TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Number One on the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart on Saturday, April 5, 1975.
SONGWRITERS: Linda Allen, Harry Booker.
PRODUCERS: Frank Wilson, Leonard Caston.
BACKSTORY: Four years (almost to the day) after Motown announced that Eddie Kendricks was leaving the Temptations, the falsetto-blessed singer continued to enjoy a sparkling solo career. “Shoeshine Boy” was his third Number One on the Billboard “soul” charts during the 1970s, and it was also his third biggest hit on the pop best-sellers. “Kendricks has [a] strong core of fans and is generally on the pop or soul charts or both,” correctly noted the trade magazine in reviewing this single for its retail readers in January 1975.
That proved to be a busy year for Eddie, ranging from concerts with the likes of the O’Jays and the Dramatics to performances at discotheques in and around New York – this was the height of the disco era – and even dance-contest adjudications at amusement parks such as California’s Magic Mountain. After reaching the soul chart summit in April, “Shoeshine Boy” polished its path up the Billboard Hot 100 in May. As noted, the former Temptation had been there before: “Keep On Truckin’ (Part 1)” grooved to Number One in 1973, and “Boogie Down” sashayed to No. 2 in ’74.
One of the two songwriters of “Shoeshine Boy,” Linda Allen, worked for Motown producer Frank Wilson, who had helped steer Kendricks from his Temptations tenure to solo success. “When I left the Temps, I never expected to do so much hard work, ’cause I had gotten used to having things done for me,” Eddie said in 1973. As for “Shoeshine Boy,” Linda Allen once explained that Wilson would likely have heard it demo’d by co-writer Harry Booker or Wayne Cooper. “Frank would give Eddie the demo to study, and then they’d record,” she recalled. Booker and Cooper sung background vocals during the recording sessions for Kendricks’ For You album. The LP was originally released in November 1974; “Shoeshine Boy” was lifted from that as a single two months later.
“I know Eddie didn’t particularly like ‘Shoeshine Boy’ [at first],” Frank Wilson was quoted as saying in The Billboard Book Of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits, “but we convinced him it was a really good song, that it had a lot of potential as a crossover record. We basically were interested in taking him just a little bit more pop, but try and maintain enough of the soul to go up the R&B charts.” Mission accomplished, Frank.
FOOTNOTE: Eddie Kendricks was not the only one who initially didn’t care for “Shoeshine Boy.” A senior executive at Motown Records felt the lyric demeaned black people, and sought to have the record shelved. “But Berry [Gordy] believed in the song so much, according to Linda Allen. “He said a shoeshine boy could be anybody, that he didn’t have to be black.” The Motown founder had first-hand experience: he once buffed footwear as a youngster in Detroit, outside the city’s upscale Hudson’s department store. “Popping my rag and singing, I was a real joy to my customers,” Gordy revealed in his autobiography, To Be Loved. “But the downtown proprietors were anything but joyful. Not wanting a ragtag bunch of kids outside their premises, they ran us off every corner we tried to set up on. We spent more time than running.”