2011 – Nicholas Ashford, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ died on This Day in Rock Music History!
Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson had hits such as: ‘Found A Cure’, and 1985 UK No. 3 single ‘Solid’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’, ‘Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing’, and ‘Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)’.
The duo essentially had two careers: one as a successful writing and producing team and the other as singers and performers themselves. They started their career in the mid-1960s, writing for artists such as The 5th Dimension (“California Soul”), Aretha Franklin (“Cry Like A Baby”), and Ray Charles (“Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor”). Their work with Charles brought them to the attention of Motown chief Berry Gordy.
Upon joining the Motown staff in 1966, Ashford & Simpson were paired with the vocal duo Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and they wrote and/or produced all but one of the late-1960s Gaye/Terrell singles, including hits such as the original version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Your Precious Love”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”, and “You’re All I Need to Get By”. According to Gaye in the book Divided Soul, Simpson did most of the vocals on the last album he did with Terrell, Easy, as a way for Terrell’s family to have additional income as she was battling an ultimately fatal brain tumor. (Simpson is quoted as denying this in a book written by Terrell’s sister Ludie Montgomery; and Louvain Demps, singer of The Andantes, has stated that she saw Terrell recording the album.)
Ashford & Simpson wrote and produced almost all the songs on three 1970s albums for former Supreme Diana Ross, including her first solo album Diana Ross (“Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”), Surrender (“Remember Me”), and The Boss. All three albums were critically acclaimed with “Diana Ross” her 1970 album debut and “The Boss” being certified platinum and “Surrender” certified Gold.
Other Motown artists whom Ashford & Simpson worked with include Gladys Knight & The Pips (“Didn’t You Know You’d Have to Cry Sometime”, “The Landlord”, “Bourgie, Bourgie”, and “Taste of Bitter Love”), Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (“Who’s Gonna Take the Blame”), The Marvelettes (“Destination:Anywhere”), The Supremes (“Some Things You Never Get Used To”), and The Dynamic Superiors (“Shoe, Shoe Shine”).
Other artists with whom Ashford & Simpson had hits were Teddy Pendergrass (“Is It Still Good to You”), The Brothers Johnson (“Ride-O-Rocket”), Chaka Khan, both on her own (“I’m Every Woman” and “Clouds”), and with Rufus (“Keep It Comin'” and “Ain’t Nothin’ But a Maybe”).
Ashford & Simpson’s career as recording artists began in the early 1960s as part of the gospel group The Followers, with whom they recorded the album Gospel Meeting (on Forum Circle), later issued as Meetin’ The Followers (on Roulette Records). The LP contains their vocals and also four Ashford compositions. In 1964, they recorded “I’ll Find You”, as “Valerie & Nick”. That was followed by several obscure singles recorded by Ashford on the Glover, Verve and ABC labels, such as “It Ain’t Like That” (later recorded by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas), “California Soul”, and “Dead End Kids”, backed by his own version of “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. After concentrating on working with other artists, Simpson was the featured soloist on the songs “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “What’s Going On” on the Quincy Jones albums Gula Matari in 1970, and its follow-up, Smackwater Jack. Simpson subsequently recorded two solo LPs for Motown: Valerie Simpson Exposed in 1971, and, the following year, Valerie Simpson, which included the single “Silly, Wasn’t I”, which was later sampled on 50 Cent’s “Best Friend” from the movie Get Rich or Die Tryin’. The song was also sampled by 9th Wonder on Murs’s “Silly Girl” in the album Murray’s Revenge. Ashford & Simpson were featured singing selections from Simpson’s solo albums on the PBS TV show Soul!, hosted by Ellis Haizlip in 1971. In 1973, they left Motown after the albums Simpson recorded for the label received poor promotion and the company refused to release an album of the duo recording a collection of their most famous songs for other artists.
In 1974, Ashford & Simpson married and resumed their career as a duo with the Warner Bros. album Gimme Something Real. This was followed by the hit singles “Don’t Cost You Nothin'” (1977), “It Seems to Hang On” (1978), “Is It Still Good to Ya” (1978), “Found a Cure” (1979), “Street Corner” (1982), and their biggest hit, “Solid (As a Rock)”, released in 1984.
In 1978, they were featured as vocalists, along with Chaka Khan, on the hit single “Stuff Like That” from Quincy Jones’ Sounds… And Stuff Like That album and contributed to the writing of the soundtrack to The Wiz.
Simpson appeared (with Melba Moore) as part of the “Blood, Sweat & Tears Soul Chorus” on the band’s Al Kooper-led debut album on Columbia Records, Child Is Father to the Man.
On his own, Ashford (along with Frank Wilson), produced the hit “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, which Diana Ross & the Supremes recorded in collaboration with the Temptations in 1968. He also appeared in the movie New Jack City (1991), as Reverend Oates, an ordained minister who was part of Nino Brown’s entourage.
Simpson’s brothers were in the record business as well: Ray Simpson replaced Victor Willis in the Village People and their brother Jimmy Simpson produced the group GQ (which had big hits with “Disco Nights” and “I Do Love You”), and was in great demand as a mixing engineer during the disco era.