‘Shoeshine Boy’: Eddie Kendricks Makes Final Run To R&B Summit

The aspirational nature of the song’s lyric was especially appropriate for co-writer Harry Booker, who had once been a shoeshine boy himself.

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Eddie Kendricks 'Shoeshine Boy' artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Eddie Kendricks 'Shoeshine Boy' artwork - Courtesy: UMG

The solo career of the great Eddie Kendricks, one of the most delightful and distinctive falsettos in music history, was always likely to be secondary to his achievements during 11 years or so as one of the lead singers with the Temptations.

But after his departure from the Motown fixtures in 1971, he delivered countless top-drawer performances and no fewer than 26 entries to the R&B chart. His premature death in 1992 from cancer at the age of 52 robbed him of more. In retrospect, much of the attention for his catalog goes to the remarkable double-punch of his superb, consecutive soul chart-toppers “Keep On Truckin’” and “Boogie Down.”

But Kendricks delivered six more R&B Top 10 hits, one of which gave him a further No.1 and deserves more limelight of its own. “Shoeshine Boy,” a jaunty number written by Harry Booker and Linda Allen, made its debut, at a promising No.68, on Billboard‘s Hot Soul Singles chart of February 8, 1975. It arrived on the very day that the Temptations themselves climbed to No.1 with “Happy People.”

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The song had appeared two months before its chart entry on Kendricks’ fifth solo album For You, which also included his covers of Bread’s “If” and Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle.” The aspirational nature of the lyric was especially appropriate for Booker, who had once been a shoeshine boy himself. The track’s breezy feel was an easy fit for Eddie’s vocal expertise, and its lyric hinted at the very essence of the American dream (“Where are you gonna be ten years from now…I wanna know, are you gonna be the richest man around?”). 

Listen to uDiscover Music’s Eddie Kendricks Best Of playlist.

Two months later, it overtook one of its fellow new entries that same week, Earth Wind & Fire’s “Shining Star,” to give Kendricks a final week at the top of the survey. It also became his final Top 20 single on the pop chart, reaching No.18 on the Hot 100.

For You, meanwhile, couldn’t match the R&B chart-topping feat of its predecessor Boogie Down!, but it still made the Top 10 in an impressive 28-week run. That was bettered only by the 44-week stay of his solo debut All By Myself, back in 1971.

Buy or stream “Shoeshine Boy” on The Eddie Kendricks Collection, Vol. 1.

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