Flirtations, ‘Nothing But a Heartache’ (11/01/69)

Nothing But a Heartache, the Flirta­tions (Deram DES 18028)

The Flirtations are the latest in a line of black girls’ singing groups that includes, among others, the Crystals, the Shirelles, and the Supremes. At their best they begin to approach the gran­deur and excitement of the Chantels; usually, they sound like the Marvelletes working over waste tracks for a Motown album. Their problem isn’t talent, but material. All but one of the cuts on their first album are co-authored by Wayne Bickerton (the girls Liverpool producer–they’re Southern chicks that decided to start over again in England, a la the Walker Brothers & Jimi Hendrix) and Tony Waddington. The best tracks follow a simple formula: about three lines to a song, repeated over and over in the face of a blinding wall of horns, drums, and piano. The lead singer has to carry it, expressing real emotion with up-tempo impact, never allowing the listener to escape The Plea. Which is to say that while producer Bickerton could have carried off “Da Da Ron Ron,” he would have fallen down flat it he’d tried something like “Walking in the Rain.”

“Nothing But a Heartache” sold half a million as a single last Spring, and it doesn’t even have a good beat. That should give one some idea of the scope of the girls’ vocal talents. It’s “Need Your Loving” that showcases everything the Flirtations and Bickerton have got to offer. Simply, Bickerton does with horns and a hard rock band (a drum­mer with the sound of Ginger Baker and the timing of Buttrey, a guitarist that evokes images of Steve livid with rage, and a bassist with the freedom of Bruce) what Spector did with strings and cho­ruses. The variety of the horn sound, catching both highs and lows, the superb timing of the band itself, and the call-response of the lead singer and her chorus is astounding. Bickerton breaks up the surging momentum of the cut with a drastic chord change, and yet sustains the excitement by using the bass to parallel the lines of the lead singer. They are that tight. By the end of the song the girls in the background are singing horn riffs. There’s a sense of chaos, the feel­ing that the entire production is ready to explode from the pressure it itself has brought into being.

I’d rank this track with anything Spec­tor ever did with the Crystals. Like “Da Do Ron Ron,” the Flirtations’ “Need Your Love” is hard rock–a very special, treasured kind, the kind only young girls can create.

The rest of the record has its moments, and is listenable, thought it doesn’t stand up as an album. I still recommend it without reservation to any fan of the Crystals, the Chantels, the Ronettes, or the Vandellas who’s been wondering where that good sound went. The sound is here on this record–not a lot, but enough. Those who long for it will understand.

Rolling Stone, November 1, 1969

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