Thursday, June 24, 2010

June 24: The Elgins, "Heaven Must Have Sent You"

Artist: The Elgins
Song: "Heaven Must Have Sent You"
Album: Heaven Must Have Sent You (single)
Year: 1966

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With a theoretically infinite number of options to choose from, one would assume that coming up with a unique name for a group would not be a difficult task.  However, history has proven that this is not so, and there are a number of cases of groups using the same name, and many times, this name seems a bit of an "odd" name to occur multiple times.  While there was a group that recorded for Congress that used the name, as well as a doo-wop group based out of Los Angeles, CA that also used it, one can easily make the case that it was the group that recorded for Motown Records that made the name of The Elgins the most famous.  Though even this group only had a pair of "minor" hits for the record label, in retrospect, the songs stand as two of the finest in the labels' history, and while they follow the "Motown format," they are easily distinguishable from a majority of the other hits that Motown Records released over the years.  The success of the music of The Elgins lies within the fantastic voice of Sandra Edwards (AKA Sandra Mallett), and one can easily make the case that she ranks among the finest vocalists in the entire history of the Motown label.  Due to her dominating presence within the group, one can also argue that having a name such as "The Elgins" was a bit odd, as the spotlight is never on any other group member.  Regardless, the soul and sound of their music represents everything that makes Motown great, and it can all be found in The Elgins' classic 1966 single, "Heaven Must Have Sent You."

The evolution of The Elgins was a rather odd one, as the group was originally called The Downbeats, and Edwards did not become a member of the group until only a few weeks before the recording sessions.  Even after the songs were recorded, the group was still using the name The Downbeats, and it was not until Motown boss Berry Gordy was about to release their first single that new labels were placed on the records, and largely unbeknownst to the group, they were renamed The Elgins.  Truth be told, Gordy took this name from the "original" members of The Temptations, as they had used it for many years, but at the time of this 1966 release, they had changed it, "freeing up" The Elgins for use again.  "Heaven Must Have Sent You" was released as the groups' second single on one of the smaller Motown subsidiaries, and it was largely due to being off of the "main" label that caused the song not to chart as well as it should have.  Though it had little promotion behind it, the single found moderate success, and when one looks at the song, it exemplifies everything that makes the "Motown sound" so enjoyable.  From the brilliant instrumentation from The Funk Brothers to the superb performance of Sandra Edwards, it is almost confusing "why" this song was not a massive hit, and in many ways this shows just how much impact proper promotion (or lack thereof) can have on the sales of a particular record.

"Heaven Must Have Sent You" opens with as "standard" a Motown sound as one will find anywhere, bringing a sensational swing from the onset as the drums and piano bounce back and forth.  The music stays strong but a bit sparse, as the light touches on vibraphone and bass are really the only other instruments used, leaving a massive space for Sandra Edwards to deploy her phenomenal vocal power and style.  Truth be told, one must truly wonder if there had not been a label on the album, if the song may have been "mistaken" for a Supremes song, as the vocal strength of Edwards is certainly on par with that of Diana Ross.  Though the two groups do not sound much like one another, to the casual listener, such a mistake would have been understandable, as "Heaven Must Have Sent You" is just as good as many of The Supremes hits.  Edwards' voice soars across the track, instantly ranking her among the most talented vocalists in the history of Motown Records, and the raw emotion behind each line makes her performance all the most impressive.  Combined with the classic sound of The Funk Brothers and the Holland-Dozier-Holland lyrics, "Heaven Must Have Sent You" perfectly represents the best that Motown had to offer in every respect.  The lyrics are truly beautiful, and nearly all can relate to the longing and heartbreak found within the words, but it is the unguarded honesty in Edwards' voice that makes the performance so special.

Making your own identity within the world of music can often be a rather difficult task, as being unique both in terms of sound and style is often the most challenging aspect of being a musician.  This can be further complicated if there are multiple groups using the same name, as well as if one does not receive proper support from a record label.  It is these reasons that can me seen as the factors that led The Elgins 1966 single, "Heaven Must Have Sent You" to only momentarily break into the top ten singles, and become somewhat of a "second tier" single in the overall history of Motown Records.  This fact is rather tragic, as after hearing the song, one can easily make the case that Sandra Edwards is one of the most talented voices in the entire stable of performers that the label had, and the music laid down here by The Funk Brothers stands today as one of their most memorable orchestrations.  The power writing trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland have so many classic songs to their name, yet when Edwards sings their phrasing, "'s heaven in your arms, boy, it's the sweetness of your charms...makes me love you more each day, in your arms I wanna stay..." one can easily make the case that it is one of their finest, and it is largely due to the sensational manner with with Edwards sings.  From the words to the music to the singing, there is nothing on the single that is anything short of spectacular, and few songs can compare to The Elgins' 1966 classic, "Heaven Must Have Sent You."

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