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Bev, Efficient 1960s
In the 1960s, some girl-group successes had multiple hits: the Supremes, Ronettes, Shangri-las, and Lesley Gore. But what about those wonderful one-hit groups who made the big time, even if briefly?
The Ad-Libs might seem like an odd combo to call a "girl group." After all, the band consisted of one woman and four men. But their sound was thoroughly in the girl-group style. Their release, "The Boy from New York City," was a monster hit in early 1965 and was later covered by Manhattan Transfer.
The strong voice that led "The Boy from New York City" was that of Mary Ann Thomas. Prior to her joining the group, the all-male band, from New Jersey, was called the Creators. Consisting of Hugh Harris, Danny Austin, James Wright, John Alan and Chris Cole, the group had a virtually invisible release in 1963 with "I'll Stay Home."
Mary Ann Arrives
They re-grouped in 1964, with only Hugh Harris and Danny Austin staying, and were joined by Dave Watt and Norman Donegan. They added Mary Ann Thomas as their female lead. Under the tutelage of songwriter John Taylor, a saxophone player who had been in the music business since the 1930s, they created a new sound heavily influenced by jazz and big band flavors.
But what to name the new group, who wanted to differentiate themselves from the Creators name? Though they were pressured to call the group the Cheerios (perhaps by Taylor), they instead chose a name based on a hot New York nightclub.
The Ad-Libs, as they were now known, cut a demo with Taylor that featured a driving piano rhythm: "The Boy From New York City." Taylor presented the demo to Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller of Blue Cat Records. It was an unknown group, but the song had snap and they agreed to give it a try, releasing it as a single in December 1965.
Is that Annette?
Ironically, some fans of the song thought the lead singer was Annette Funicello, though her similar-sounding voice was not as strong or soulful as Mary Ann Thomas'.
By March 1965, the song reached number eight on the pop charts. For their second hit, the group used a back-catalogue song written by Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, "He Ain't No Angel." The song had been earlier recorded in a fast-paced, gospel style by Leola and the Lovejoys.
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It wasn't the right song for the right group, even with the Ad-Libs' treatment of the song. (The Barry/Greenwich tune "Chapel of Love" had a similar fate: Phil Spector wasn't pleased with the Ronettes' version and wouldn't release it. When the Dixie Cups recorded it later, Greenwich knew their treatment of it was a can't-miss sound, and it became a number-one hit.)
This photo is supposedly of the Ad-Libs. Though Mary Ann Thomas is the woman on the left, and the men are of the group, it is uncertain who the other woman was, or if this photo was merely for a publicity shot.
Two other singles by the Ad-Libs ("On the Corner" and the funky "Just a Down Home Girl") failed to chart, and the Ad-Libs were dropped by the Blue Cat label. They tried singles with other record labels ("Think of Me" on Karen Records and "New York in the Dark" on Eskee Records), then signed with Share Records of New York and released "Giving It Up," which made it to 34 on the R & B charts. During the next years, there were group member changes and more songs but none of them scored. Their last releases were many years later, with "I Stayed Home (New Year's Eve)" in 1988 and "Santa's On His Way" in 1999.
Their time was truly brief but blazing: in the day when albums could quickly be slapped together by adding the group's demos if they hit it hot, the Ad-Libs never had an album release when they were famous. Sadly, Mary Ann Thomas passed away a few years ago of pancreatic cancer.
RUBY & THE ROMANTICSThe path to success for the guys in Ruby & the Romantics was the same route taken by the Creators; when they added a female lead singer, it was the magic ingredient that gave them a hit--well, only one hit, but what a hit it was: "Our Day Will Come."
Four Akron, Ohio high school buddies, Edward Roberts, George Lee, Ronald Mosley and Leroy Fann, had re-grouped after graduation to form the all-male Supremes. A regal-sounding name, considering that a few years later it would be connected to the most famous girl group of all time.
But these male Supremes were going nowhere, and asked Ruby Nash to join them. Ruby had sung with girl friends in high school, too, but decided to give it a try being front gal to a guy group.
A New Name, and Fame?
They got a chance to sign with Kapp Records in New York, who suggested they change their name. It is believed record execs at the company came up with the dreamy-sounding name of Ruby & the Romantics.
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Bob Hilliard, a songwriter, pitched several songs to the group at his home. one of them, a song Hilliard co-wrote with Mort Garson, caught Ruby's ear: "Our Day Will Come."
When Ruby & the Romantics recorded the song, it was the first time Ruby had been in a recording studio. Her lack of experience didn't show, though: they recorded two versions of "Our Day Will Come," one with a pop sound and the other with a bossa nova. The second one was released February 1963, and within six weeks was number one.
Unfortunately, none of their follow-up hits reached the same status. By 1967, the group signed with ABC Records and released "Does He Care For Me." This was the last chart entry for Ruby & the Romantics. After that, Ruby's manager added a whole new all-male backing group.
The next year, this group had also failed, and Ruby & the Romantics were reinvented, ironically, as an all-girl group, Ruby fronting Denise Lewis and Cheryl Thomas. They toured the oldies circuit and disbanded in 1971.
Some of the flops made by Ruby & the Romantics became hits for others. The Marvelettes took "Young & In Love" to the number nine spot on the R&B charts in 1967. "Hey There Lonely Boy" became "Hey There Lonely Girl" for Eddie Holman and reached number two on the pop charts in 1969. Karen & Richard Carpenter recorded "Hurting Each Other" in 1970 and took it to number two on the pop charts.
Sadly, the group that made such an enduring classic with "Our Day Will Come" did not get appropriately rewarded. Of the original group members, Leroy Fann was killed in 1973. Edward Roberts worked at a bank and died in 1993. George Lee became a truck driver.
Ruby Nash Curtis raised a family and, still in Akron, worked for AT&T in the 1990s. Later, she worked in a retail store. Always happy to sign autographs for fans, she receives no royalties from the success of "Our Day Will Come."
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