One for the Dance Floor: It’s a Shame by The Spinners
Song Title: It’s A Shame
Sung by: The Spinners
Released: June 11, 1970
Recorded: 1970, Golden World (Studio B, Detroit, Michigan)
Label: V.I.P. (V-25057)
Writer(s): Stevie Wonder, Lee Garrett, Syreeta Wright
Producer: Stevie Wonder
As I wrote in the introduction to this series, it all relates to song and those “… school-sanctioned social events, especially for those in junior and senior high school, … the dances they threw”. Finding a way for male teens like myself to get passed the notorious “ness” brothers — awkwardness and self-consciousness — in junior and senior high represented a big step. Especially true for one who somehow found the nerve to ask another to join them out in the middle of the gym floor to shake a leg.
With the opposite sex and to the beat of popular song, no less. Can’t minimize the leap this represented. The music of the time more than helped bridge gaps, at least temporarily. Got young people moving and crossed boundaries only just starting to loosen. Speaking plainly, the fight for Civil Rights and equality of the ’60s remained an early work in progress (which continues) by the time the Me Decade began. Nothing happens overnight, especially when the thorny issue of race lies at the heart of it.
We among the smattering of minorites who actually lived in South Gate, at that time
South Gate High, a school in the then blue-collar community1 with a railroad track-laden border of Alameda Avenue to its west, was the frontier I found myself in as the 10th grade ended and summer began. Our small clan had moved here from the unincorporated community of Florence, which lay on the other side of those tracks, after my fourth grade year. Nearly all of the white students from South Gate domesticity, while most of the black or latino pupils traveled across that clichéd boundary2.
To say there was racial tension on campus would be trite, but no less true for those of us attending, as with any other Los Angeles high school in 1970. The push to achieve the reform goals created in the ’60s was escalating, along with the retaliation. No surprise, minorities clustered amongst themselves3 during breaks/lunch and afterschool for a kind of herd protection, which left little for the good sort of interaction. Had more than enough of the other boiling up from time-to-time.
Not to say there wasn’t social connections being made between the groups. Just the ethic strains, part and parcel in the multi-cultural engagements typical in this sprawling urban basin of ours, along with the normal teenage stresses, complicated growing up here. Luckily, the regularly scheduled sporting events — which had their own level of edge — and school dance soirées tempered (even if only briefly for some) many on either side. As A Taste of Honey would come to sing years later:
“You are no are no exception to the rule”
If there’s a 1970 song that typified this, it’d have to be one of The Spinners‘ biggest hits, the ironically titled It’s a Shame4. The personification of “Philly Soul”5, it was a crossover hit, delivered once more by the Motown label, that swayed listeners and rhythmically joined them together on the dance floor. No matter who. Witnessed this firsthand come the initial dance of my junior year. Groups of students who avoided each other like the plague gyrated side-by-side to G.C. Cameron’s lead vocal.
What I said about the initial song in this series bares repeating: “…you could sense the energy rise on the dance floor with the opposite sex as the tune’s recognizable first few notes emanated from the gymnasium’s speakers.” The infectious riff by Dennis Coffey in the song’s guitar opening simply a classic in the best sense. No one stood still when this reverberated off the walls. Dissipating, even if momentarily, any inequality or wrong with the world as it brought those standing apart, together.
The entire series can be found here.
t's a shame, the way you mess around with your man It's a shame the way you hurt me It's a shame, the way you mess around with your man I'm sitting all alone, by the telephone Waiting for your call, when you don't call at all It's a shame (shame) the way you mess around with your man It's a shame (shame) the way you play with my emotions It's a shame (shame) the way you mess around with your man You're like a child at play, on a sunny day 'Cause you play with love, and then you throw it away Why do you use me, try to confuse me How can you stand, to be so cruel Why don't you free me, from this prison Where I serve my time as your fool It's a shame (shame) the way you mess around with your man It's a shame (shame) the way you hurt me It's a shame (shame) the way you mess around with your man I try to stay with you, show you love so true But you won't appreciate, the love we try to make Oh, it's got to be a shame Why do you use me, try to confuse me How can you stand, to be so cruel Why don't you free me, from this prison Where I serve my time as your fool Got to be a shame (shame) the way you mess around with your man Ohhh, it's a shame (shame) the way you hurt me It's a shame (shame) the way you mess around with your man You've got my heart in chains, and I must complain I just can't be confined, oh, looking back in time Got to, got to, be a shame
- South Gate once a manufacturing hub that included General Motors, Firestone Rubber, Allied Steel, among other plants providing skilled and unskilled labor employment. When they closed beginning later in the ’70s as a result of the post-Vietnam War recession, a great number of those jobs disappeared with them. ↩
- Those tracks a no man’s land remained a distinct fringe and heavily patrolled by South Gate PD back in the day, discouraging intrusion outside of school days/hours. ↩
- As opposed to what Los Angeles did in its history of redlining — the systematic denial of various services to residents of specific, often racially associated, neighborhoods or communities, either directly or through the selective raising of prices. ↩
- “Written by Stevie Wonder, this is about a breakup he had with his girlfriend at the time, Syreeta Wright. Wonder wrote the song with Lee Garrett, a songwriter who also co-wrote Wonder’s hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”” ~ Songfacts ↩
- The Spinners being a Detroit-reared group, where they formed as a doo wop group during the late ’50s, mattered not as they endeared themselves on the music public with hit-after-hit that decade. ↩
4 Responses to “One for the Dance Floor: It’s a Shame by The Spinners”
Ugh. Junior high dances. The Spinners, however, what a fine song and group. Nice post, Michael.
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Thank you very much, Cindy. 🙂
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The school dance was a far from common rite of passage in Aus. Similarly, our AM radio was rarely enriched by soul sounds. Nonetheless, I could easily imagine the various tensions winding through this enjoyable post.
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Thank you very kindly, Bruce. 🙂
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