What do the 1960s R&B group the Spellbinders and disco have in common? "For You," the Spellbinders' biggest hit, boasts a producer/songwriter who is today best known for the 1975 dance classic "The Hustle": Van McCoy. "For You" was a modest hit, and the Spellbinders released only one LP before splitting in the late 1960s. This 1965 soul confection, however, is an unfairly negelcted track that merits more attention.
Founded circa the early 1960s in New Jersey, the Spellbinders consisted of Robert Shivers, James Wright, Ben Grant, McArthur Munford, and Elouise Pennington. Little is known about the Spellbinders except that they signed with Columbia Records in 1965; at that time, they met Van McCoy. When the group began working with McCoy, the songwriter/producer had already penned hits for the Shirelles, Jackie Wilson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Barbara Lewis (the sublime "Baby I'm Yours"). With McCoy at the helm, the Spellbinders released their first single in 1965: "For You," a charming ballad that peaked at number 23 on the Billboard R&B chart and just cracked the top 100 pop singles chart. This modest success led them to tour the US and Canada supporting acts such as Arthur Conley, Joe Tex, and WIlson.
In the meantime, the group continued releasing singles such as "A Little on the Blue Side" (the B side being "Chain Reaction," which later became a Northern Soul favorite in the UK) and "We're Acting Like Lovers," the latter becoming the Spellbinders' second best hit. These singles, along with new recordings, were compiled and released as the album The Magic of the Spellbinders. By the LP's 1966 release, however, the group began sliding in popularity; after releasing a few more singles on a subsidiary label of Columbia, the group parted ways. While the Spellbinders may not have lasted long, "For You" remains an underrated soul gem.
Written and produced by McCoy, "For You" recalls the smooth harmonies of the Platters and the gospel touches of the Impressions. Shivers' clear vocal anchors the track, easily riding the melody of the chorus. "There is nothing in the world that I wouldn't do for you," he croons, proving it by earnestly delivering lines such as "I would cross the desert sand for you." Meanwhile, the other members blend perfectly on the title phrase and emphasize certain lines behind Shivers ("Baby baby baby!" they chant behind him). Fans of doo-wop will appreciate the track, both in terms of its harmonies and its chord changes. During the bridge, the song reaches an emotional climax, the drums becoming strident as if to punctuate Shivers' words. "You've been so good to me / Everything a lover should be," he sings, his voice rising in intensity.
"For You" is a beguiling relic of 1960s soul, although its sound is firmly rooted in 1950s doo-wop. McCoy would go on to create the massive 1970s hit "The Hustle," but "For You" reveals another side to the performer. His tender, sincere lyrics and loving tribute to 1950s soul still resonates. The song should also encourage listeners to seek out the Spellbinders' only album to fully appreciate their smooth sound.