Some group singers who ‘soloed’ — and soared high, too

I don’t know how the Angry Birds of gaming fame are faring these days, but many of the area’s smart birds — at least those up on their meteorological skills — are already starting to head south.

To prepare, though, even those birds who prefer group formations had to learn to fly solo sometime — sorta like some of these famous singers who ended up “winging it” by abandoning familiar companions to go out on their own.

Here’s a look at five singers who made it just as big, or bigger, after leaving the comfort (or not) of a musical group.

(Got another favorite who “soloed” well after his or her earlier group days? There are dozens of them. Share your choice in the Comment section below.)

Cher
The indefatigable singer and actress Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere Bono Allman, now 65, emerged from the super-successful recording and TV duo Sonny and Cher (10 Top 40 hits and a hit CBS show) in the mid-’70s. And she has a still-strong solo career that over the years has featured innumerable “Farewell Tours” and regularly sold-out Vegas engagements.

Oh, she won an Oscar, too — for best actress in the 1987 film “Moonstruck.” 

The husband-wife couple, formerly known as Caesar and Cleo, began their musical climb with a new name and their biggest hit, “I Got You Babe” (1965).

But I wanted to feature a couple of their lesser-known songs: “Just You” and “It’s the Little Things.”

On her own, Cher came up with four No. 1 hits and Billboard Top 10 hits in four straight decades. Amazing.

Her first solo No. 1 was “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” and one of my early favorites is “You’d Better Sit Down Kids.”

But it’s hard to top “If I Could Turn Back Time” and its racy video (with nearly 6.5 million views).

Dion
Dion DiMucci was one of the many 1950s street-corner crooners who made it big, joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He proudly bills himself as “King of the New York Streets.”  In 1957, he formed the group Dion and the Belmonts (named after their neighborhood’s Belmont Avenue in the Bronx). They had their first hit the next year with the doowop song I Wonder Why” and followed it up in 1959 with the even bigger hit “A Teenager in Love.”

In 1960, Dion went solo and then came up with his biggest hit, “Runaround Sue,” in 1961.

I like a lot of his early solo hits, including two seldom-heard 1962 songs, “Love Came to Me,” another doowop number, and “Little Diane,” complete with kazoo accompaniment.

Diana Ross
Diana Ross, a Motown-born girl and a Motown Records superstar, racked up 11 No. 1 hits with the Supremes (who also are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) before going solo in 1969.

The Supremes’ first No. 1 hit, “Where Did Our Love Go” (1964) was the first time most folks heard of them, but I like their first (minor) Top 40 hit — from a year earlier — even better: “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes.”

After her Supreme run, she managed to chart with 41 solo hits — six of them reaching No. 1. She started the half-dozen run with “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in 1970 and wrapped it up with a nine-week No. 1 duet with Lionel Richie, the 1981 movie theme “Endless Love.” (She, too, had a movie career, including her Oscar-nominated starring role as Billie Holiday in “The Lady Sings the Blues.”)

Mark Lindsay
Mark Lindsay, former lead singer of the Revolutionary War-costumed Paul Revere and the Raiders, went solo in the late ’60s after nearly a decade with the Portland, Ore., party band. The band produced a string of upbeat hits throughout the second half of the decade, including the likes of this one: “Stepping Out.”

While Lindsay has never produced a solo hit as big as his performance on the Raiders’ only No.1 hit, “Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian),” he did record a series of well-crafted songs, such as “Miss America,” the Neil Diamond composition And the Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” and — my favorite — master lyricist Jimmy Webb’s “First Hymn From Grand Terrace.” A small sample:

It was a sunny day, and so we lay
Beneath the rock that sheltered us
From passing planes.
And the earth caught fire when you turned
But nothing burned …

Lindsay is still going strong, performing last summer at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand as part of the well-received “Happy Together” nostalgia tour.

Patti LaBelle
And our third diva … Patti LaBelle, a Philadelphia native who got her start as lead singer of the Blue-Belles and hit the charts in 1962 with the under-appreciated song “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman.”

Since then, Patti has hit No. 1 with the group LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” before going solo in the late ’70s.

Then, in the mid-’80s, she hit it big with two great — but very different — songs (and videos). First, “New Attitude,” from the 1984 Eddie Murphy hit movie “Beverly Hills Cop.”

And then, the even-bigger hit (No. 1 for three weeks), the appropriately titled “On My Own” — the brilliant duet with Michael McDonald (the ex-Doobie Brother who also went solo and did quite well) — and equally brilliant video in which the coast-to-coast scenes magically “match up.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by John Borger on 11/04/2011 - 04:35 pm.

    You had me worried with the “winging it” intro. It made me think you were going to talk about Paul McCartney post-Beatles. Good work, but not “just as big, or bigger.”

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention “Abraham, Martin and John” for Dion.

    Opinions will differ, as you noted. I think that John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful), Paul Simon (Simon and Garfunkel), Eric Clapton (Cream, Yardbirds) and Neil Young (Buffalo Springfield and CSN&Y) would have been better choices than most if not all of your selections (you make good cases for Cher and Diana Ross).

  2. Submitted by Allison Sandve on 11/04/2011 - 05:57 pm.

    Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” was one of the first tunes I downloaded. “The grocery store’s the super-mart, uh-haaaaa.” Makes me want to snap my fingers and swing my hips!

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