Finding the right words to give a proper sendoff to the late Nickolas Ashford, who died this week at seventy, has been unusually difficult, perhaps because I kept coming back to, or perhaps stumbling over, “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” an ode to drinking in the afternoon (and maybe earlier) cut by Ray Charles in 1966 before Ashford and wife Valerie Simpson became integrated into the mighty Motown machine. Brother Ray got a #1 on the R&B charts from it, but you never hear it on the radio. (Here’s a nifty live version by Chicago’s very own Chris Gelbuda.)
I admitted on Twitter, though, that my favorite Ashford & Simpson song was “California Soul,” a big hit for the 5th Dimension on Johnny Rivers’ Soul City label in ’68. Not that Berry Gordy was going to let that go unanswered: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell put out their own version, sort of except that Tammi was already spiraling downward, and if she’s on that record at all, she’s being spelled by Valerie Simpson herself.
What we need here in this space, though, is A&S together. Let’s dial back to 2008:
A basic state of matter, indeed.