Music Review: Sugar, Let’s Shing-A-Ling

While best known for her playground ditty, “The Name Game,” which took on a life of its own and made her a household name for a brief 1965 moment, Shirley Ellis had an extensive and wide-ranging career that stretched from 1954 to 1968. Before leaving the music industry, the self-taught and unsung musician from the Bronx left on a strong note with this overlooked but culminating 1967 Columbia album that put an exclamation mark on her career.

The opening number “Sugar, Let’s Shing-A-Ling” prompts the thought that as a dance, the shing-a-ling was probably not well known outside of discotheques and gyms of Northeast cities. Her powerful composition “Soul Time” is a dancefloor filler and as can be predicted, it’s an enduring staple at all night '60s soul dance parties in the UK. It might seem that she ventured a little away from her stock-in-trade top 40 pop soul sounds on this album; however, Ellis was always adventurous and not afraid to cross genres. This album is indeed a slight shift in direction and a sophisticated turn towards the supper club scene, while also showcasing her overall versatility. “How Lonely is Lonely” certainly spotlights Ellis' magnetic and compelling qualities that would certainly translate to 1966 Atlantic City. The adept singer also delivers a lush and lavish rendition of the irresistible 1965 Barbara Mason hit “Yes, I’m Ready.” “Music and Memories” has been compared to Amy Winehouse. Their vocals do bear an uncanny resemblance. It’s also a refined work of production pop enhanced by female backing vocals and moving orchestration. Fittingly, the album fittingly closes on one her compositions, “To Be or Not to Be.” She hits her full stride as both a composer and vocalist on this lovely song that works on all levels.

Sugar, Let's Shing-A-Ling was lost in the tidal wave of 1967 releases as it was far from the vanguard, but it has aged well to be a solid listen nonetheless. While it may have been only 2 calendar years between “The Name Game” and these recordings, there were seemingly decades of musical and technical changes packed between 1965 and 1967. Her third and final album does reflect some of these transformations and her name alone calls for listening for those who have only heard her big 3 oldies radio hits, "The Nitty Gritty,” “The Clapping Song,” and “The Name Game.” Those who wish to further explore these additional aspects and dimensions will encounter a compelling 30 minutes of Soul Time. - Ted (Downtown)

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