Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff wrote a string of highly successful soul songs, few of which are considered to be true pop standards. Their 1976 composition for Lou Rawls, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” is a notable exception; unquestionably one of the best known standards from the post-standards era.
The song does everything a pop standard should do: Smooth, silky, creates a mood, and any artist could’ve recorded a hit version. In the hands of Lou Rawls, of course, the song propels into the stratosphere of 1970s era standards. Rawls was a gospel and jazz singer by trade; we can only wonder what might’ve been had he moved to this type of pop sound earlier in his career. For his part, Rawls had no complaints; he recorded a variety of music through his career and it sounds like he enjoyed all of it.
“You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” is one of those rare records that tops across three major but diverse charts. It went to #2 pop, #1 R & B, and at what is usually the opposite end of the spectrum, went to #1 Adult Contemporary. The song was Rawls’ largest seller and the only certified platinum record in his career. It is still played with great frequency on adult contemporary radio, even more so perhaps than on oldies programming.
Why then, do we feature “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” as a “Forgotten Gem” you might ask.
Time to unveil our hidden agenda. OK, “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” is not forgotten; we admit it. We’re actually using this song to focus in on the work of Gamble and Huff — not to state that any of their other compositions actually are pop standards. This is more an act of officially noting that they are not yet thought of as standards, so that perhaps someday this information will help future music historians. After all, this internet stuff should be around for a long time.
So without further ado, we’ll examine the work of Gamble and Huff and try to predict which songs will someday be part of the Great American Songbook.
An early Gamble & Huff hit that comes to mind is “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” which charted R & B only for Dee Dee Warwick, (Dionne’s sister), and then scratched the pop top 40 for Madeleine Bell. The song finally got the recognition it deserved when Motown powerhouses Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations combined on a duet version, which rocketed to #2 on both pop and R & B. The song could be a potential standard; the Supremes/Temps version is just a little too R & B to make it a chip shot. Time will tell.
Their first top ten song, predating the above, will be tougher to move into the pantheon of pop. “Expressway To Your Heart” by The Soul Survivors has a bit of a dated, 1960s sound — but the hooks are terrific. Still, it’s a bit too rugged to be considered a standard…yet.
By now the musicologists reading this article are probably screaming. “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” was not only a #1 hit (soul; #3 pop) for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in 1972, but also #1 pop and adult contemporary for Simply Red in 1989. Clearly their biggest hit, but it simply doesn’t work as a pop standard. Clearly a soul sound; particularly when contrasted with “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”
If there’s one thing we can say for Messrs. Huff and Gamble, it’s that they weren’t shy about having long song titles.
Quite a few other potential standards remain; too many to list here. The key songs include “When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees, “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, and “Love Train” by the O’Jays.
Of the three, “Mrs. Jones” is probably the closest to being considered a standard. A slow melody and plaintive lyrics made this tune #1 on the pop charts for three weeks, and it has been recorded by so many artists that you might think it already is a standard. Perhaps we’re missing something, but in a poll of PopularSong.org writers, it’s just too soulful to be considered pop. Of course if Michael Bublé has anything to say about it, we’re already calling this a standard. Perhaps a jazz standard?
So what of “Love Train”? It’s been featured in films, beer commercials, and political conventions. It’s certainly poppish, perhaps a bit of a rock and roller to be considered a standard at this point. In time? Let the train keep on riding…