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The Fascinations

The Fascinations were a girl group with a dazzling family tree, a distinctive sound, and a hook-up with one of the great artist-producers of the 1960s -- yet, in one of the great mysteries of the soul music boom of the mid-decade, they never made it in America, but sold lots of records in England.

Detroit in the late '50s was a city seething with musical activity -- Robert West's LuPine label, Berry Gordy's embryonic Motown, and the immensely successful VeeJay label were just the tip of a pop culture iceberg. One of the groups trying to get a foothold on success in those days was an all-girl outfit called the Sabre-ettes, who were in the market for some new members. Two co-founders, Shirley Walker and Martha Reeves, were doing the auditions, and they brought gospel singers Joanne and Bernadine Boswell into the lineup, which quickly expanded by one more slot with the addition of Fern Bledsoe. The resulting quintet was rechristened the Fascinations. Martha Reeves left the group in 1960 for her own path to stardom, and the Fascinations were permanently a quartet. Two years later, they made the acquaintance of Fred Cash and Sam Gooden, two members of the Impressions. They, in turn, introduced the Fascinations to Curtis Mayfield, who got the group signed to ABC-Paramount, where they released a trio of singles (written and/or produced by Mayfield) over the next year that failed to sell in significant numbers.

ABC-Paramount lost interest in the Fascinations, but Mayfield never did -- his success in 1966 with the Windy C label enabled him to start the Mayfield label, and to sign the Fascinations. The group's first Mayfield release, "Say It Isn't So," only got to number 47 on the R&B charts, but their second, "Girls Are out to Get You," did crack the lower reaches of the pop charts, while ascending to number 13 as an R&B hit. It also became the group's first release in England, on EMI's Stateside label (ironically, also the company's outlet for Motown). The quartet never scored very high in America, despite a switch to ballads, with which they were far more comfortable -- it seemed as though they were never there with the right song at the right time. By 1969, they'd decided to call it quits as far as recording, and their history on vinyl came to an end.

The irony was that, in England, their records continued to sell. "Girls Are out to Get You" became immensely popular in British dance clubs, and was reissued by the Sue Records label, for which it sold steadily. In 1971, the song charted in the U.K. when it was reissued yet again, this time on the Mojo imprint of British Polydor -- the number 32 placement, with heavy airplay, even led to a reunion and a British tour by the quartet -- it was a brief, welcomed moment in the spotlight, before thousands of adoring fans from one corner of the globe, even if it wasn't their corner, and made the nine or ten years of work seem sweeter. Unfortunately, Mojo's efforts to coax similar sales out of their other Mayfield releases came to nothing, and the members soon returned to their post-career activities.

The Fascinations weren't much more than an odd footnote in the history of Detroit-based R&B, in terms of their sales impact and their early history as Martha Reeves' first group. They never recorded steadily or successfully enough to justify an album release during the time they were together, but they turned in some delightful and intensely passionate (and playful, in the case of "Girls Are out to Get You") soul performances. They deserved (and, for a moment in England, got) the kind of recognition and treatment that seemed to come easily to a lot of Motown-signed girl groups of the period. ~ Bruce Eder
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