To borrow a line from one of their own hits, Ashford and Simpson have been “solid as a rock.”
Married since 1974, and a couple for many years before that, they met at White Rock Baptist Church in Harlem. They were members of a choir there. Nick said with a wink that he “liked her moves,” to which Valerie quipped, “Those were church moves!”
It is interesting to note that although he was born in South Carolina, Ashford grew up in Willow Run, Michigan. (Simpson was born in New York.)
In a short period of time, Nick and Valerie realized that they shared an interest in songwriting. Forming a partnership was the natural thing to do since they blended so well, artistically and personally.
THEY WERE soon signed to the Scepter/Wand record company, where their songs were recorded by artists such as Maxine Brown and Chuck Jackson. Around this time they also had moderate success as a recording act (“Valerie and Nick”) with a song titled “I’ll Find You,” on the Glover label.
However, they had their first hit as composers with a number that Ray Charles liked enough to record that had very unusual subject matter, “Let’s Go Get Stoned.” In late spring of 1966 the song reached No. 1 on the national R&B charts and did well on the Pop charts as well.
Shortly thereafter, Ashford & Simpson came to the attention of Motown Record Corp. and were hired as staff writers. It proved to be a fruitful relationship, and the hits came on a regular basis.
Two of the first acts to benefit from the writing and producing skills of Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford were Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Motown was wise to entrust the new duo to Ashford & Simpson.
In 1967, Marvin and Tammi soared to the upper levels of the national charts with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” now recognized as a classic. Gaye and Terrell scored with a number of additional Ashford/Simpson compositions, including “Your Precious Love,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need to Get By,” as well as “Keep on Lovin’ Me, Honey” and “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy to Come By.”
THE RAPID-FIRE success of those songs resulted in Motown having full confidence in Ashford and Simpson. There were chosen to handle the debut recordings by Diana Ross. The first hit from this partnership was “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” which was Top 10 R&B and Top 30 Pop.
Ross’ second release came as a surprise. It was a drastically rearranged rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which, interestingly, was a bigger hit than the original. It went to No. 1 on the R&B and Pop charts. But even so, it is the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell version that is heard most often today.
The former Supreme also did well with two additional Ashford & Simpson songs during that period, “Remember Me” and “Surrender.” That was in 1970-71. Nearly ten years later, Diana Ross was again assigned to Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, resulting in another major hit, “The Boss.”
AMONG THE other outstanding, though not necessarily well remembered, songs Ashford & Simpson wrote during their Motown tenure were “Destination Anywhere” (the Marvelettes), “I Wouldn’t Change the Man He Is” (Blinky), “Didn’t You Know (You’d Have to Cry Sometime)?” (Gladys Knight & the Pips) and “Who’s Gonna Take the Blame?” (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles).
Simpson recorded two albums for Motown, “Exposed” and “Valerie Simpson,” the first of which featured the hit “Silly, Wasn’t I.”
Despite all of their success as songwriters and producers, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson still envisioned themselves as a recording and performing act.
In 1973 they were signed by Warner Bros. Records and in 1982 to Capitol. Their first album was titled “Gimme Something Real,” followed by several others, including “So, So Satisfied,” “Send It” “Street Opera” and their most successful releases, “Is It Still Good to Ya?,” “Solid” and “Stay Free.”
THEY ENJOYED success on the singles charts with, among others, “It Seems to Hang On,” “Don’t Cost You Nothing,” “Is It Still Good to Ya?,” “Found a Cure,” “Love Don’t Make It Right,” “Street Corner,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Outta the World,” “I’ll Be There For You” and their biggest hit, “Solid,” which was No. 1 for three weeks.
Ashford & Simpson had played a key role in launching the solo career of Diana Ross and did the same for Chaka Khan when she departed from Rufus. In the fall of 1978, Khan hit the top of the charts with “I’m Every Woman,” another classic. Whitney Houston took the same song to the Top 10 in early 1993. It was featured as part of the “Bodyguard” soundtrack.
In addition, Ashford & Simpson wrote “Landlord” for Gladys Knight & the Pips, which peaked at No. 3 on the national R&B charts in the spring of 1980, and “Leave It Alone” for the Dynamic Superiors, a Top 20 R&B hit in 1975.
Dick Clark has often said that music is “the soundtrack of our lives.” That soundtrack includes many songs composed by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. — SVH
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