Syreeta – The Rita Wright Years: Rare Motown 1967-1970 (Kent 455)

24 tracks, highly recommended.

Syreeta Wright is best known today as Stevie Wonder’s first ex-wife, co-writer on his 1970 hit “If You Really Love Me”, and for her 1979 hit duet with Billy Preston, “With You, I’m Born Again”.  But before all that, during a brief period in the late 60’s, Motown attempted to carve a solo career for her as Rita Wright.  Previously working as a receptionist and demo singer, Motown gave Wright her one shot at solo success in 1967, the wonderful “I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel For You”, which sank without a trace.  After the song’s failure, Rita went back to the front desk and demo singing; those demos form the bulk of this compilation.  Many of these songs ended up being recorded by the Supremes—in fact, Berry Gordy considered replacing the departing Diana Ross with Rita in the Supremes.  A curious notion, since Rita’s voice and delivery are more reminiscent of Tammi Terrell than Diana Ross, at least to these ears.  Nonetheless, Rita’s performance on songs like “Ain’t I Gonna Win Your Love”, “It Don’t Mean Nothin’ To Me”, and “Something On My Mind” (the B-Side of “I Can’t Give Back the Love I Feel For You”, both written by Ashford and Simpson) is first rate it boggles the mind why she didn’t get more chances at scoring a hit of her own.  Of the songs Rita demoed for the Supremes, the most fascinating is her version of the 1968 hit “Love Child”: the arrangement is almost intact (only the strings are missing) and there’s an extra verse that didn’t make it to the finished version.  From a historical and musical standpoint, Rita’s “Love Child” is worth the price of admission all on its’ own.  Although, Rita’s time would come later—beginning with the album she and Stevie masterminded in 1972, Syreeta—this compilation proves that she had the goods all along.

Track Listing

1. I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You
2. Ain’t I Gonna Win Your Love
3. It Don’t Mean Nothin’ To Me
4. Something On My Mind
5. Beware Of A Stranger
6. That’s What He Told Me
7. I Want To Go Back There Again
8. Bad Boy
9. Give Back The Good Things
10. Hurtin’ Me (Became A Habit)
11. Can’t Stop
12. Where Is The Love
13. Mind, Body And Soul
14. You
15. Save The Country
16. Since You Came Back
17. Can You Feel It, Babe
18. Love Child
19. Where There’s A Will There’s A Way
20. Love’s Gone Bad
21. Love My Lovin’ Man
22. You Made Me Feel Like (Everything Is Alright)
23. (Touched) By The Hand Of Love
24. May His Love Shine Forever

One of Motown’s best loved female acts of the 70s and 80s finally receives a long overdue overview of her first recordings from 1967-70.




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