31 May 2006

Toni Wine

Toni Wine 2
Rock 'n' Roll's Love Goddess
Toni Wine
She Sang! She Wrote! She Conquered!
by Donny Jacobs
Throughout the ages, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, has assumed many exquisite forms for Her periodic visits to the earthly plane. She has been blonde, brunette, redhead and silver-haired; She has disguised herself as European, Asian, African and Native-American; She has appeared as Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Wiccan women; She has been young and old, rich, poor and middle-class. She has lived in dazzling palaces and humble huts; She has dined from communal cooking pots and from plates of gold. She has traveled all over the world using both man-made conveyances and supernatural means. However and wherever She has gone, Aphrodite has plucked the heartstrings of men with Her graceful fingers. Among the many names She has used are Sheba, Bathsheba, Delilah, Mona Lisa, Fatima, Helen Of Troy, Pocahantas and Mata Hari. More recently, She has assumed the form of a gifted singer/songwriter named Toni Wine.

Nearly everyone who knows the name Toni Wine knows it in a Rock 'n' Roll context. Most people know Toni as the female singing voice of The Archies on their biggest hit recordings. A smaller group of people know her as a Brill Building songwriter, part of a coterie of composers responsible for many of the greatest Rock and Pop recordings of the 1960s. A much smaller group of people, thouse who know and have worked with her, are privy to the truth about Toni Wine. They know that Toni Wine is Divine! Mega-hit producer Jeff Barry calls her "one of those rare talents who not only has the chops and the pipes to do whatever is needed, (she) also 'gets it' . . . the 'it' being the attitude, the acting, and the nuance. I love working with the best, and Toni is one of the elite. She is the bomb!" Mention Toni's name to Ron Dante, former lead singer of The Archies and a fine producer in his own right, and the man all but genuflects. "Toni will always be my favorite female singer," he says. "(She's) up there with the likes of Ronnie Spector, Dusty Springfield and Petula Clark to me. Her presence in the studio always made the other singers (including me) sound better. Working with her through the years on (advertising) jingles, background dates and, of course, The Archies was always pure fun! Toni always cared about the final sound. She gave 100% on every session. That's why 'Sugar, Sugar,' 'Jingle Jangle' and the classic Gene Pitney hit 'It Hurts To Be In Love' have her magic. It's been my pleasure to know and work with Toni and to call her my friend."

In her guise of New York City native Toni Wine, the Goddess of Love gives full vent to Her amazing musical prowess. From an early age, Toni dazzled everyone with her singing, dancing, composing and piano-playing. She auditioned for and won the chance to attend the famous Juilliard School of Music at the tender age of seven (give or take an eon or two)! Studying piano, music theory and counterpoint, she honed her natural gifts; by the time she reached her teens, Toni was writing arrangements for voice and rhythm with the authority and confidence of musicians twice her age. When She was only fourteen, the Love Goddess broke into the East Coast music business. With help from her mother, professional songwriter Paul Kaufman and music director George "Teacho" Wiltshire, she began cutting song demos and singing background on studio dates in Manhattan. On the recommendation of noted writer/producer Jack Keller, Toni became the youngest person ever to join the staff of Columbia Pictures' prestigious Screen Gems Music Division. In 1963, she joined Ron Dante, Chip Taylor, Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart, Wes Farrell, Neil Diamond and other rising stars as part of the Brill Building's second generation of top songwriting talent. The opinionated youngster more than held her own against seasoned writers like Gerry Goffin and Steve Venet, competing against them for assignments and often collaborating with them on songs.

Her first regular writing partner was Artie Kornfeld, who would later co-produce the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. The Cookies was the first act to record a Wine/Kornfeld song ("Only To Other People") and The Shirelles was the first act to chart with one ("Tonight, You're Gonna Fall In Love With Me"). Early Toni Wine songs were also waxed by The Sensations, The Coeds, The Ikettes, The Lornettes, The Cookies' Darlene McCrea, Piccola Pupa, The Crystals, The Chiffons and Dusty Springfield. However, royalties didn't start rolling in until 1966 when she teamed with a dynamic young lyricist named Carole Bayer-Sager (known simply as Carole Bayer at the time). Wine and Bayer-Sager beat the odds against success for a female writing team by penning the million-seller "A Groovy Kind Of Love." The UK's Mindbenders rode their instant hippie anthem into the Top Five on both sides of the Atlantic. Later, the group performed another Wine/Bayer-Sager tune called "Off And Running" on the soundtrack of the 1967 Sidney Poitier film To Sir, With Love. Jody Miller, Lesley Gore, Bobby Vee, Jackie DeShannon and The Rock Flowers were some of the other acts that benefitted from the ladies' largesse. Belatedly, so did Phil Collins, whose reverent remake of "Groovy Kind Of Love" shot to #1 on the international charts a full twenty years after The Mindbenders had cut their original version. Every song Toni and Carole wrote together was well-crafted, and the quality of their output got better all the time. Still, Toni didn't truly hit her creative stride until she left Screen Gems Music and signed with Herb Bernstein's Jill Bern publishing company in 1969. That's when she found her musical soulmate, the late Irwin Levine.

Creatively speaking, Wine and Levine were to the late '60s what Goffin and King, Mann and Weil and Barry and Greenwich had been to the earlier part of the decade. They didn't score as many hits, but they carved out a legacy that was equally rich. "Candida" is their masterpiece, a fabulous recreation of the pre-British Invasion Habanera Rock sound. Buoyed by its percolating cha-cha rhythm, Tony Orlando and Dawn were catapulted to stardom. Orlando, who knew Toni from the days when they both sang demos for Screen Gems Music, pounced on another of her collaborations with Irwin Levine called "What Are You Doing Sunday?" As a single, this effervescent tune scored another major hit for his new group. Recognizing real talent when he saw it, producer Phil Spector commissioned Wine and Levine to write music for his acts. They gave him the raw material he needed to craft a pair of majestic productions: Sonny Charles and The Checkmates' ethnic pride anthem "Black Pearl" and "You Came! You Saw! You Conquered!", a rousing comeback single for The Ronettes. Wine/Levine songs also enhanced the catalogs of Steve Alaimo, Billy Joe Royal, Brenda Lee, Petula Clark, Carla Thomas, Candi Staton, Ronnie Milsap, The Drifters, The Chiffons, The Brooklyn Bridge, The Rock Flowers, The Magnificent Men and numerous other artists during the early 1970s. Who knows what heights the red-hot team might have achieved had they not broken up prematurely? Toni got married and moved from New York City to Memphis, and Irwin decided to concentrate on his increasingly successful on-again, off-again partnership with composer Larry Russell Brown. Subsequently, Toni signed with Wes Farrell's Pocket Full Of Tunes publishing firm and wrote songs on her own. 

Occasionally, she would still write with other people like her (now former) husband Lincoln Wayne "Chips" Moman. She also collaborated with Les Reed's former lyricist Barry Mason, with Johnny Christopher, and separately with Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry. One of her most recent compositions is a collaboration with Artie Wayne called "I Lose It When I Hear White Christmas; it's one of the highlights of Tony Orlando and Dawn's Christmas Reunion CD from 2005.

Toni Wine wrote some of the most sophisticated material ever to come from the pen of a Brill Building scribe. She loved to explore the complex dynamics of male/female relationships, as well as the various forms those relationships can take. With Irwin Levine in particular, she treated the topics of love and sex in an unabashedly matter-of-fact way. Other Brill alumni preferred to suggest sex in their songs, as Gerry Goffin and Carole King did in "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?", as George "Shadow" Morton did in "Remember (Walkin' In The Sand)" or as Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil did in "I Just Can't Help Believin'". Toni wasn't satisfied with suggestion. She wanted to make the sexuality explicit, and she did so. The protagonists in her songs slept together, and there was no doubt about it. She not only acknowledged the importance of sex in a relationship ("I Wanna See Morning With Him"), she celebrated it ("Baby, Let's Be Lovers") and sometimes even demanded it ("Let's Make Love Tonight")! She served up extramarital sex ("Your Husband, My Wife"), sex for money ("Holly, Go Softly"), abusive sex ("And Then He Says He Loves Me") and even sex that was a little on the kinky side ("Love Me Like You're Gonna Lose Me"). Toni Wine wrote about sex from every angle, as only a Love Goddess could.

Her songs could be incredibly provocative, but she wasn't interested in pigeonholing herself. She never aspired to be the Jackie Collins of Brill Building Pop. Toni was (and is) such a strong and versatile writer, she never had to rely on sensationalism to create interesting love songs. She could craft exhilarating odes to romance like "Candida," broken-hearted ballads like "Nobody's Home To Go Home To", celebrations of newfound love like "Sugar Is Sweeter" or lovely musical Valentine cards like "You're My First Love" just as easily as she could whip up sin-soaked cheatin' songs like "Mr. and Mrs. Untrue" or a shocking tale of bigamy like "Sisters In Sorrow." She could write all these kinds of songs equally well, and unlike many of today's songwriters who couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, she could sing them, too. Toni Wine lay her satin-sheathed baby Billie Holliday voice in the grooves of over a dozen solo singles waxed between 1963 and 1985, not to mention a movie soundtrack or two (the 1983 film All The Right Moves was one) and a rare album of duets with her friend Tony Orlando.

For her first solo recording, which hit Billboard's Top Forty Christmas charts in December of 1963, Toni wrote and sang "My Boyfriend's Coming Home For Christmas", a dewy-eyed tribute to lovers separated by military duty. Paired with actor/singer Steve Alaimo in a one-off duo called The Little People, she wrapped her fetching alto around Smokey Robinson's classic ballad of ambivalent love, "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." She had her winning way with Barry, Greenwich and Spector's ultimate declaration of love, "River-Deep, Mountain-High." She sang about brotherly love on "Take A Little Time Out For Love", selfish love on "My Point Of View," hopeful love on "Maybe My Baby Will", distant love on "Long-Distance Kissin'", anguished love on "He's Not You" and teenage love on "A Boy Like You", her finest Girl Group Sound single. Seldom did she sing about any subject except love, and seldom was the subject sung about better. Her colleagues certainly thought so. Toni's voice became such a coveted commodity in music business circles that artists began to compete fiercely for her duet and backing vocal services. Steely Dan, Gene Pitney, Neil Sedaka, Petula Clark, Brenda Lee, Evie Sands, Bob Crewe, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Royal, Bernadette Peters, Connie Francis and Robin McNamara are a few who've been lucky enough to win them; McNamara still marvels at Toni's fabulous duet vocal work on his 1971 Steed single "Mary, Janey And Me." ("What an incredible voice she has!," he raves.) The Archies were surely luckiest of all when she agreed to join them as the singing voice of Veronica Lodge. That's Toni mouthing the immortal lines I'm gonna make your life so sweet! near the climax of "Sugar, Sugar." It's her biggest claim to Rock 'n' Roll fame, but definitely not her only one.

Ron Dante is as much a fan of Toni's songwriting talent as he is of her vocal skills. He believes her musical compositions have longevity, and he should know. In 1972, he eagerly snatched up "That's What Life Is All About", one of her finest tunes, and cut it as a single. Thirty years later, it still sounds great and is arguably the best release of his entire singing career. "Her songs will be around forever," he promises. We mortals have been blessed with numerous Rock 'n' Roll classics written by the Goddess of Love. Here's an album's worth of them, each one nothing less than a revelation to the human ear.

"A Groovy Kind Of Love"
Recorded by The Mindbenders
Written by Carole Bayer-Sager and Toni Wine
Toni Wine's most lucrative copyright exists in versions by Patti LaBelle, Petula Clark, Gene Pitney and many other artists in addition to the chart-topping rendition by Phil Collins. Toni cut it a few times herself, and the magnificently soulful reading of "Groovy Kind Of Love" she tracked for Atco Records in 1970 puts The Mindbenders' original waxing to shame. She practically channels Aretha Franklin on that hard-to-find single.

Recorded by Tony Orlando and Dawn
Written by Irwin Levine and Toni Wine
What the Brill Building Sound is all about: A hook-laden melody with a killer chorus, an uplifting lyric, a romantic premise, a girl's name in the title for good measure. What a hit record is all about: A strong lead vocal tinged with the Blues, colorful background voices (Toni's is one of them), a solid Latin rhythm foundation, a string section going airborne on the instrumental break. Tony Orlando and Dawn couldn't have found a better vehicle for their chart debut, and they couldn't have found a song more likely to become a Rock 'n' Roll standard. "Candida" would've been a hit if Jay and The Americans has cut it in 1964, or if The Drifters had cut it in 1959. "Candida" could be a hit today for a singer like Clay Aiken. With halfway decent production values, any competent singer could have had a hit with "Candida" anytime during the last 50 years. It's Toni Wine's entry in the Great American Songbook.

"You're My First Love"
Recorded by The Coeds
Written by Artie Kornfeld and Toni Wine
This is one of the earliest Toni Wine songs to be recorded, but it's one of her all-time best: A folk-flavored love ballad with the kind of lazy, evening-on-the-back-porch-swing quality you find in Hoagy Carmichael's work. Most professional songwriters want at least one number in their catalog that sounds like it hails from the Golden Age of American popular song, the kind of tune that compares favorably to the work of masters like Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. "You're My First Love" is that kind of tune. Hearing it will take you on a trip back in time.

"Gettin' Together"
Recorded by The Rock Flowers
Written by Ellie Greenwich and Toni Wine
No, this isn't the theme song from Bobby Sherman's short-lived 1971 TV sitcom, but it's the same kind of number. In producer Wes Farrell's experienced hands, it turned into a delightful bouncing ball of a record. The whole thing is based on a clever vocal riff which Toni and Ellie must've had loads of fun singing as they composed the tune. Listen to "Gettin' Together" once, and all you'll remember about it is the chorus, but that chorus is made of maximum-strength Superglue! It will stick in your memory for days on end. If Bob Dylan's music is your style, you probably won't dig this record, but if you were raised on Pop hooks, it's gonna be right up your alley.

"Sisters In Sorrow"
Recorded by Brenda Lee
Written by Irwin Levine and Toni Wine
How often do you encounter subject matter as raw as this in a Pop song? "Sisters In Sorrow" is a blistering Country Rock lament that describes the aftermath of a failed polygamous marriage. A man has convinced two women to marry him at the same time, but now he's abandoned them both. Brenda and Toni (on righteous backing vocals) commiserate soulfully over the shame of sharing his linen and sharing his name. This barely-released song was produced by Chips Moman during sessions for Memphis Portrait, Brenda Lee's finest Rock 'n' Roll album for Decca Records.

"If We Both Hold On"
Recorded by Koffie
Written by Jeff Barry and Toni Wine
Adult-contemporary songs just don't get any more adult than this! A couple uses sex to try and save a dying relationship, but it's much too late, and the growing hopelessness of the situation is mirrored in the growing intensity of the vocals. With its Mississippi Bayou guitar licks, Sunday morning piano chords, somber waltz rhythm, symphonic strings and full-throated Blues singing, this record crosses a lot of genres. Jeff Barry could've done a far better job of producing it, but Ted Cooper's production work is just effective enough, and powerhouse vocals carry the powerhouse lyric all the way home.
"Love Me Like You're Gonna Lose Me"
Recorded by The Chiffons
Written by Irwin Levine and Toni Wine
Many Chiffons fans believe this single to be the group's greatest, but radio programmers almost certainly got cold feet about adding it to their playlists. "Love Me Like You're Gonna Lose Me" is about foreplay; more specifically, it's about a couple who like to fight before making love. Now, there are plenty of couples who do that kind of thing, and it's legitimate fodder for song lyrics . . . but was America ready to hear this kind of love sung about on the radio in 1969? And would they have accepted it from a Girl Group with a sweet, virginal image like The Chiffons? This number was probably better suited to a "bad" Girl Group like The Ronettes (who reportedly did cut a version of it). It's a shame, though, because The Chiffons sing this classically-influenced ballad so tenderly, it has almost no shock value at all. Wine and Levine, who produced the recording session, decided to have group members Judy Craig Mann and Sylvia Peterson share the lead vocal. This resulted in a very compelling performance, but it may have made the track even more controversial. As if sado-masochism wasn't kinky enough, what about two women singing about sado-masochism to each other? Yipe!

"(He's Gonna Be) Fine, Fine Fine"
Recorded by The Ikettes
Written by Tommy Boyce, Steve Venet and Toni Wine
This danceable novelty number with an outdated Big Band sound shouldn't work at all, but it works remarkably well . . . in fact, it worked well enough to net Toni and her co-writers a sizable regional hit (#125 on Billboard's Bubbling Under chart). There's definitely a "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" quality to this lively meditation on teenage courtship; you'd almost think the lyric is trying to imply something naughty. But of course, if the Goddess of Love had wanted to convey something provocative, She would have done so without being coy about it. Maybe it's the leering presence of Ike Turner in the recording studio that makes our minds wander into unseemly territory! The Ikettes (this edition of the torrid trio included Venetta Fields, Robbie Montgomery and Jessie Smith) mug and guffaw their way through "Fine, Fine, Fine" like a cornball comedy act, but their over-the-top performance is half the fun of listening to the record.

"I'm Into Lookin' For Someone To Love Me"
Recorded by Bobby Vee
Written by Carole Bayer-Sager and Toni Wine
Excellent late '60s Pop/Rock from Bobby Vee, and one of the teen idol's last chart singles for Liberty Records. Toni lets her Brill Building roots show by sliding a rhumba rhythm underneath the jangling keyboards, drums and rhythm guitars that otherwise scream "Merseybeat." This song would've been perfect for The Mindbenders, and it may have been intended for them.

"Heaven Help The Nonbeliever"
Recorded by The Rock Flowers
Written by Carole Bayer-Sager and Toni Wine
This is unquestionably the finest of the Wine/Bayer-Sager compositions: A prayerful piano ballad which likens the love of a woman for a man to the love of God for humanity. The redemptive power of love is what the song is really talking about. Braced by Ardie Tillman's anguished vocal counterpoint, Debby Clinger's little-girl-lost soprano underscores the song's profound message with its very fragility. I'll sing my song that he's so afraid to hear, she trills. I'll sing it loud and drown out all his fears. Years later, Carole Bayer-Sager put the lines she wrote for "Heaven Help The Nonbeliever" to practical use. While dating Burt Bacharach, she learned that he had "writer's block" and was no longer composing new material. By "singing her song," she was indeed able to "drown out all his fears" and coax him into writing music again. Bacharach and Bayer-Sager soon married and embarked on a highly successful ten-year songwriting collaboration.

"You Came! You Saw! You Conquered!"
Recorded by The Ronettes
Written by Irwin Levine, Phil Spector and Toni Wine
Toni Wine recalls collaborating on several Ronettes songs with Irwin Levine and Phil Spector. Two of them, "Baby, Let's Be Lovers" and "Love Me, La-Dee-Day" have surfaced overseas. To date, this is the only one to have been released in the United States. Since it failed to crack Billboard's Hot 100, you might argue that it wasn't the most commercial choice, but does that mean it's an inferior record? Au contraire! Arranged by the capable Perry Botkin, Jr, "You Came! You Saw! You Conquered!" fancydances out of your audio speakers with a jaunty, high-stepping rhythm. It's got a Las Vegas-styled razzle dazzle that suits both Phil and Ronnie Spector's personalities; just listen to the pizzazzy way Ronnie sings the word baby! On this number, she's the life and soul of the party. In fact, "Conquered" is such a festive song, Phil may have released it in celebration of their recent marriage. Legend has it that whenever Phil Spector mixed a Ronettes single, he liked to listen back to the voice track and imagine that Ronnie was singing directly to him. Accordingly, titles were very important in deciding which songs he wanted to record with her. No other title could ever have given Phil more of an ego boost than this one!

"Get Him!"
Recorded by Little Eva
Written by Toni Wine
The composer credits for this unreleased Little Eva track are lost. To date, Toni Wine hasn't heard the record, and its title is too generic for her to recall having written it. Even so, this bouncy Latin rocker couldn't possibly have been written by anybody else! Little Eva was an artist under contract to Screen Gems/Columbia, the company Toni worked for. The lyric's male/female courtship is portrayed as a cat-and-mouse game, and that's a Toni Wine trademark. What's more, the melody resembles that of a song called "A Girl Is Not A Girl" that Toni co-wrote with Steve Venet around the same time this number was recorded (1964). We're more than willing to go out on a limb in this case, because "Get Him" has Aphrodite's delicate fingerprints all over it! What a pity it never got released as a single, because it may have been just what Little Eva needed to jump-start her stalled chart fortunes.

Who can say where the Rock 'n' Roll Love Goddess might turn up next? You might find Her serenading passengers on a Caribbean cruise. You might catch Her on stage in Las Vegas with Tony Orlando or Ron Dante. If you're lucky, you might see Her headlining Her own show at your friendly neighborhood House of Blues. You might even spot Her in New York City spending time with Allan Rinde, a handsome mortal of whom She's grown quite fond. Alas! The Love Goddess is elusive. You may never catch sight of her, but don't fret: You can still bask in Her glory! If you fancy those circular capsules of amusement called vinyl records (and if you frequent this blogspace, you doubtless do), merely search out those that have Toni Wine's name emblazoned on the labels. However, be forewarned: Once you've listened to these musical jewels, you will fall completely under Aphrodite's spell! Her music is powerfully addictive; you'll need a Music Lovers Anonymous group to help you break the habit. Toni's delicious brand of Wine will intoxicate you like nothing you've ever known before.

"Toni Wine (is) a 'triple threat' . . . musician, writer, singer, and superbly talented in all areas. I loved writing and singing with her and sharing in her passion and soul, which she felt and displayed in everything she did (including decorating her apartment and cooking . . . truly)!!! I've been blessed, not only in working with Toni but in having a very long friendship with her, and she hasn't changed one bit.
Thank God!!! I LOVE HER!"
Ellie Greenwich
singer/songwriter and star of the hit musical
Leader Of The Pack

Special thanks to Jeff Barry, Ron Dante, Robin McNamara, Laura Pinto, Ellie Greenwich and Bob Weiner.


toschlog said...

DC introduced me to Toni Wine's solo recordings back in the late 80s, and I have been seeking them out ever since. I have to say, there is still one 45 I have never even seen offered (13th Hour). But each one I have found has been a brand new sensation for me ears.

I was thrilled a few years ago when her husband put up an official website to celebrate her work. It has introduced me to a few songs she wrote that I never knew about.

Like so many solo artists who never reach "pop star" success, Toni Wine's name is known by few outside the industry, but those who hear her music never forget it!

Thanks, DC, for a great article and for that wonderful cassette tape way back when...

S. Toschlog
Houston, TX


Your name rings a far-off bell . . . I'm so pleased that I was able to share the magic of Toni Wine's excellent music with you!