After 6 weeks of “Joy To The World’ by Three Dog Night being the number one record in the USA followed by two weeks of “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones – fans of soul and R&B in 1971 sure weren’t feeling so sweet. They may have just taken out a classified for something a little less rockin’ and a little more rhythmic. Finally, on the week of June 10th, the perfect candidates called up and took the job. Honey Cone’s “Want Ads” released earlier in March off the album Sweet Replies hit number 1 on the Billboard Top 100.
Honey Cone was Edna Wright (the sister of soul legend Darlene Love) along with Carolyn Willis and Shelly Clark. Wright got her start when she met Phil Spector through Darlene Love. Spector asked her to sing lead on the track “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” by a group called Hale & The Hushabyes. This group was more of a fun project that didn’t go anywhere, but it was actually a hidden supergroup that also consisted of Sonny & Cher, Jackie DeShannon and Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, who’s unmistakable high pitched crooning you can hear accenting this track.
Wright spent some time singing backing vocals for The Righteous Brothers, Johnny Rivers and as a part of Ray Charles’ backing band “The Raelettes”. Willis got her start as a teenager performing with the girl group The Girlfriends, who saw some success with the single “My One and Only Jimmy Boy” which reached number 49 on the Billboard charts. Clark cut her teeth in the music business as early at 6 years old on children’s records, Broadway musicals, dancing in variety shows and singing backup and dancing on tour with the likes of Ike & Tina Turner, Little Richard and Dusty Springfield. The trio began and had their break all in one evening through a chance encounter. Darlene Love was supposed to perform backup for Andy Williams along with Willis and Clark on a 1968 TV special but could not attend and was replaced with her sister Edna Wright. Record producers Eddie Holland, Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier who had just left Motown Records and founded Hot Wax Records were watching the show and decided to sign the group. Honey Cone (named after Eddie Holland’s favorite flavor of ice cream) was born.
The backup singers who were about to become Honey Cone backing up Andy Williams on the Burt Bacharach penned “Always Something There To Remind Me” famously covered by Dionne Warwick and turned into a new wave synth pop track in the 1980s by Naked Eyes
Honey Cone saw a string of earlier successes with the singles “While You’re Looking Out For Sugar” (which reached number 26 on the Billboard R&B Chart) and “Girls, It Ain’t Easy” (which reached number 8 on the Billboard R&B chart
“Girls, It Ain’t Easy” which recently appeared on the soundtrack of the horror movie The Hunt released in 2020
Hot Wax Records associate (turned boyfriend of Edna Wright) Greg Perry teamed up with the frontman of The Chairmen of the Board – General Norman Johnson – to write “Want Ads” after an idea from studio engineer Barney Perkins. Perkins, while leafing through a newspaper, suggested that someone should write a song about classified ads. This actually earned him a songwriting credit. After Perry and Johnson took this idea on and penned “Want Ads”, they originally offered it to the Hot Wax Records group Glass House who had a Top 10 R&B hit with “Crumbs Off The Table” in 1969. It began with the lyric “wanted, young man single and free” and was thematically about staging an advertisement for everything a woman could want in a lover.
However, this song was a stone to ol’ Glass House and they just couldn’t get it down. It was then offered to Honey Cone who recorded it and released it as a part of their second album Sweet Replies in March of 1971. The song is a loud, groovy soul explosion with funk guitars and bright synths that was disco before disco took off. They was described by Jet magazine as “strong, sweet and bold”. A man that would later be a part of a cultural phenomenon that involved classified ads for paranormal investigators “ready to believe you” makes an appearance on this track. Ray Parker Jr., most notable for singing the theme song to Ghostbusters plays rhythm guitar. The track entered the Billboard Hot 100 chart on April 10, 1971 and was number one for the week starting on June 12.
Here is the trio performing the track live
The song sold over 1 million copies and led to headlining shows, appearances on variety programs, a performance at the legendary Apollo Theatre and the group being on the cover of Jet magazine on September 2, 1972. Unfortunately, Honey Cone’s fame was short lived. Carolyn Willis, who was the vocal arranger for the group, left in 1973. The group struggled to replace her and Edna Wright and Shelly Clark soon went their separate ways. Coincidentally, Hot Wax Records went into debt soon after and folded. Holland–Dozier–Holland came to fame by writing and producing some of the biggest Motown soul hits of the 1960s for groups like Diana Ross and the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye. However, besides “Want Ads”, Holland–Dozier–Holland were unable to reproduce the same formula for their Motown 2.0 artists.
“Want Ads” saw a rebirth of interest in the streaming era in 2016 when the song was sampled on The Avalanches track “Because I’m Me” off their second album Wildflower – which was 16 years in the making. This instrumental of “Want Ads” is interspliced with Mandrill, Lil Mama, and street tracks from 11-12 year old boys in New York City housing projects in the late 1950s. Hip-hop duo Camp Lo raps over it.
As for the future of the group, Edna Wright released a solo album in 1977 and also continued to do session work into the 1980s for artists such as Kim Carnes, Cher and on the “Hollywood Remix” of U2’s “Desire” in 1988. Unfortunately, she passed away recently on September 12, 2020.
The “Hollywood Remix” of U2’s hit “Desire” that features Edna Wright.
Carolyn Willis recorded and toured with artists such as Neil Diamond, Boz Scaggs and Carly Simon. She was also a featured vocalist on the Seals and Crofts hit “Get Closer”.
Seals & Crofts performs the song with Carolyn Willis live
Shelly Clark married Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White in 1980. She became a casting director, famously working with Eddie Murphy.
“Want Ads” stands at a crossroads in music history. To some, it was a dated relic of the aging Motown trends before Motown became classic. That the girl group formula that Hot Wax Records tried to capitalize on was on its way to expiry. To others, it was a precursor of the disco age to come just several years later. A number one hit on the precipice of a changing state of music. This song has delighted music lovers throughout the ages, whether you’re looking through the want ads in your local paper or a job on Indeed.com today.
Breihan, Tom. “The Number Ones: The Honey Cone’s ‘Want Ads.’” Stereogum. January 30, 2019. https://www.stereogum.com/2030175/the-number-ones-the-honey-cones-want-ads/columns/the-number-ones/.
Thompson, Cordell S. “Honey Cone Trio Finds That It Pays To Advertise.” Jet, September 2, 1971.
Unterberger, Andrew. “Forever No. 1: The Honey Cone’s ‘Want Ads.’” Billboard. September 14, 2020. https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/chart-beat/9448483/honey-cone-want-ads-forever-number-one.
Warner, Jay. American Singing Groups : A History from 1940s to Today. Milwaukee : Hal Leonard Corp., 2006. http://archive.org/details/americansingingg00warn.