DM216 (45-DEM-85038 in the USA)
Right from the opening two notes of the hard dark intro you know this is going to be a heavy deep drive of a tune.
The Flirtations were a genuine black American soul band who'd translocated to London. Back in the US they'd won a Supremes soundalike competition, but the lead vocal on Nothing But A Heartache is a world away from Diana Ross' velvet simper. It's a strong, solid brick wall of delivery that's perfectly suited to the brass punch of the production.
The producer was Wayen Bickerton, who co-wrote the song with Tony Waddington. This duo would squander their talent but rake in the dosh by writing all that Bay City Rollers/Showaddywaddy style twaddle for the Rubettes in the 70s (though any reasonable person is still in awe of that high voice at the start of Sugar Baby Love, almost as much as the packet-tastic kecks they wore presumably to facilitate hitting the aforementioned run of high notes).
Nothing But A Heartache, though, is a long way from all that. A dense, dynamic soul corker like the toughest end of Motown's tunes, it's nonetheless got something of a British production to it, that plucking bass sound (bass amplification was just being invented), falling-down-a-stairwell drums and epic pop-soul vibe that we heard on stuff like Love Affair's Everlasting Love (for an illustration of what a fabulous bombastic difference the production makes, compare Love Affair's version with the Robert Knight original).
Despite not being a hit, Nothing But A Heartache became the title track of the Flirtations album (Deram, DES-18028) in 1969.
At once ominous and euphoric, it passes that best of Northern Soul tests; when it finishes there's nothing you want more than to hear it again immediately. As long as nobody makes you incongruously dance about on the remains of a 12th century Welsh abbey's pillars while you sing along.
download Nothing But A Heartache (3.9MB MP3)