Detroit masters at work...
November 26, 2014 6:12 AM   Subscribe

You are perhaps aware that The Funk Brothers is the name given to the masterful session players behind more 60s and 70s Motown hits than you can shake a tambourine at. You probably know they were great. But when you take away the lead vocal tracks by Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and other singing icons of the era, and hear the purely instrumental versions of those familiar tunes, it becomes all the more apparent, or rather, absolutely undeniable just how brilliantly talented these musicians and arrangers were. Absolute monsters, as we say. Let's start things off with the backing track for the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrel hit Ain't No Mountain High Enough, and after that, there's... posted by flapjax at midnite (46 comments total) 107 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jesus Christ. Just the list of song titles ...
posted by iotic at 6:20 AM on November 26, 2014


Here's a couple more…

Marvin Gaye - Wonderful One
Supremes - Reflections
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:20 AM on November 26, 2014




Great finds! Also, Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002) is a very worthwhile documentary on the topic, for anyone interested in knowing more.
posted by juliplease at 6:24 AM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


Oh, and I almost forgot, my hometown hero…

Eddie Kendricks - Keep On Truckin'
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


And…

Four Tops - I Can't Help Myself
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:27 AM on November 26, 2014


Thanks flapjax - this is wonderful. How many times must I have heard Where Did Our Love Go?, and never once noticed the sax break until now…
posted by misteraitch at 6:28 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


And this beauty…

Jackson 5 - I'll Be There
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:29 AM on November 26, 2014


How many times must I have heard Where Did Our Love Go?, and never once noticed the sax break until now…

I hear you. There's a lot of magic in these tracks that goes unheard and unnoticed until those lead vox are muted. One point for me was the tight little backing vocal tracks on Stevie Wonder's "Uptight": I'd never really picked up on those.

Oh, and here's another one, fantastic guitar, among other things:

Supremes - Love Child
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:35 AM on November 26, 2014


OK, I think this will be the last one…

Marvin Gaye - Too Busy Thinking About My Baby
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:38 AM on November 26, 2014


In the words of Tuco (RIP): Tight, tight tight!
posted by digitalprimate at 6:41 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just watched this Bob Babbitt master class the other day; this seems like a good place to leave it. While there is some technical bass-playing discussion, there is also a lot of talking about working with Motown, and general advice about the session musician's life.
posted by thelonius at 6:42 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


(Babbit was the bass player who Motown used when Jamerson was indisposed - that's him on Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues", for example.)
posted by thelonius at 6:48 AM on November 26, 2014


Awesome post! Thank you!
posted by spitbull at 7:00 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this post, flapjax. These are an absolute masterclass in arrangement. There's so much detail in these arrangements--so many parts doing so many things--but everything with a clear purpose and place. Absolutely no wasted energy, nothing stepping on anything else.

I sort of want to sit in a dark room and take notes.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:01 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Just wonderful.

For those that play guitar like me, this random guy on YouTube breaks down a lot of the guitar parts found in Motown in very accessible lessons.

In addition to the masterclass in arrangement that UncleOzzy mentioned above, the Motown guitar parts were (generally) a masterclass in triads, inversions, comping and syncopation.

Steve Cropper et al should be household names.
posted by remlapm at 7:11 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Motown Karaoke party!
posted by freakazoid at 7:13 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sad news about Jimmy Ruffin.
Thanks, Flaps.
posted by Jode at 7:17 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Steve Cropper et al should be household names.

Agreed! Steve Cropper, though, was at Memphis's STAX label. (You might know that already, but I just wanted to clarify, he wasn't a Motown guy.)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:18 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


The Temptations -- Bernadette
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:37 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


In addition to the masterclass in arrangement that UncleOzzy mentioned above, the Motown guitar parts were (generally) a masterclass in triads, inversions, comping and syncopation.

They used three guitars on a lot of these sessions, and it's really fascinating to hear, on these instrumental versions, how they divided up the fingerboard between them. A typical scheme (according to Nile Rodgers) was one guitar chunking on sort of triad comping that comes out of jazz guitar, one playing stacatto chords with the snare, and one doing fills. If you've ever been in a band with two guitar players, you know that it doesn't really sound that great to have both of them slamming away on the same chords, and these guys were indeed the masters of avoiding that kind of problem.
posted by thelonius at 7:50 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


juliplease, that Standing in the Shadows of Motown is excellent. The two disc set has the doc and the live tribute show with the surviving band members (surrounded by portraits of the departed band mates).
posted by dr_dank at 7:58 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Background music that perfectly complemented - but never overshadowed - the amazing voices they got to work with.
posted by any major dude at 8:16 AM on November 26, 2014


Oh man, I'm a new bass player and am equally parts inspired and cowed by these. And in love with my new YouTube rabbithole-- Isolated Bass Tracks.

... Bernadette!
posted by travertina at 8:25 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm more interested in how to get these instrumentals as a single package for my own damn self.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:59 AM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh shit, once I get into the office and can bust these open, I'm gonna have a field day.

To start, Edwin Starr — Agent 00 Soul, which Gordy fined the Funk Brothers for moonlighting on before Motown absorbed Ric-Tic.
posted by klangklangston at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: if you are ever in the Detroit area the Motown Studio tour is absolutely worth a couple of hours of your time. I lived in SE Michigan for a long time and never visited, expecting it to be a schlocky tourist thing, but when a relative prevailed upon me to finally visit on a trip back to that area I was quite surprised by the quality of the tour.

Besides the impact of realizing how much musical history took place in one converted garage, there's a lot of fascinating backstory. One aspect I thought was really cool was that the tour guide I had pointed out in several places how the physical structure of the building wound up influencing what came to become trademark elements of the Motown sound.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:45 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


flapjax, do you think that one of the Funk Brothers arranged the string sweetening on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough?" Because it's some of the best I've ever heard.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:54 AM on November 26, 2014


I always liked them on Stevie's I Was Made To Love Her.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:23 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]




Thank you so very much for this, wow! Just, wow!
posted by skye.dancer at 6:44 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


flapjax, do you think that one of the Funk Brothers arranged the string sweetening on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough?"

Dunno! I'd ike to, though.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:45 PM on November 26, 2014


This isn't a track sans vocals, but the lengthy intro lets the Funk Brothers show their stuff:

Jr Walker & the All-Stars Funk Brothers - (I'm a) Road Runner

posted by 1367 at 10:46 PM on November 26, 2014


Fucking phenomenal post, flapjax. Thanks so much.
Does anyone else get that thing where you feel kind of teary, like you could start to cry, just from how certain parts were played or arranged? Not in a sad way, like a sad song, but that it's just so perfect that you kind of well up? I feel like a freak but that happens to me so often with shit like this; it's so right on that I lose it.
I loved that Funk Brothers doc.
Another film in the same vein is Twenty Feet From Stardom which demonstrates how so many hit songs used the same group of background vox singers, who made those recordings.
Mary Clayton on Gimme Shelter? Come ON.
Another great one is the Muscle Shoals doc. Aretha made her (arguably) best album with a bunch of nerdy white dudes. Who knew?
I love these kind of documentaries. If anyone has any suggestions of others to see I'd love to hear 'em.
posted by chococat at 11:43 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


I love these kind of documentaries. If anyone has any suggestions of others to see I'd love to hear 'em.

chococat, even if you're not necessarily a huge reggae fan (and I only say that cause I don't know if you are or aren't) I highly recommend the BBC series Reggae: The Story of Jamaican Music. Especially parts one and two.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:43 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, and looking for those BBC reggae docos, I came across this, also from the BBC, which looks promising: Rocksteady: The Roots Of Reggae
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:51 AM on November 27, 2014


Brilliant. A master playlist sir.
You know your older when you first heard these "on the AHMH"
posted by clavdivs at 4:20 AM on November 27, 2014


string arrangement may have been by Paul Riser
posted by thelonius at 4:44 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thanks, thelonius, great link.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:15 AM on November 27, 2014


thanks to you, flapjax, for this and for your many great musical posts
posted by thelonius at 6:55 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's as if you were praising an artist and ignoring their masterwork. How could you forget one of the greatest tracks to ever come out of Motown, Pappa Was Rollin Stone? That band is at the top of their game on this track. You don't even need an Instrumental version on this one, the band is given room to stretch out right from the beginning. Really it's the Funk Brothers with the Temps on backing vocals.
posted by evilDoug at 7:01 AM on November 27, 2014


Also, thanks for this post, it's double plus good.
posted by evilDoug at 7:02 AM on November 27, 2014


And, there is an instrumental version: Pappa Was A Rollin Stone (instrumental).
posted by evilDoug at 7:19 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


OK, I know what you're thinking, "But eD, you're talking about a band (well really a vocal group and a band) with many, many incredible hits and moments. Sure, that's one of their biggest hits, and an incredible tour de force of straight up musicianship in it's own right, but can it really be said to be their Masterpiece?" That's a valid point, and I stand corrected.
posted by evilDoug at 7:27 AM on November 27, 2014


It's as if you were praising an artist and ignoring their masterwork. How could you forget one of the greatest tracks to ever come out of Motown

You talkin' to me?

And, there is an instrumental version: Pappa Was A Rollin Stone (instrumental) .

Now that's the way to do it!

only one P in papa, though, so lets watch that
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:36 PM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, that's embarrassing. I'd fix it but all of that food seems to have broken my ability to edit. Thanks for the heads up.
posted by evilDoug at 11:03 PM on November 27, 2014


« Older Approaching shadow   |   Cat Owners In Japan Are Giving Their Cats Funny... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments