Little Anthony & The Imperials
Reviewed on this page:
We Are The Imperials - Shades Of The 40's - I'm On The Outside (Looking In) - Goin' Out Of My Head - Payin' Our Dues - Reflections - On A New Street - Who's Gonna Love Me - Daylight
One of the biggest of the late 50s doo-wop groups, Little Anthony & The Imperials shot to success with the teen weeper "Tears On My Pillow," and followed it up with the sock hop hit "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop." Then they spent a few years in the wilderness - while The Four Seasons seized the market for grating falsetto leads - before hooking up with writer/producer Teddy Randazzo, who wrote a batch of classic agonized love songs starting in 1964: "I'm On The Outside (Looking In)"; "Hurts So Bad"; "Goin' Out Of My Head."
Their sound during this period was a big influence on Philly Soul pioneer Thom Bell, and he soon returned the favor, producing a 1970 single ("Help Me Find A Way") and half of a 1973 comeback album for the group.
They hung tough for an exceptionally long time, considering the lack of demand for doowop groups, but eventually succumbed to reality and became an oldies act. They've continued touring to this day with a fair number of original members, and were inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame in 2009.
"Little" Anthony Gourdine, Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers, Ernest Wright, all vocals. Gourdine, Rogers and Lord left, 1961, replaced by Sammy Strain and George Kerr, who was then replaced by Kenny Seymour. Gourdine returned, 1963, replacing Seymour. Wright left, 1971, replaced by Seymour. Seymour left again, replaced by Bobby Wade. Strain left, 1972, replaced by Harold Jenkins. Gourdine left again, c. 1976, and the group carried on as The Imperials. Collins left, 1988, replaced by Sherman James. James left, 1992, replaced by Ron Stevenson. At this point, Gourdine, Collins, Strain and Wright reformed as Little Anthony & The Imperials, while Wade, Stevenson and Jenkins became Bobby Wade's Emperors. Strain retired, 2004, replaced by Jenkins.
We Are The Imperials (1959)
The big hit here was "Tears On My Pillow," and the other standout track is another love song: "Two People In The World." Other cuts include standards like "Over The Rainbow" and "When You Wish Upon A Star," and teenybopper silliness ("Oh Yeah"; "Cha Cha Henry").
The arrangements and mixing are primitive, with way too much tinkling piano and swelling organ, but Gourdine's voice is way up front, and though I might call his interpretations unsubtle, he does have power and control to spare.
Their next monster hit was the uptempo classic "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop," but there wasn't an album to go with it.
Shades Of The 40's (1961)
Standards again, including Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and the Gershwins' "I've Got A Crush On You."
Shortly after this, Anthony left the band, recording solo while the band recorded as The Imperials. Neither aggregation tasted much success and they reformed, as Herbert Kornfeld would say, with a quickness.
I'm On The Outside (Looking In) (1964)
The reconstituted group (now with Sammy Strain on vocals) began working with writer/producer Teddy Randazzo and his writing partner Bob Weinstein. The collaboration bore fruit right away with the title track, a hit single, and an LP soon followed. Maybe too soon: Randazzo didn't have a whole lot of material, so he served up a lot of warmed-up Motown ("Where Did Our Love Go"), Bacharach ("Walk On By") and standards ("The Girl From Ipanema"; Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away"), all with primitive rock and roll arrangements showing little progress from We Are The Imperials. The low point is a hideously overblown version of "Exodus."
In spots, though, the album does hint at the influential course Randazzo would pursue with the group: the tasteful run through "Make It Easy On Yourself," for example.
Goin' Out Of My Head (1965)
Randazzo and Weinstein's other two biggest hits are here: "Hurts So Bad" (famously covered by Linda Ronstadt) and the title track (covered by the Zombies among others).
The arrangements are miles ahead of Outside, heavily orchestrated with the dramatic sweeps (if not the sophistication) of Bacharach ("Reputation"), so musty oldies ("What A Diff'rence A Day Makes") get a new lease on life, while unprepossessing compositions like "I Miss You So" sound positively monumental.
Guardine occasionally camps it up ("Never Again"), but more often finds the core of the material (Brook Benton's "It's Just A Matter Of Time"); only a few songs feature full group harmonies ("Where Are You").
Payin' Our Dues (Anthony & The Imperials: 1966)
Another batch of Randazzo tunes but no hits to speak of, and it's not hard to hear why. The arrangements are in the same high style ("The Wonder Of It All"), but the tunes aren't as gripping or original:
"Call Me The Joker" is quite close to "Hurts So Bad"; "Better Use Your Head" and "Gonna Fix You Good" recall Smokey Robinson's hits for the Temptations; "Cry My Eyes Out" relies on Bacharach rhythmic tropes; and so on.
There's one wonderful song, though - the unsettling "Your Own Little World," with a prominent acoustic guitar - and I'm too weak to resist tricks like the bombastic strings on "Lost Without You" and "It's Not The Same."
Anthony temporarily dropped the "Little" at this point.
Reflections (Anthony & The Imperials: 1967)
As the title suggests, much heavier on the pensive, orchestrated ballads ("My Love Is A Rainbow"; "Hold On To Someone"), though there's still some uptempo stuff (the pop-Latin, "Soul Limbo"-like "Keep It Up").
I'm not someone who credits every advance in rock and roll orchestration to Pet Sounds, but here Brian Wilson's influence on Randazzo is clear: the falsetto harmonies and abrupt a capella section in leadoff single "Don't Tie Me Down" are dead giveaways. Meanwhile, the portentous drumming on "Yesterday Has Gone" recalls Phil Spector, and "In The Mirrors Of Your Mind" is pure pop despite the psychedelic subject matter. Again, nothing really hit, and apart from some bright spots like "Better Off Without You," that's no surprise: Randazzo's no longer remaking his earlier successes, but he doesn't come up with anything distinctive to replace them either.
Movie Grabbers (1968)
In the tradition of Dionne Warwick's On Stage And In The Movies, covers of soundtrack material ("A Man And A Woman"; "You Only Live Twice," a single).
Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (1969)
Basically covers of doo-wop ("The Ten Commandments Of Love") and hippy-dippy ("Let The Sunshine In") hits. I haven't heard the rest of the LP, but the title track (originally recorded by The Five Keys) is a mawkish, overblown, bad bit of business.
After this LP, the group released a string of singles including "Help Me Find A Way" and somewhere along the way Strain split to join the O'Jays.
On A New Street (1973)
One side produced by Randazzo ("That's What Love Is All About"), and one produced by Bell ("La La La At The End"; "Lazy Susan," later recorded by the Spinners). Not surprisingly, Bell's side has the same easygoing lushness of his Spinners work ("I'm Falling In Love With You"), and while there are no standout hits it's unfailingly pleasant. My only gripe is that Bell's one-size-fits-all approach doesn't take advantage of the fact that Gourdine's emotional reach exceeds Phillipé Wynne's. Randazzo's side, all written with Victoria Pike, largely follows Bell's smoothly orchestrated soul blueprint ("That's What Love Is All About," with Jamersonian bass flourishes). He does vary the template a bit, though: "What Am I Without You" is a soppy ballad recalling various 60s movie themes. And his best effort, "Loving You Won't Hurt As Much Tomorrow," successfully merges Spinneresque suavity with "Goin' Out Of My Head"-y grandiosity.
Hold On (1975)
Apparently the label Avco folded before this was released, so only the Jackson 5ish title track, a single, survives.
Produced by Phil Hurtt and Tony Bell.
In 1976, Collins and Randazzo worked on a self-titled album for Beginning Of The End, a Bahamian band best known for "Funky Nassau" (despite the influences, the album sounds more or less like Tower Of Power). (DBW)
Who's Gonna Love Me (The Imperials: 1978)
For the second time, Anthony and the rest of the Imperials took some time apart - with the same lackluster results. Without a distinctive lead singer, the Imperials' foray into disco is dull as dishwater and about as tasty (title track, despite the Caribbean percussion).
Produced by Tony Silvester and mostly written by Stan Lucas (the funk/disco "Dance With Me"), though "Can You Imagine" is by Dwight Brewster. Tunes are predictably split between slow ("No One Makes Love Like You Do") and fast, but everything's so instantly forgettable it doesn't matter.
Second single "Where You Gonna Find Somebody Like Me" (probably the record's strongest tune) was backed with a non-LP cover of Stevie Wonder's "Another Star," which I haven't heard.
Meanwhile, during this period Randazzo produced two albums for the Stylistics: one good, one not so good.
This will win you some bar bets, if you hang out in bars frequented by R&B nerds: Silvester produced one more single for The Imperials in 1979, "Fat Freddie The Roller Disco King," featuring budding superstar Prince on guitar and keys. It wasn't a collaboration exactly: Collins's nephew Pepé Willie recorded four demos for Silvester with Prince and André Cymone as sidemen - rather than re-recording, Silvester put Imperial vocals on top of "Fat Freddie" and released it, backed with Willie's (non-Prince, non-Cymone) "I Just Wanna Be Your Lovin' Man." (DBW)
Daylight (Little Anthony: 1980)
The newly born-again lead singer cut a Jesus-themed album (the self-penned "Reach Up").
The music is fairly ordinary 70s pop/soul ("My Best Friend"), which unfortunately doesn't give him much room to flex his pipes.
And the compositions are as mediocre as they are conventional ("Walk On Water") - except for the bouncy, Spinners-y "Love's The Only Way To Survive" - so generally there's not much to listen for.
"Gospel Train" is the closest tune to gospel, with crunching piano halfway between church and the Doobie Brothers, and humorous (unintentional, I'm sure) backup vocals lifted from "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," and it's also Gourdine's best vocal performance on the LP. Two of the cuts are duets: the female vocalist does an excellent job on "I'll Be Thinking Of You"; the soprano on "Your Love" overdoes things a bit.
Gourdine put out one more single in 1983, "This Time We're Winning."
Live: Up Close & Personal (2003)
Live versions of their hits.
You'll Never Know (2008)
Re-recorded versions of their hits; the title track is a duet with Deniece Williams.
Out of sight, out of mind?