makes it even more fascinating. It was originally offered to two up and coming dance musicians without a record deal at the time by the name of Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers. The duo came up with a version, but this was rejected. Quite how a Chic interpretation would have sounded is a mouth-watering prospect, but viewed from this prism, there is a Chic-esque quality to both the distinctive and prominent bass line and rhythm guitar.

Nowadays, it is the original instrumental version of ‘Bourgie Bourgie’ that takes all the plaudits and the number intriguingly found its way onto the b-side of a UK only 12″ at the time that is now much sought after. Not only is that included here, but a longer re-edit by José Clausell is included by means of comparison with an added percussive intro and gradual build-up that returns later for a truly thrilling crescendo. An all-time great disco anthem if ever there were one. However, the album with Paul Riser arranging and an all-start cast of sessions musicians is far from a two song affair. Ashford and Simpson were always a whole lot more than a superior disco outfit and the staccato rhythm of ‘Top of the stairs’ is a sophisticated soulful affair that dips and dives in tempo, and something of an on-off uptempo winner. In contrast, the gentle title track ballad was released as the second single and showcased the superlative joint harmonies of the couple with a repetitive, yet deeply uplifting chorus that really sinks in after a few listens. Of note here and elsewhere on the album are the background harmonies that were augmented by the presence of Ullanda McCullough and Raymond Simpson and the album really was a collective endeavour. A mid-tempo joint vocal opener to the album impresses with, ‘By way of love’s express’, and, with Valerie Simpson part-handling the lead here. there is something of an uplifting gospel feel. In the series of Ashford and Simpson albums from the 1970s, this is one of the strongest and stands the test of time.

Tim Stenhouse