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... [more inside]
You've more than likely heard this early recording of Money by the Beatles, or perhaps this version by the Rolling Stones. But Barrett Strong, the man who originally recorded it and who was the primary songwriter hasn't shared in the millions of dollars the song has earned over the years.
You're perhaps familiar with the Stevie Wonder classic, For Once in My Life. It's a great little tune, catchy, pleasing, just makes you feel good. What you may never have really thought about, though, is how much James Jamerson's bass line has to do with the tune's infectious brilliance. So, check out James Jamerson’s Bass Line Visualized. I mean, just... damn! Right?
Janelle Monae's latest music video/single is a 60s-esque, funkadelic, symbol-heavy, all-white fur and all-female hammer to the head - THE DANCE APOCALYPTIC
In 1977, Lamont Dozier, Motown veteran, released his album Peddlin' Music on the Side, featuring "the Afro-centric disco hit" Going Back to My Roots. That sound was popular in the US, and also in South Africa, where veteran alto player Teaspoon Ndelu covered the song with his group Teaspoon & the Waves as Oh Yeh Soweto, "changing the lyrics and toughening up the beat, but with the same killer riffs!" The one fault with the song could be that it's only half as long as Lamont's original. Fear not, Dr. Horn has edited the track into an extended form, which you can stream or download from Soundcloud. [more inside]
Stevie Wonder, in his prime. Jesus.
Bob Babbitt, longtime session musician and member of Motown's house band The Funk Brothers, has died at 74. [more inside]
Songwriter Nick Ashford died yesterday. Nickolas 'Nick' Ashford, along with his songwriting and marriage partner Valerie Simpson, wrote dozens of songs performed, covered and interpreted by artists like Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Chaka Khan, Beyonce and Justin Timberlake and Amy Winehouse. [more inside]
Gladys Horton, a founding member of the pioneering (yet undervalued by Berry Gordy and Motown) girl group The Marvelettes, who sang lead on their 1961 classic Please Mr. Postman has passed on. [more inside]
As undeniably great as the golden age Motown studio musicians were, and as indisputably funky and creative as the arrangements were, you still have to think that maybe it would've been a good idea to release some of The Temptations amazing vocal group artistry in unaccompanied form. Maybe as B-sides or something. Well, that never happened back in the day, as far as I know, but we are extremely fortunate now to be able to hear a capella versions of many of the Tempts biggest hits, in stunningly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable unaccompanied renditions: Runaway Child Running Wild, Just My Imagination, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, Ball of Confusion, Get Ready and Cloud Nine . And folks, there's more a capella from the Tempts and other Motown acts floating around on the Tubes out there, so feel free to link to them in the thread, cause, you know, I Ain't Too Proud To Beg.
"What happened was that Abner Spector was an electronics nut. He took the girls in the studio on a Friday, and they didn't get out of there until everybody was on the track. Anybody that came in the studio that week, he would put them on. Originally, I think he had about 20 voices on 'Sally.'" The cost of the project alone, Richardson figured was over $60,000..." - Sally, Go Round The Roses (alt) was the first (and only) hit for the Jaynettes in 1963 and a unique and hypnotic studio creation. It's been called "a subtle and transcendental epic in 45rpm form" and there is much speculation on its mysterious lyrics. It has been covered by Donna Summer. Great Society (with Grace Slick) . Fanny. Pentangle. ? And The Mysterians and others.
In 1966, Motown songwriters Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield wrote a song about Strong's relationship troubles, and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles recorded it. Motown CEO Berry Gordy thought the song was "horrible" and shelved it. The song was "I Heard it Through The Grapevine." [more inside]
Dennis Coffey was one of the most prolific Detroit session and solo guitarists. His revamped site features a couple phenomenal podcasts of his music and interviews.
Motownship, the combination of Cape Town township music, traditional African instruments and motown tunes, is the topic of this Radio 4 documentary. While purists - both of the African music and motown persuasion - may think this is just a gimmick, it is hard not to have a smile on your face when you listen to the tunes on Abavuki's album Africa Got Soul. What is even more amazing is the background of these musicians - kids who grew up in one of the most deprived townships in South Africa, Langa. To check out the band for yourself, see them playing at the legendary Mama Africa club, via youtube (this is not a motown tune from the album).
Legendary Motown songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield dead at 65. Whitfield co-wrote (often with Barret Strong) many of Motown's greatest songs, including I Heard It Through The Grapevine, War, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Ball Of Confusion, Cloud Nine and Just My Imagination. He also worked as a producer for The Temptations, among others, and won a Grammy in 1976 for the score to the film Car Wash.
Y'all think whatever you want about Michael Jackson now, knaamean? But on this day back in 1983, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was being taped before a live audience. Since he was no longer contractually tied to Motown, MJ planned to attend but not perform at the function; he was finally able to negotiate a solo spot singing a non-Motown song. Thriller had been released more than a year prior; Billie Jean had been the Number One single on Billboard's Top 100 for two weeks. It was time for a Pop Culture "Do you remember where you were when...?" moment. And then came the moonwalk.
Ron Murphy cut records, but not just any records. Responsible for cutting the actual vinyl master plates of much of the now revered Detroit Techno including Jeff Mills, Carl Craig, Underground Resistance's seminal Knights of the Jaguar, and much more - he demonstrated impeccable craftsmanship and skill in both mastering records for sound and aesthetics at company known as Sound Enterprises source link AKA National Sound Corporation. Schooled in Motown, dubplates and jukeboxes, he is the bespoke-crafted, analog link between the digital future and analog past that is the roots of Techno music and modern techno DJ culture. [more inside]
His father was a minister in the Apostolic Church, but, after a series of arguments about his son's womanizing and heavy cocaine use he ended up shooting his own son down. The biggest of Motown's solo artists. Marvin Gaye often struggled with his brother-in-law, Berry Gordy over his desire to pursue different creative choices rather than following the tried and tested commercial formula. [more inside]
Anybody out there remember The Left Banke? They were a kinda Beatle-y 60's pop/rock outfit out of New York City. Critics labeled them "baroque-pop", apparently due to the "classical" influences in their music. They're surely best known for their catchy little harmony vocals hit from 1966, Walk Away Renée. And in a reversal of the more common trend of white artists covering Motown hits, a rather unexpected version by The Four Tops turned up. Arguably, the song wasn't exactly a perfect fit for the soul vocal quartet at the time they first recorded it, but more recent performances show that they've grown comfortable with it over the years: maybe it's the slower tempo. Here's the lyrics. And the story behind the song. And what the hell, the Wikipedia page. And Songfacts. They all have something of interest to offer concerning this durable little number, originally written by a 16-year-old!
Pedicabs are a common sight all over. In the pedicab business, there can be success, personal enlightment, and failure. Pedicabs come in countless styles. This style is sleek and modern, and this man is trying to bring them to Detroit (warning, only the sparse main page is finished). Here is the mandatory YouTube video.
Motown history traded for Super Bowl parking. (mostly audio) The Motown Center in Detroit was torn down a few weeks ago and turned into Super Bowl parking. Although not the main recording studios, and long abandoned, it still contained many Motown documents and memorabilia, most of which were lost in the razing. Covered by local bloggers: dETROITfUNK (1, 2) , Detroit Blog (1, 2, 3, 4), and Kempa, plus local tv.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary about Motown Records' legendary house band, the Funk Brothers.
Immortal classics I remember as if it were today when I first listened to Marvin Gaye's "Whats Going On" when it first came out. This album has never tired. "What's Going On was the first album out of Motown to include the printed lyrics of the songs in the album liner. Marvin Gaye had something to say and he wanted to make sure people got the message. Thirty-one years later, we're still getting it." Always bewildering why an album becomes immortal.