The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we look at The Impressions’ 16 Greatest Hits.
For those not up on their music history, The Impressions are a Chicago-based American group founded by Sam Gooden, Arthur Brooks (vocals) and Richard Brooks (vocals) under the name of The Roosters in 1958. They sand material from multiple genres including doo-wop, gospel, R&B and soul. After relocating the group from Tennessee to Chicago they added Jerry Butler (vocals) and Curtis Mayfield.
By 1960 they had changed their name to Jerry Butler & The Impressions. Two years later, however, The Brooks brothers and Butler bailed to be replaced by former Rooster Fred Cash. There would be no more changes until 1970 when Mayfield would leave in pursuit of a solo career only to be replaced by Leroy Hutson. Gooden, Cash and Hutson comprised the current line-up when the compilation, 16 Greatest Hits, would be released and none of the actual music on the release would be more recent than 1968.
The album opener is “Gypsy Woman”. This is the first of seven Curtis Mayfield compositions on Side A. It was a number 1 R&B hit and a Top Ten hit upon release in 1961.
The second selection served up here is “It’s All Right” from 1963. This was also a number 1 R&B hit and a top ten hit upon release in 1961. It’s followed by yet another number 1 R&B hit—the 1968 song “We’re A Winner”.
There are two more top ten R&B hits included on this side: “Woman’s Got Soul” from 1965 and the classic cut “Keep On Pushing” which also made it onto the top ten on the pop charts. Also on this side are the 1967 single “We’re Rollin’ On”, the titular track from their 1966 platter “Ridin’ High” and the side’s closer “Never Let Me Go”. The latter dates back to 1962 and was written by Joe Scott.
The flip side opens on “Amen”. This was written by Jester Hairston and broke into the top ten in 1965. It’s the only tune on this side of the record not written by singer-songwriter/guitarist Curtis Mayfield. 1964’s “I’m So Proud” follows. This is the first song on this side that was not a top ten tune but had still managed to chart.
“People Get Ready” is the title track from the group’s number 1 R&B LP from 1965 and is the last top ten R&B single to be included in this collection. The remainder of the songs here would slot somewhere between 12 and 99 including the 1964 fan favorites “Talking About My Baby”, “You Must Believe Me” and the sad “Sad, Sad Girl And Boy”. The next number is the 1961 song “Grow Closer Together” and the album’s end-note from 1963 “I’m The One Who Loves You”.
The album itself (released by ABC Records) would climb to number 23 on the R&B Album charts and slot in at number 180 on The Billboard 200 in 1971. It was a noteworthy combination of songs from the blues, funk, soul and R&B genres. The Impressions were one of the best harmony vocal groups of the soul era.
Mayfield gave them a socially-conscious gospel style that would be unequaled until the 1970s when The Staples Singers started performing secular songs. Mayfield’s high falsetto pretty much dominated the sound and his songwriting included many inspirational moments which raised the group to a level surpassed only by the Temptations among black vocal acts. The classics from that era are included here.
The Impressions’ 16 Greatest Hits/ABC 727 culls the cream of the crop of their commercial successes while on the ABC-Paramount label. While some might debate about material not included here it is definitely a truly respectable platter anthology and remains one of the best “hits” collections of their music to date.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.