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Playing Around: The Manhattans



With the disco renaissance threatening the decline of American culture all over again, it's fitting that the disco alternative is making its own comeback. While a nation bumped and ground away, the Manhattans were singing "Please, Mr. DJ, slow the music down, I want to dance to a love song."

A quick trip through any of their greatest hits collections is like throwing a stack of make-out vinyl on the turntable and letting nature take its course. In a nearly 40-year history, the soulful vocalists have stuck to the love ballads and the "progressive doo-wop" that have defined the band's sound, reflecting a musical identify as classy as the vermouth, whisky, and bitters drink they named themselves after.

It doesn't get any smoother than these five-part harmonies on classics like "Shining Star," "There's No Me Without You," or the song with the most ironic juxtaposition of lyrics about dirty dishes as a symbol for lost love, "I Kinda Miss You." The Manhattans reached their peak in the mid-'70s, and "Kiss and Say Goodbye" became something of a signature song, hitting no. 1 on the pop and R&B charts with Bivins' deep spoken-word intro, a wailing sax in the background, and the crisp plaintive tenor vocals declaring the recurring refrain that "I'm gonna miss you, that's no lie."

Founding baritone Edwin "Sonny" Bivens has kept the group's character intact with a new lineup that features Al Pazant (bass), Lee "The Lover" Williams (first lead vocal), "Charming" Charles Hardy (first/second tenor) and Harsey "The Lady Man" Hemphill (first/second tenor). Bevins keeps the legacy alive, releasing Love Songs earlier this year and booking dates everywhere from the White House to Club Variety, ensuring that nobody has the chance to turn the light down low and whisper a deep "Ooh baby, we've missed you" to the group that never left us.

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