Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing

Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson are the gifted husband and wife team who wrote pop/soul classics including “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” “Ain?t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need To Get By.” He writes the words, she the music. They have a remarkable personal story that begins in a Harlem church choir and is enhanced by their longevity as a writing and performing couple. After turning out hit songs for artists at Motown and elsewhere — Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell were an especially memorable vehicle for their work — they launched their own performing and recording career. They now have some 20 albums to their credit

Last night we saw them perform on the second of two nights at the Dakota Restaurant and Jazz Club in Minneapolis. The Dakota is an intimate venue that combines class and warmth. Proprietor Lowell Pickett sports an easy smile at least in part because the restaurant combines his passion for music with his vocation. It’s my favorite place to hear live music. If you’re ever in the Twin Cities, check it out if you can.

We sat about eight feet from the stage during the first of their two sets. Ashford and Simpson performed their hits with heart and energy, as though for the first time. The two of them radiate charisma. On “I’m Every Woman” (a hit for Chaka Khan and Whitney Houston), Simpson stepped off the stage to work the room. She squeezed my hand as she went by our table. Their show had the same perfect craft as their songs. It was a completely winning set.

For an excellent CBS Sunday Morning profile of them, click here. For a video of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” click here.

Ashford and Simpson have been working together since the mid-1960’s and have been married since 1974. They specialize in romantic anthems that seem like a relic of a lost civilization. Their show is something of a tribute to marital passion, not exactly par for the course in show business. Last night my wife and I coincidentally sat next to my high school friend Ned Foster and his wife Laura Tiffany. The show wowed us all. I don’t know where Ashford and Simpson may be performing next, but catch them if you can.


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