Monday, October 25, 2010

The Nitty Gritty

Song: The Nitty Gritty
Artist: Shirley Ellis
Album: The Complete Congress Recordings

Shirley Ellis was  Bronx-born soul singer and songwriter best known for her novelty hit "The Name Game" from 1964.  Ellis wrote two songs which were recorded by the Chords back in 1954.  She teamed up with Lincoln Chase, whom co-wrote and produced all of her solo hits, as well as serving as her manager.  She quit the business in 1968.

I'd never heard of Ellis until a co-worker was talking about her song "The Nitty Gritty."  I got the compilation "The Complete Congress Recordings," (Congress was a subsidiary of Knapp Records)  which at 27 tracks, serves as quite the intro.  Listening to these tracks, they certainly sound like classics of the era, I'd wondered why I'd never heard of her before.  I did recognize "The Name Game" immediately, though did not connect her name to it at all. But as novelty records go... the artist is usually overshadowed by the track itself.  My friend Brian, who is my go-to girl group expert, said that it was in fact that novelty record that pigeon-holed the singer into that category... possibly damaging her much more varied musical history.

"The Nitty Gritty" and million-selling "The Clapping Song" were also hits for the singer (both going to #8 on the charts, "Name" made it to #3.)  Hipsters will recognize the track "Soul Time" as it was sampled on The Go Team's single "Bottle Rocket."  I was more familiar with Madeline Bell's version (again, thanks to Brian) but it's a great track no matter how you slice it.  Her work has also been covered by the likes of Laura Branigan, Aaron Carter, Southern Culture on the Skids, Gary Glitter, and... Pia Zadora. (!!!)

Great body of work from a singer you might not know.


The Nitty Gritty

The Clapping Song

Soul Time

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