As a lover of R&B music, I have to admit to not being a fan of the kind of do wop inspired groups like The Temptations or The Four Tops. Although they made a lot of memorable songs, I was never compelled to explore their catalogs any further. I just could never get around that middle aged man church deacon image they projected.
Despite whatever biases I harbored, good music is good music. A great melody and vocal harmony has its appeal and over time finding both together became more difficult. As the years rolled on, many of these groups from the golden age of soul music just sorta dissappeared into the realm of PBS specials or the state fair circuit.
From do-wop to disco and on to the quiet storm few existing acts have seen and done it all like the Manhattans. After some changes in the groups line up with at least two lead singers, they seemed to settle as a quartet. Whatever the configuration, they appeared the same on stage. I’ve always thought of them as being dated, despite (successful) attempts to keep themselves current – to a point. I remember seeing them on Soul Train in the ’80s and thinking even then that they looked behind the Jerry Curled fueled times. To their credit, their look grew in sophistication, even as everyone else was sportin’ Thriller or Members Only jackets
The sight of four grown men in matching jackets doing synchronized dances like a some kind of slow motion aerobics might have look dated, but the melodies Gearld Alston, Kenny Kelly, Edward Bruns and Winnie Lovett created were timeless and why The Manhattans were such a force on both the R&B and pop charts for more than a decade.
The Best of The Manhattans: Kiss and Say Goodbye offers curated proof of the higher points of The Manhattans catalog. Covering the group’s peak from the mid-’70s through the early ’80s with nearly 20 tracks. There are other greatest hits, but this one is a steal at well under $10 as a download (or physical disc).
Named for the groups biggest ever hit in 1976, this collection gathered up formally difficult to find tracks on CD in a time when the record industry seemed to be discovering a more mainstream market for classic R&B and soul.
Value aside for, it’s those wonderful melodies with little throwback intros that make The Manhattans so charming. Through out the years I’ve liked various Manhattan singles like “Shining Star” but never owned any of their albums. That’s a shame because I suspect that other great songs are likely not represented here.
The costumes and dance routines might look funny now, but the smooth soul here is timeless. While there is a resurgence of retro soul styles, the trend has yet to match soul of this vintage. Eventually hipsters will move forward from artists like Leon Bridges and the next Manhattans or Four Tops may be just around the corner (remember early New Edition?).
From a hit perspective the ’80s wasn’t particularly kind to groups like The Manhattans.
During that decade, the Temptations may have got more attention due to hookups with Ric James, but it’s The Manhattans who helped usher in the age of the Quiet Storm.
There’s no better place to start with the music of The Manhattans than with this collection that captures the group at their creative and commercial best.