Classics: The Friends Of Distinction – Going In Circles (RCA)
Don’t ever ask me why. I remained for quite some time thinking ‘Going In Circles’ was a song by the likes of The Stylistics if not of Blue Magic. This until I got into a box of 7 inches I’d forgotten the existence of. Mind you, almost 50 years have gone since its release. And this little piece of vinyl which was a part of my mom’s collection had turned itself to me into like one of those hidden files which you may find in your computer incidentally at times.
I suppose those of you into Doo Wop will pretty much understand the confusion which has been mine. As how not to think of gems such as The Stylistics‘ ‘You Are Everything’ or Blue Magic‘s ‘Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely’ when havin’ a listen to ‘Going In Circles’. No wonder why Ike (Isaac Hayes) came to give his own rendition to this definitive blast a couple of years after…
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The Friends Of Distinction saw the light back in 1966 in Los Angeles, CA. This after the demise of Ray Charles‘ backing band, The Hi-Fi‘s. With Harry Elston and Floyd Butler joinin’ forces with Jessica Cleaves and Barbara Jean Love. Then Charlene Gibson who replaced Love during her pregnancy. Collaborating extensively with producers Ray Cork, Jr., John Florez and Jerry Peters, they most likely defined a proper sound for themselves. Combining lush instrumentation with feel-good harmonies. But also Gospel influences and Jazz-Funk overtones. Meanwhile probably influencing groups such as The Stylistics and Blue Magic.
They released a total of 7 albums on RCA between 1969 and 1975 before disbanding due to the lack of furthermore commercial success. They came straight to fame with the release of their debut-single by the likes of the million-selling ‘Grazing In The Grass’. A cut which Hugh Masekela recorded first, with Elston adding lyrics to it. It stayed on the Billboard R&B chart for a 17 week-period, peaking at #5 position. Its follow-up – ‘Going In Circles’ made even better. Climbing up to #3 position during a 19-week stay. With luminaries such as Isaac Hayes (1971), The Gap Band (1985) or Luther Vandross (1995) givin’ it each their own renditions.
Although The Friends Of Distinction met further success with cuts such as ‘Love Me Or Let Me Be Lonely’, ‘I Need You’ and ‘Time Waits For No One’, none of them happened reproduce the same following. With the group failing to chart again from the early 70’s. But also encountering personnel changes with the successive departures of Barbara Jean Love then Jessica Cleaves. Not to mention some growing differences that would finally get Elston and Butler to part ways. Then, when after the twosome overcame their diferences after a few years, Butler died of a heart attack on Apr. 29, 1990.
Elston though reformed the group with Patti Brooks, Drake Frye and Van Jewell in the mid 90’s. Meanwhile, Jessica Cleaves, who’d been collaborating with Raw Silk and Earth, Wind & Fire in the meantime passed after a stroke on May 02, 2014.