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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, we say goodbye to a songwriter and producer whose music is engrained in American culture. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "You're All I Need to Get By" - Nick Ashford wrote those songs and more with his wife of over 30 years, Valerie Simpson.

Ashford died yesterday at the age of 70. NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY: Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson wrote this hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AIN'T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING")

ULABY: And this hit for Diana Ross.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEBODY'S HAND")

ULABY: And this hit for themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOLID AS A ROCK")

ULABY: Believe it or not, Nick Ashford told NPR five years ago he never expected that song to get big.

NICK ASHFORD: Tell you, I was shocked or surprised when "Solid" became a hit. I wasn't sure that was - I loved the song, but I didn't think it would rise to the heights it rose. It was just interesting to me. And now, it's like our...

VALERIE SIMPSON: Like ours.

ASHFORD: We can't leave the stage before we sing that, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ULABY: Ashford with Valerie Simpson. When they met at a Harlem church, she was a 17-year-old music student and he was a down-on-his-luck dancer, the son of a construction worker from Michigan. Their first big hit began as a joke, when they started working with a major music publisher.

ASHFORD: And then we came into his office one day and he said, you guys got a song for us? And we said oh, yeah, we wrote this great song. But it was a song we went out the door singing when we couldn't write any songs. We were saying, oh, let's go get stoned. And we'd say, oh, let's go get stoned.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GO GET STONED")

ULABY: The song became a hit for Ray Charles, who was then fresh from rehab.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GO GET STONED")

ULABY: The song got the attention of Motown, where the two became star staff writers for the likes of Smokey Robinson and Aretha Franklin. Over the course of their entire career, generally speaking, Valerie Simpson wrote the music; Nick Ashford wrote the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M EVERY WOMAN")

JASON KING: You could argue that he wrote one of the most important and meaningful feminist pop anthems of all time.

ULABY: Music scholar Jason King says after the two left Motown, they wrote this 1978 hit for Chaka Khan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M EVERY WOMAN")

ULABY: And on a dime, Ashford and Simpson could turn around and express a man's experience in a song like "Is It Still Good to You," with Teddy Pendergrass.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IS IT STILL GOOD TO YOU")

KING: It's all about intimacy in a relationship and what happens when it starts disappearing, and it's all about a man's fears about that disappeared intimacy. So it's a very touchy subject matter, but it's dealt with with incredible lyrical sophistication.

ULABY: Jason King says as a lyricist, Nick Ashford was a master of economical storytelling. He'd use just a few words to convey a huge, powerful story in a four-minute song.

KING: Which is not easy to do. There's characters presented, there's drama, there's suspense, there's tension, there's conflict. And that's his lyrical skill.

ULABY: A skill King says puts Ashford in the ranks of Ira Gershwin, Billy Strayhorn and Smokey Robinson - in his expansiveness and his brevity, and his generosity of vision.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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