DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Checkmates, Ltd. Up)

“Love Is All I Have To Give”
The Checkmates, Ltd. (1969)
Did Not Chart
Recommended source: Back to Mono 1958-1969

The Checkmates (or Checkmates, Ltd.) were a lounge act Phil Spector became briefly enamored of in the late sixties when he was making the first of his many “comebacks.”

The other comebacks never amounted to much. He liked to latch on to some established act (a Beatle if he could get one, it not, almost anyone would do–The Ramones, Leonard Cohen, Dion) and lend his name to what they were already doing, sometimes with a pistol-waving incident or two thrown in.

But he had something prove with Checkmates, Ltd. They were unknowns, and he had a history of making hits with unknowns, the better to put himself at the center of their achievements.

He found success, too. His second release on them was “Black Pearl,” a big hit featuring the group’s tenor, Sonny Charles, in a spectacular performance that was one of the subtlest and deepest of the era’s protest-soul records.

But their first Spector release, which had gone nowhere, was just as powerful. It featured the group’s baritone, Bobby Stevens, on a record he had co-written with Spector.

Given the wunderkind’s habit of moving on once he had gotten what there was to get out of any given act, it’s an open question whether “Black Pearl” would have received the same loving care if this had been recorded first (unclear whether it was), released first (it was) and been a hit (it wasn’t).

Stevens’ delivery was remarkable here–a rougher voiced Ray Charles. Ray without the genius if you like….

…which only makes the ache burn a little deeper.

And, yes, it still sounds like a Phil Spector record.

2 thoughts on “DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Checkmates, Ltd. Up)

  1. Wow. Thanks for the revelation! I’ve never heard this. One can pick up traces of Bill Medley in Bobby’s voice (and, for that matter, a chorus redolent of “Just Once in My Life”).

    I’d always thought the lead singer on “Black Pearl” was female! I imagined the group as a Platters-type (or Family Stone-type) mixture. Checkmates, Ltd. was simply one of those recording artists I never got around to reading about.

    Anyway, what a great tune!

    • Glad to oblige….that’s what the Diamonds are for!

      And, yeah, I think Spector was very much looking to recreate the R. Brothers dynamic with a black group. It’s possible if he’d found them earlier they might have had a nice run of hits, like the Stylistics in the early seventies.

      And I think Spector might have had some fond feelings for this record, because he closed the main box with it even though it was released before “Black Pearl.’ Makes a great one-two punch for an ending, I can tell you that!

      (I say “main box” because the fourth disc is his Christmas album)

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