Category Archives: Motown Sound

Anatomy of THE Groove: “We’ll Have It Made” by The Spinners

The Spinners were a group who had two of the most distinctive lead singers in 70’s soul. During their years in Philly,their main lead singer was Phillipe Wynne-a master of powerful vocal idiosyncrasy. In their Motown years,their final lead singer of that era was George Curtis “G.C.” Cameron. He was a Vietnam vet who recorded a couple of solo albums for Motown after his years with the Spinners. In 2003,he became one of the lead singers of the Temptations. Today at age 71,Cameron has had a rich and varied career celebrating music on both a creative and political level in the state of New Jersey.

In 1970,The Spinners recorded their second and final Motown album entitled 2nd Time Around. Story goes that they were not creatively prioritized on the label. On the other hand,Stevie Wonder felt the opposite because he wrote two songs for the group which were featured on this album. The first was “Its A Shame”. This went on to become their biggest hit for Motown. And is probably the song most people associate with G.C. Cameron. The other song Wonder wrote didn’t perform as well commercially,but to me stands on equal level musically. The name of this song is “We’ll Have It Made”.

A deep honky tonk styled (though not honky tonk sounding) piano opens the song. The bass drum kicks into the main rhythm-which is a big percussive sound marked by epic hi hat hits. These are accented by screaming,melodic horn charts. These instrumental parts mark both the chorus and the refrain of the song-using different chord modulations for each segment. After the chorus,there are these jazzy bridges where Cameron goes into his smoothest low baritone. Towards the end of the song,all the musical elements come together for a huge chorus that closes out the song.

“We’ll Have It Made” is a song that instrumentally bridges a hot,heavy uptempo and a stomping country soul sound beautifully. Even more so,Stevie Wonder’s jazzy modulations give the song its complex character. Cameron sings each vocal part as different characters. On the refrains and choruses he’s a huge soul shouter. On the jazzier bridges, he’s a smooth and almost poppy crooner. The moment I heard this song,it made me think about what might’ve happened to the Spinners on Motown had Stevie Wonder worked more fully with them. This and “Its A Shame” still stand as shining moments of this collaboration.

 

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Filed under 1970's, country/soul, drums, G.C. Cameron, honky tonk piano, horns, Motown, Motown Sound, piano, soul jazz, Stevie Wonder, The Spinners

Michael Jackson-The First Solo Career

Photo of JACKSON FIVE and Michael JACKSON

Michael Jackson shared one major thing in common with fellow Motowner Stevie Wonder: both of them had two distinct solo careers. Stevie’s was as a child prodigy musician who mostly played harmonica and bongos. And only singing a little bit. Of course his breakthrough was still on the Motown label. But on independent, fully adult terms. Michael had his first career in his early/mid teens on Motown as well. He differs from Stevie mainly in that his adult solo breakthrough came through the guidance of Quincy Jones and his crew of musicians. And it happened on the Epic label rather than Motown.

Michael’s solo career on Motown was linked very closely to the Jackson 5ive’s. His brothers often continued to sing backup for him during this time. And he continued to work with the writers and producers who made up The Corporation-the creative team who helped to create the Jacksons’ sound while they were on Motown. In addition to providing the teenage Michael with fresh new material,they also developed his strong vocal ability into that of an interpretive singer-even as his voice began to change. And it’s that first solo career (from 1972 to 1975) that I want to represent Michael Jackson with today.


“I Wanna Be Where You Are”/1972

This is probably my personal favorite of Michael’s solo hits from before his voice really changed. The rhythm guitar/harpsichord heavy uptempo funkiness has a strong J5 flavor still. But Leon Ware and T-Boy Ross’s songwriting has a lot of those jazzy chord changes,from major to minor,that Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson were using at the time. Michael handles the melodic complexity of the song with seeming ease and emotional power.

“Ain’t No Sunshine”/1972

With it’s fuzzed out guitar and slow shuffling beat,this Bill Withers cover comes instrumentally right out of the early P-Funk albums from Funkadelic in 1970-71. But it’s raw blusiness is slickened up far more than anything George Clinton was doing at this time. Always loved Michael’s spoken intro where he says “you ever want something that you know you shouldn’t have? The more you know shouldn’t have it,the more you want it”.

“People Make The World Go ‘Round”/1972

One thing that really makes this song stand out as an interpretation is how much different it is from the Stylistics original. Thom Bell’s slow tempo is raised up a notch,and the music is a more less orchestrated. Not only that but the lyrics are simplified,to the point of being totally altered,to make more sense that a 14 year old is singing it. It was a moment when someone else’s song was tailored more to Michael’s maturity level-rather than the more experienced and adult sociopolitical elan of the original.

“Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day”/1972

This Stevie Wonder interpretation is amazing. It sounds based more on the faster,more clavinet driven live versions Stevie performed in the late 60’s than the studio original. Also Michael begins utilizing more of the vocal hiccups and ad libs from his Epic era solo career here. What shocked me is to hear the chorus at the very beginning sung in Michael’s fully changed adult voice,but the rest in his higher childhood one. Almost as if vocal parts were recorded at totally different times.

“All The Things You Are”/1973

Michael Jackson became fascinated with the Philly soul sound of Gamble & Huff during his mid teens. And this interpretation of the Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern showtune really showcases the orchestral proto disco funkiness spirit of the city of brotherly love. Michael utilizes his changing voice beautifully here-singing the more dramatic parts in his childhood voice and the more nuanced ones in his mature voice.

“Euphoria”/1973

Leon Ware provided this jazzy,cinematic mid tempo Clavinet/string orchestration based funky soul to Michael Jackson at a time when he was right on the cusp of finding his identity as a solo performer for Motown. He’s spelling the words out of the song title in the manner a parent might  do for a child. Yet the choruses make it clear Michael is really beginning to understand the meaning of the word euphoria.

“We’re Almost There”/1975

Michael’s voice had fully matured by the time his final Motown album Forever,Michael dropped in early 1975. This amazingly cinematic groove from Brian and Eddie Holland-with it’s funky wah wah and high stepping Afro Brazilian dance rhythm really allowed Michael’s voice to soar to the romantically hopeful revelry of the lyrics.

“Dapper Dan”/1975

This album track from the Forever,Michael is the one song from that album that you won’t find on any of the many Motown era solo Michael Jackson best of compilations out there. But it is by far the funkiest song on the album. Written primarily by Hal Davis,it channels the sort of New Orleans stomp that an Allen Toussaint might cook up for Dr.John at that time. And showcases Michael getting down hard with some super heavy funk.


Michael Jackson has been dead for seven years as if this writing. I was motivated to explore this side of Michael’s artistry because it showcased his personal interests guiding those people still guiding Michael. And his first four solo albums recorded on Motown helped prepare him to develop his focus in terms of the kinds of writers,producers and musicians he’d work with as a grown adult. His second solo career is well illustrated in the Guinness Book Of World Records. But his solo trajectory really took off while still on Motown.

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Filed under 1970's, cinematic funk, Funk, Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Motown, Motown Sound, Philly Soul, Stevie Wonder, The Corporation

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Do The Temptations’ by The Temptations

Do The Temptations

Years of arguing with their producers and Motown finally convinced Otis Williams that the Tempts needed to rest a fuller creative control over their music. Most of their contemporaries from the label’s 60’s heyday were gone now. And had rested creative autonomy only after doing so. Add to that the fact most of the instrumental talent for the label had done the same thing? Otis,Richard and Glenn Leonard took over the writing and production for their final original run of albums for the Motown label.

“Why Can’t You And Me Get Together” is a bouncing,uptempo pop/funk number with a strong melody whose vocals are defined by very democratic unison vocal harmonies. “Who Are You (And What Are You Doing With The Rest Of Your Life” has Dennis leading with wonderful harmonies and bass vocal accents from Melvin Franklin on a song filled with bounding disco pass,a melodic high pitched synthesizer and a rhythmic clavinet solo on the instrumental bridge. “I’m On Fire (Body Song)” is a creamy,string drenched showcase for the elastically powerful falsetto of Glenn Leonard.

“Put Your Trust In Me” is a mid 60’s style Tempts uptempo shuffle with Dennis working out on straight up 12 bar blues breakdown on the bridge. “There Is No Stopping (Til We Ser The Whole World Rockin)” is a ferocious example of funk functioning as disco-with a heavy “people music” lyrical inclination straight out of the gospel joyousness. “Let Me Count The Ways (I Love You)” really goes for the Smokey style wordplay on a chiming shuffle rhythm love ballad while “Is There Anybody Else” is a slow crawling,slap bass and glassy electric piano drenched funk stomp. The album ends with the sweetly orchestrated Dennis sung ballad “I’ll Take You In”.

Having taken heavy control in the making of this album? This is probably the mid 70’s album they did that has the musical flavor of the classic Tempts sound of the 60’s-only with a contemporary instrumental production twist to it. All the songs are tremendously sung of course,and full of the transcendence melodies favored by the group. It’s mixture of slow and mid-tempo romantic ballads,uptempo pop/soul and stomping funk had all the ingredients for an epic comeback. Yet the Tempts dissolved their Motown contract during the making of this album in order to head off to their ill fated and brief Atlantic tenure. Motown apparently didn’t go too far out to promote this album and it isn’t all that well known as a result. But it’s actually one of the Tempts strongest albums of the 70’s. Perhaps in the Top 10 of their albums from throughout their career even.

Originally posted on February 3rd,2015

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

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Filed under 1970's, Dennis Edwards, Disco, Funk, Glenn Leonard, Motown, Motown Sound, Otis Williams, Richard Street, The Temptations, Uncategorized

Andre’s Amazon Archive: ‘Neither One Of Us’ by Gladys Knight & The Pips

Neither_one_of_us_album

Even by the time I was seriously (and unfortunately) giving this CD the slip in the mid 90’s? There was that wondering what might’ve been if Gladys Knight & The Pips were given the full support and development within Motown. True they were around long before the label was. That being said?

They just bought so much uniqueness into the classic Detroit soul sound. As performers? They had the (then) forward thinking approach of having a woman as the lead singer with the male backup singers. Musically they presented the most important new flavors to the label’s sound. But that’s the main story behind this review anyway.

The title song,with it’s electric piano and the somewhat doo-wop version of “For Once In My Life” are both ballads built around the rhythm guitar. “It’s Gotta Be That Way” and “Can’t Give It Up No More” are more piano driven gospel soul slow jams. “This Child Needs A Father” is a spare,slow grooving Staples-styled Southern funk driven by wah wah along with the albums sumptuous,bluesy strings.

The grinding bluesy funk electric piano/rhythm guitar grind of Bill Withers’ “Who Is She (And What Is She To You),the another uptempo wah wah driven groove in “Daddy Could Swear,I Declare” and the Rhodes piano and percussion driven uptempo groove of “Don’t It Make You Feel Guilty” round out the album.

From where I sit? This is one of those albums where the vibe of every song just totally works on every level. The ballads have strong melodic,vocal and instrumental meat about them. And the uptempo numbers never,ever for a moment try to fake how funky they are. And it’s that Southern fried funkiness of Gladys & The Pips that truly brings this album to life.

The whole thing actually has much more of a Stax flavor than a Motown one to me actually. Even the way the orchestration is used. All of these songs tell stories and have messages straight to the listener-all focusing on romantic and family love. It’s warm,intimate and deeply rootsy funky soul that I very highly recommend.

Originally posted on May 27th,2015

LINK TO ORIGINAL REVIEW HERE!

 

 

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Filed under 1970's, ballads, Funk, funky soul, Gladys Knight, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Motown, Motown Sound, Southern Funk, Southern Soul, strings, wah wah guitar

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town” by Talking Heads

David Byrne,Tina Weymouth,Chris Frantz and Jerry Harrison had been honing their performance persona and songwriting skills at NYC’s CBGB’s for a few years before. They started as an opening act for The Ramones in the very late spring of 1975. Looking back at their early performances,the bands stripped down and precise grooves must have been very strange amidst the noisy atmospherics of mid/late 70’s CBGB’s. Their early recorded demos didn’t make of an impact until later the next year-when Seymour Stein of Sire Records signed them up and they began recording their debut album.

This first album entitled Talking Heads 77 has a very different vibe than most albums that came out of NYC’s original punk scene. The main inspiration for it’s sound wasn’t as much raggedy 60’s garage rock as it was the cleaner instrumental sounds of early 70’s soul and funk music. My personal experience with the bands music started more with their early/mid 80’s album and worked backward to this one. Not being the loud guitar thrasher type album I half expected,it’s opening song gives a good idea of the grooves that lie within. The name of this song is “Uh-Oh,Love Comes To Town”.

Byrne and Weymouth begin the song with a bass/guitar that scales up and down with each other until Chris Frantz hi hats turns over to a slow,shuffling funky drum with bouncy percussion fills. Weymouth turns out a late 60’s James Jamerson style bass line throughout in the spirit of “I Was Made To Lover Her” while Harrison deals with a sustained chicken scratch rhythm guitar line. Harrison’s organ like keyboards play a horn-like roll on the choruses which take the melody up a key. The bridge adds a shuffling steel drums solo before another refrain/choral pattern brings the song to a slowed stop.

One of the key elements of much late 60’s/early 70’s pop/rock was an imitation of the early/mid 60’s Motown sound. Now Motown has an effect on this song too. But Talking Heads were somewhat unique among funk inspired rock groups in that they were inspired by the present and the future of the music-not the recent past. So this song has the funkier melodic vibe of early 70’s Jackson 5ive style Motown-with the use of more James Brown inspired bass/guitar interaction and a light Caribbean flavor. In that way,it’s an excellent template for what Talking Heads groove would evolve into.

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Filed under 1970's, CBGB's, chicken scratch guitar, Chris Frantz, David Byrne, drums, Funk Bass, funk rock, James Jamerson, Jerry Harrison, keyboards, Motown Sound, New Wave, New York, pop funk, steel drums, Talking Heads, Tina Weymouth

Stevie Wonder’s ‘Up-Tight’ album turns 50!

Uptight

Stevie Wonder’s 1966 album Up-Tight is likely the most important album in his entire career. After a few years of releasing albums of standards,beach party pop and soul jazz with the moniker “little” attached to his name,the Motown record label wanted to drop Wonder from their roster. A lot of this had to do with his voice changing during puberty. Songwriter Sylvia Moy,also the label’s first female songwriter,saw 15 year old Wonder as being on the cusp of breaking through into someone musically enormous. So she got Berry Gordy to agree to keep Wonder on Motown if she could write a new hit for him.

One of the most important thing about Stevie Wonder in the mid 1960’s was bought up during a conservation between myself and friend Henrique Hopkins. And that is that unlike some child prodigies whose careers flow forward with age. Wonder had two separate careers. First was that of Little Stevie Wonder,a high voiced teen singer and harmonica virtuoso. Then came Stevie Wonder,a talented composer/musical/vocalist who was on the way to becoming a major musical icon of his generation. So on the album Up-Tight,Stevie Wonder was reborn as a maturing artist on the way to adulthood.

Sylvia of course came up with the classic Motown soul stomp of “Uptight (Everything Is Alright)”. Of course “Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby” and “Ain’t That Asking For Trouble” both tell the story of that song,both musically and lyrically,ongoing. For the most part however this album finds Stevie forging ahead. My favorite here is actually “Love A Go Go” which,in Motown recycling song style,takes the opening horn charts of “Dancing In The Streets” and applies them to a breezy,catchy pop/soul number showcasing Stevie singing in his breathy falsetto we rarely hear from him.

“Blowing In The Wind” has this musicality similar to “A Place In The Sun” putting Bob Dylan’s rhetorical protest anthem into a rhythm & blues vocal and instrumental context. “Hold Me”,”I Want My Baby Back” and the poignant “With A Child’s Heart” are smooth,creamy numbers again anticipating his funky soul sound of his 70’s breakthrough by half a decade. “Teach Me Tonight” and the stomping “Music Talk” are hard edged,funky soul-the latter being one of Stevie’s strongest uptempo numbers of the 60’s. Only “Contract On Love”,recorded before Stevie’s voice had changed, represents the “Little Stevie Wonder” sound at all on this album.

One thing that really shines about this album was Stevie Wonder being presented once and for all as an uptempo based artist. His dance songs not only had an energetic stomp somewhat different than other Motown hits of the mid 60’s. But his thematic persona was starting to developing as well. On the title song,he speaks of being “a poor mans son”. And by covering Bob Dylan protest folk standards,it’s becoming clear that Wonder is already deeply connected to the social conscientiousness  that defined many of his generation. It not only reinvigorated his career,but started a new movement at Motown.

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Filed under 1960's, Berry Gordy, child stars, classic albums, message songs, Motown, Motown Sound, soul pop, Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy, Uncategorized