As far as bands and groups from the Classic Soul era go, The Whispers are rarely spoken of as one of the great all-time groups, but their place in R&B/Soul lore is almost as strong as their harmony and countless albums.
The Whispers will receive the TVOne “Unsung” treatment this coming Wednesday night at 10 p.m. Eastern time and after the show airs, fans of old school and even the current generation will understand why The Whispers should be more highly thought of. As I did with the Disco Unsung, consider this a study guide of sorts to help you understand what you’re going to see on TVOne tomorrow night.
The Whispers’ story is really one of perseverance. Founded by twin brothers Wallace (Scotty) and Walter Scott in Los Angeles in the mid 1960s, the group did some early recording in Philadelphia, but in spite of the music scene there, the Whispers had little success.
Returning to LA, they linked up with Dick Griffey, who was involved with Don Cornelius’ Soul Train records at the time. The Whispers started cranking out albums that were R&B top 20 material under Griffey’s tutelage and became the flagship group of Solar Records, which spun off from Soul Train Records in 1977.
The Whispers were the most consistent contemporary soul group of the 80s, with five of their six albums in the decade reaching the R&B top 10 and all six at least in the top 15.
The Whispers are similar to the O’Jays in the way of mature love songs – these were grown men who had life and love experiences prior to the women in their songs, but wished to share what they’ve learned and what they’ve become with them in a romantic and emotional way. They call it “Grown folks music” for a reason – grown men in their 30s singing to grown women who knew what they were bringing to the table.
To help you understand a little further, gonna close this post out with 10 definitive Whispers songs you should get familiar with.
“I’m gonna make you my wife,” from Open Up Your Love, 1977: One of the underrated ballads of a year full of great slow jams (“Voyage to Atlantis” and “Love’s Holiday” standing out), Scotty sings of his desire to marry the woman of his dreams, telling her all the things she is and will be to him.
“In the mood,” from Just Gets Better With Time, 1987: The Whispers’ ability to sing with just about any producer was evident as this hit from a rising young producer named Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds is a top 10 slow jam of the entire 1980s, which is all about setting the mood for love.
“Olivia (Lost and turned out)” from Headlights, 1978: The Whispers’ early stuff was message music, but as they became more popular they strayed away from it. “Olivia,” the story of a young girl turning tricks so her pimp can buy a Cadillac Seville, is the rare exception, with a smooth, swaying track that definitely seems to be a soundtrack for the ladies of the night.
“And the beat goes on,” from The Whispers, 1979: Their first R&B number one hit the top of the charts in March of 1980 and stayed there for the entire month. It was the sample beat for “Miami” by Will Smith, and it stands on its own as a Whispers classic, an upbeat groove about life going on after heartbreak.
“Living together (in sin),” from One For The Money, 1976: Pretty much sets the template for future Whispers love songs to come – the consentual nature of two grown people (married or not) doing whatever they want under their own roof.
“Are you going my way,” from So Good, 1984: The breakdown in this song is memorable as Scotty sings step by step how he’s going to do everything from putting a bolt lock on the door to making sweet love in all positions – pretty heady stuff for the early to mid 80s.
“Rock Steady,” from Just Gets Better With Time: Their biggest hit really is a summation of their career to that point – they rocked steady for a decade straight with consistent albums full of smooth love songs and just the right amount of up tempo dance songs.
“Say you (would love for me to),” from Imagination, 1980: Written by group member Nicholas Caldwell, the opening lines are as memorable as any Whispers song there’s ever been – “Let me lay my head upon ya chest/let me feel your heart beating beneath your breast.” The song has your attention from that point forward and it’s another Grown Folks classic.
“Chocolate Girl,” from Open Up Your Love: Along with the R&B top 10 hit “I wanna make it with you” and the aformentioned “I’m gonna make you my wife,” this is another sweet love song from Open Up Your Love, which could be interpreted as love for darker skinned women.
“Lady,” from The Whispers: Not to be confused with the Kenny Rogers-Lionel Richie collaboration of the same period, this song was also written by Nicholas Caldwell with more memorable lyrics personalized by Scotty and remains a fan favorite to this day.