Songcraft: Spotlight on Songwriters Podcast

Valerie Simpson

Ep. 107 - Valerie Simpson

"Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing"- From Motown to the Hall of Fame

Scott and Paul belatedly announce the winner of the Mark Otis Selby CD contest from our recent Tia Sillers episode.

PART TWO -  3:18 mark
Paul gets the lowdown from Scott on how he managed to pull the Valerie Simpson interview together despite the obstacles!

PART THREE - 14:02 mark
The in-depth interview with Valerie Simpson.

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Scott goes on location in New York to sit down with Valerie Simpson to chat about how meeting a homeless stranger at church opened the door to her songwriting career; why she and Nick Ashford didn't want to be performers at first; the song she told Dusty Springfield she couldn't record; why she was more focused on getting an advance than scoring a hit; which of her tunes was inspired by playing an instrument she doesn't really play; why Berry Gordy didn't want Motown to release "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" as a single; how Valerie realized she and Nick were in love after eight years of working together; and how she ended up on Broadway, thanks to Alicia Keys having to miss a party.

Six-time Grammy nominee Valerie Simpson is best known as one half of the songwriting, production and performing duo of Ashford and Simpson, which she formed with musical partner and eventual husband Nick Ashford after they met at a church in Harlem, New York, in the early 1960s. 

After early successes with Aretha Franklin’s recording of “Cry Like a Baby” and Ray Charles’ recordings of “Let’s Go Get Stoned” and “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” Nick and Valerie signed with Motown Records, first as songwriters, where their early successes included the hit singles “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love,” recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. They soon began both writing and producing for the duo, with hits such as “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” “Good Lovin’ Ain’t Easy to Come By,” and “What You Gave Me.”

Additional writing and production credits at Motown came with hits by The Supremes, The Marvelettes, The Miracles, Gladys Knight, and Diana Ross, who found success with “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” “Remember Me,” “Surrender,” and a remake of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” that topped both the pop and R&B charts.  

In addition to writing #1 hits such as Quincy Jones’s “Stuff Like That” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” after their Motown period, Ashford and Simpson began releasing their own recordings as a duo, landing nearly 40 songs on the Billboard R&B singles chart. Their list of Top 10 hits as artists, includes“It Seems to Hang On,” “Found a Cure,” “Love Don’t Make it Right,” “Street Corner,” “Outta the World,” “Count Your Blessings,” “I’ll Be There For You,” and “Solid.”  

Ashford and Simpson were the recipients of the ASCAP Founder’s Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the organization. They were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, named among Rolling Stone Magazine’s 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time, and provided the inspiration for the establishment of the Soul Train Ashford & Simpson Songwriter’s Award. Following Nick’s untimely death in 2011, Valerie has continued to write, record, and even appear on Broadway in the acclaimed musical Chicago.

Songcraft's Valerie Simpson Playlist: Spotify users can select the song you'd like to hear below, or simply start the player and enjoy a playlist of highlights from the Ashford and Simpson songbook. If you don't have a Spotify account, follow the prompts to sign up for free. Click this link to take you directly to the playlist in the Spotify web player.