Though husband-and-wife soul duo Ashford & Simpson were responsible for writing several memorable US No.1 records – among them Ray Charles’ ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’ (1966), Marvin Gaye And Tammi Terrell’s ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’ (1969) and Diana Ross’ ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ (1970) – the title track of their 1984 album, Solid, was the first of their own singles to reach pole position in the US R&B charts.
The resounding success of both the single and the album of the same name was the culmination of almost two decades’ worth of hard work that had seen the duo rise from being staff songwriters and producers at Berry Gordy’s Motown label in the late 60s to becoming a hit-making singer-songwriter duo at Warner Bros in the 70s and Capitol in the 80s. They’d racked up 27 charting singles in the States before ‘Solid’ came along.
Boasting a super-infectious chorus, ‘Solid’ is an uplifting matrimonial anthem about the bonds of love and togetherness over a chugging beat. Its message seemed to embody the intimate, rock-steady, symbiotic relationship of its two co-creators, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. The two had met in Valerie’s church in Harlem during 1964, struck up a friendship – which later blossomed into romance – and began writing songs together. In life and in music, they became an inseparable couple, even though Motown briefly tried to launch Valerie – unsuccessfully, as it turned out – as a solo artist in the early 70s. Though ‘Solid’ was an accurate self-portrait of Ashford & Simpson’s own relationship, perhaps, its simple message and heartfelt sincerity struck a chord with people (and couples) around the globe, who recognised something of themselves and their own lives in the song’s lyrics.
While the single, which had been released on 9 November 1984, was flying high in the charts around the world (it soared to No.3 in the UK), Solid the album came in its wake. It was the duo’s third LP for Capitol, the 12th of their career, and, like their previous work, was self-produced and featured all original songs.
The duo’s 70s work had been organic and richly orchestrated, but Solid, by contrast, showed them embracing the synthetic aesthetic that was beginning to define R&B music in the 80s – a musical landscape dominated by synthesisers, sequencers and drum machines.
Though its title track was the undoubted sonic keystone of Solid, it didn’t dwarf the rest of the album into insignificance. Ashford & Simpson showed a harder edge on ‘Outta The World’, a sharp slice of minimalist, machine-tooled, funk about sexual attraction (it was the second single released from the album, making No.4 in the US R&B chart). Other highlights included the rock-inflected ‘Babies’, a cautionary tale with a killer chorus about the consequences of teenage pregnancy (it was the third single lifted from the LP, reaching No.29 in the R&B chart). A couple of tunes from the album also appeared on the soundtrack to the critically-panned and now forgotten 1984 breakdancing movie Body Rock: ‘The Jungle’, an astute observation of the dog-eat-dog ethos of contemporary urban life, and a propulsive electro-groove called ‘The Closest To Love’, which was an Ashford & Simpson rarity in that it only featured Valerie’s voice.
But it was on the set’s romantic ballads where the duo played their trump cards. ‘Honey I Love You’ is a simple declaration of affection, while the dreamy, mid-tempo, saxophone-laced ‘Cherish Forever More’ is a making-up-after-breaking-up plea for forgiveness and understanding.
Solid spent a month at No.1 during its 43 weeks in the US R&B albums chart (it peaked at No.29 in the pop counterpart) and represented the commercial peak for Ashford & Simpson, who only made three more albums together after that. Sadly, Nick Ashford died from cancer in 2011, bringing the curtain down on the glittering career of R&B’s most successful couple. Thirty-three years on, Solid remains the undoubted jewel in Ashford & Simpson’s crown.
Solid can be bought here.