455. ‘Working My Way Back to You / Forgive Me, Girl’, by The Detroit Spinners

As vital as The Jam’s polemic first #1 was, you wouldn’t want every chart-topper to be that angry… Luckily for us, here come the (Detroit) Spinners with a relentlessly positive classic.

Working My Way Back to You / Forgive Me, Girl, by The Detroit Spinners (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 6th – 20th April 1980

They are far from the first well-established band to try a disco-ified take on the old vocal-group sound. In fact, they’re pretty late to the party. This record could have been a hit from any point since 1975. And you can approach this in one of two ways… Way A) rolling your eyes at the cheese, and at the drunken memories of every wedding disco you’ve ever attended, or Way B) joining in with the undeniable fun.

I’ll keep working my way back to you babe… The singer’s made a mistake, told some lies, thought he could have his cake and eat it, but now he’s feeling remorse… With a burning love inside… And I love his very deep voiced counterpart: Been prayin’ every day… It has a bit of a karaoke-backing track feel, but that’s part of the charm. It gives you no choice but join in.

When you do, you realise how much of a dick the singer has been. He played around, he loved to make her cry… That matters not. He is coming back, and we are left in no doubt as to his success. ‘Working My Way Back to You’ was (yet another) UK #1 that began life as a song by The Four Seasons, in 1966. Theirs is a very ‘sixties’ version, as good if not better than this cover.

Here, the Spinners had it spliced with a few bars from ‘Forgive Me Girl’, a composition by producer Michael Zager (nothing to do with Zager & Evans, unfortunately), giving us our 2nd recent chart-topping medley after Boney M’s last-but-one Christmas number one. You wouldn’t realise that these were two songs mixed together – ‘Forgive Me Girl’ works perfectly as the bridge – and I’m left relieved that this isn’t another double-‘A’ side (as they take twice as long to write about!)

The Spinners had been around since 1954, and had been charting in the US since the early sixties. Which means that by the time their one and only British chart-topper came around, all four members were in their early-forties. One of the original ‘man-bands’, then! They join the aforementioned Four Seasons, and The Tymes, and even The Tams, in scoring #1s beyond their eras thanks to the popularity of soul and, of course, disco. They are still an active group, too, with one founding member, Henry Fambrough, still present.

Why, though, were the plain old Spinners marketed as The Detroit Spinners, and sometimes the Motown Spinners, in the UK? Well, all thanks to a British folk group who had already laid claim to the name. A couple of decades later the Americans would repay the compliment by forcing Suede to become the considerably less cool London Suede for their US releases…

8 thoughts on “455. ‘Working My Way Back to You / Forgive Me, Girl’, by The Detroit Spinners

  1. It makes a good music trivia or pub quiz question, doesn’t it…what did The Tremeloes do in the 60s, the Bay City Rollers in the 70s, and the Detroit Spinners in the 80s? Take a cover version of a Four Seasons song to No. 1 in the UK, that’s what. I quite liked the original of this one, but I think the DS’s really did it proud here – it’s one of those harmless dance floor hits that somehow presses all the right buttons without trying, and unless you loathe disco, I don’t think you can really dislike this.

  2. You’re right about how late to the party this song feels. Wouldn’t have thought of “Working My Way Back To You” as a 1980 hit as it sounds like it would have easily been a hit anytime during the ‘70s. Plus, old school R&B vocal groups like the Spinners were on the way out especially with the rise of disco so it’s amazing that they managed to hit as late as they did. Considering the Four Seasons’ original peaked at #9 in the US in the ‘60s, it’s easy to account The Spinners’ US success of the song with nostalgia people had for the song and era and possibly more recent nostalgia for ‘70s vocal groups like the Spinners. Even though the song has a disco beat, it’s not too disco which must have helped at the moment when the disco backlash was in full swing. And it’s also a pretty good song so I can’t complain too much. In the US, the Spinners were big hitmakers but only went to #1 once with Dionne Warwick on “Then Came You” in 1974 and got to #2 twice in the next six years with “The Rubberband Man” in 1976 behind Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright)”and this song behind Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Pt.2.”

  3. Pingback: 462. ‘Use It Up and Wear It Out’, by Odyssey – The UK Number Ones Blog

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