Just Can’t Stop It

(I am tempted to write about the election today, but I gave up political blogging a long time ago. If you want to know what I think about what’s happening to our country right now, you could not do better than to read Larry Grogan’s essay at Funky16Corners. I agree with every word of it. We now join our regular programming, already in progress.)

Of all the records you’ve ever heard, owned, played, and loved, can you pick out a single one as your favorite record of all time? I can, and here it is: “They Just Can’t Stop It (the Games People Play)” by the Spinners, which was sitting at Number 5, its highest position on the Billboard Hot 100, 35 years ago this week.

Recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia and produced by the great Thom Bell, it was written by a team Bell assembled: Joe Jefferson, Bruce Hawes, and Charlie Simmons. Jefferson and Hawes were experienced writers—Jefferson had written “One of a Kind (Love Affair”) for the Spinners—but Simmons, a longtime friend of Philadelphia impresarios Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, wasn’t even a musician. He was a Philadelphia street tough and neighborhood fixer, but he apparently had a gift for melody, and the threesome’s chemistry was undeniable. Jefferson, Hawes, and Simmons wrote some tracks for a Stylistics album in 1973, but scored their first hit together with “Mighty Love” for the Spinners a year later. They also wrote the Spinners’ magnificent “Love Don’t Love Nobody.”

By 1974, Philadelphia was a hit factory, but like many assembly-line workers, the contract songwriters on the payroll of Mighty Three Music, the publishing company owned by Gamble, Huff, and Bell, grew dissatisfied with their lot. Mighty Three took half the songwriting royalties off the top, leaving the writers to divide the rest. As a result, the writers felt as though they weren’t getting their share of the fortune they were helping their bosses to make. Jefferson, Hawes, and Simmons put some of their frustrations into “Games People Play”: “night or day they’re just not matchin’ what they should do” and “right, wrong, they just can’t stop it.”

I didn’t know any of this in the late summer of 1975, when I first heard “Games People Play.” (Nobody called it “They Just Can’t Stop It” back then. It was officially retitled to avoid confusion with Joe South’s “Games People Play,” I guess.) I was a fan of all things Philly, but there was something about the hooks in “Games People Play”—the piano/guitar/cymbal interplay in the introduction and way it mixed a number of different singers. On the long version, there’s a great bangin’ piano solo that’s missing from the single. In all, it’s four minutes and 44 seconds of soulful bliss.

For pure Top 40 pleasure, it’s hard to do better than the fall of 1975, even accounting for John Denver’s “Calypso” and “Feelings” by Morris Albert, which were both in the Top 10 as October turned to November. That’s because you had the elegance of the Jefferson Starship’s “Miracles” and the Eagles’ “Lyin’ Eyes” up there alongside them. The Four Seasons, responsible for many a great earworm in the early 60s, updated their sound to perfection for the 70s on “Who Loves You,” and “Ballroom Blitz” by the Sweet was made to sound great on the radio. Also on the chart are other songs indelibly stamped with the fall of 1975, like Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood, “Dance With Me” by Orleans, and “Lady Blue” by Leon Russell, and some associated with the winter of 1976 to come:  Jigsaw’s “Sky High” and Silver Convention’s “Fly Robin Fly.”

In addition to “Games People Play,” “Lyin’ Eyes” is already on my Desert Island list. (“Who Loves You” probably should be.) Also on the the chart fall, and on my list ever after: “It Only Takes a Minute” by Tavares, a great radio record with a fabulous introduction for a jock to play with, and four minutes of slick pop/soul following on. And you do want the four-minute version, so you get the great reprise of the chorus after the last verse (“Gimme 60 seconds, no more”) and stereo-separated bo-bo-bos that take it to the fade.

But, man, “Games People Play.” Of all the records I ever heard, owned, played, and loved, it’s the one I love the most. After you dig it, click “Comments” and tell the class about your one-and-only love.

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5 responses

  1. “Cherish” by the Association. For reasons both musical and emotional.

  2. Another Association song…Tandyn Almer’s great “Along Comes Mary.”

  3. I am astonished that you can pick out a favorite record of all time.
    I can’t even pick out a favorite *Spinners* record of all time.

    In terms of songs I have loved since I was a kid, “Bad Time” by Grand Funk and “Go All The Way” by Raspberries (it is just Raspberries and not “the Raspberries,” right?) would be at the top.
    So would “Honky Tonk Women” and the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” (which might or might not have been a single, which might or might not disqualify it from this discussion.)

    Couldn’t pick a single all-consuming favorite, though.

  4. No quick pick for me, either, but I second the love for the album cut of “Games People Play”. Every time I hear it, it’s 12:45 and I’m headin’ for the subway home, even though Houston doesn’t have a subway system.

    I’m doing a special disco block for next week’s Sound Awake and “Sky High” is being considered. It’s not technically disco, I’ll grant, but you can boogie to it, and it’s still super awesome 35 years on, so yeah.

  5. Can’t find fault with any of the songs y’all have mentioned. In terms of the goodness of fall ’75 songs, I’d add Abba’s catchy palindrome “S.O.S.” and Pete Wingfield’s delightfully overworked metaphor, “Eighteen With a Bullet.”

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