American singer Madeline Bell became an honorary Brit girl when she moved to England in the early 1960s. Despite a string of great solo singles, her work as a session singer meant she remained largely a music industry secret – until her version of I’m gonna make you love me became a US hit in 1968. She later became a member of multiracial combo Blue Mink.
She was born Madeline Bell Brodus in Newark, New Jersey, on 23 July 1941.
She enjoyed singing from an early age and by her late teens she was touring the US as part of a gospel troupe, the Glovertones. While on the road, she was spotted by gospel singer Alex Bradford and invited to become part of his backing group.
With Bradford, Madeline went to London to sing in the musical Black nativity. It was then that she was spotted by EMI’s Norman Newell – the songwriter and producer behind the career of Shirley Bassey, amongst others – who took her under his wing. As a result, she decided to remain in Britain.
I long for your love, issued on EMI’s HMV offshoot, became her first UK release, in 1964.
Switching to the company’s Columbia arm, she cut two further singles, You don’t love me no more, in 1964, and Daytime, the following year. The former had been penned by Charles Blackwell, the man responsible for terrific songs by artists such as Samantha Jones, Antoinette and Françoise Hardy. Madeline’s emotionally charged delivery has made it a particular favourite of many aficionados of the Brit girl sound. (Sandie Shaw also cut a version of the song for her 1965 Me album.)
When none of her releases registered with the record-buying public, Madeline switched to the Philips label.
With Britain’s top girl singers Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield and Sandie Shaw all enjoying hits with cover versions of songs penned by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it was perhaps inevitable that their songbook would be raided for Madeline’s debut release for Philips. What the world needs now was issued as a single in 1965. Interestingly, the B-side was I can’t wait until I see my baby’s face, which label mate Dusty Springfield later recorded for her Where am I going LP.
In fact, the two singers’ careers would become linked, with each providing backing vocals for the other (with help from Lesley Duncan) and even writing songs together.
A couple of great singles followed in 1966 – first a version of US singer Jean Wells’s Don’t come running to me, then one of Maxine Brown’s One step at a time – before the unlikely decision was taken to have Madeline record Climb ev’ry mountain. The Rodgers and Hammerstein number had been popularised in the Julie Andrews film The sound of music. Madeline promoted the release on a UK tour in early 1967, as support act for Motown chart toppers the Four Tops.
If that single disappointed fans, her two subsequent 45s brought delight.
First up was Picture me gone, a take on a US release by Evie Sands, and one that Madeline particularly liked. Issued in the summer of 1967, it picked up a lot of airplay but failed to cross over into the UK charts. Her sales were not helped by the release of a rival version by Dave Berry. Madeline’s version has since become a dance floor filler on Britain’s northern soul circuit. (The B-side was Go ahead on, which Madeline wrote with Dusty Springfield and which both women recorded – using each other as backing vocalists on their respective versions.)
The second 45, however, took Madeline into the charts – ironically, not in her adopted homeland but back in the US. I’m gonna make you love me reached number 26 in America’s Billboard charts in the spring of 1968. The song had originally been recorded by Dee Dee Warwick, and it went on to even greater success when it was later covered by Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations.
An album, Bell’s a poppin’, was issued alongside the UK release of I’m gonna make you love me. It brought together some of her recent A- and B-sides, some new covers (including Shirley Ellis’ Soul time and the McCoys’ Beat the clock) and one original – I’m gonna leave you, which Madeline had written with Dusty Springfield and Lesley Duncan.
Despite her new-found success Stateside, Madeline continued her bread-and-butter work as a backing singer in the UK while she searched for a follow up. The result was the pleasing Thinkin’, issued in 1968, but it failed to repeat the success of its predecessor.
Nevertheless, the singer began recording material for a second LP, Doin’ things. Future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones was one of the musicians brought in for the sessions, and he wrote a number of songs for the album, including Hold it, which Madeline issued as a single later that year.
The LP contained more original material than Bell’s a poppin’, though the inclusion of covers of Lulu’s To sir with love and Cilla Black’s Step inside love raised a few eyebrows. (The latter was even picked for release as an A-side in the US, where the original remained unknown.)
We’re so much in love, which hadn’t been included on the album, became Madeline’s final solo release of the decade in the UK before she was invited to help form Blue Mink. The group enjoyed a top five hit in the autumn of 1969 with the oft-derided ode to racial harmony Melting pot. Made up of five members including Roger Cook, Blue Mink recorded together until 1974 and enjoyed seven UK hits in all.
Madeline issued a further solo LP, entitled simply Madeline Bell, for Philips in 1971 (produced by Blue Mink’s Alan Parker) and the Comin’ atcha album in 1973.
She also continued to work as a session singer. In 1975, for instance, she joined Sue and Sunny to provide backing vocals for former 1960s German pop dolly Joy Fleming at the Eurovision song contest in Stockholm.
She continued to issue the occasional album, and in 1996 she collaborated with Irish boyband Boyzone for a new recording of Melting pot.
She is still working to this day, with performances ranging from appearances at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London to tours of the Netherlands.
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