A few months back I finally succumbed to the seductive ways of Spotify and I signed up for the premium service. Oh boy I wished that I had done it sooner. The amount of new albums that I have listened to lately is phenomenal. My current faves are ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ and ‘The Magic Whip’ by the Prodigy and Blur respectively. I have also rediscovered some classic old albums especially in the reggae genre; Culture, Peter Tosh and Third World to name a few.
On top of all this there are countless playlists and it is these that I use for my workouts in the gym. Yes I have been a regular gym goer since January this year. Let me tell you I wasn’t just gifted with such a buff body, I have to work at it! Anyway the reason for this post other than to give Spotify yet more free publicity is to mention a song that popped up on one of those playlists in the gym last night. It was a kind of greatest hits of the 70s playlist and the song has always been one of my favourites.
Hearing it once again made me think that perhaps it is one of the finest most timeless pop songs ever. I am talking about the Jackson 5‘s magnificent “I Want You Back”. Put aside any prejudices about what Michael became, before he became the weird, cartoon-like plastic surgeon’s Mr Potato Head he was a supremely talented young boy. His pre-adolescent vocals on this song are electrifying. On top of that you get the full might of the marvellous Funk Brothers who were the Motown house band. James Jamerson‘s bass line is sublime in my opinion. Berry Gordy Jr certainly rated it as he had a share in writing it. I would love to hear your opinion on the song and any other suggestions for the finest and most timeless pop songs.
One of my most favourite Motown songs is the Jackson 5‘s “I Want You Back”. It’s a great song and it feels like it was made especially for the group. However it seems that whilst the Jackson boys made the song their own it was actually written for Gladys Knight and the Pips. I wonder what their version would have sounded like? Gladys had discovered the Jackson 5 and brought the group to the attention of Motown. But it is usually Berry Gordy‘s Motown teacher’s pet; Diana Ross that gets the credit for that.
Can you imagine how many famous Motown artists have tickled the ivories on this beautiful instrument? Click here to read the full report on the BBC website. A story about a Motown piano can really only have a couple of songs to go with it right? In my opinion one of them is very good and was produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards from Chic and the other one was crap despite being produced by George Martin. What do you think?
Happy Christmas dear readers and good people of the blogosphere. This is the last post in my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar. It’s the 24th December and technically that means the letter Y, but I’ll throw in X and Z for free along with a couple of Motown Christmas songs. The big bearded dude in red arrives on his venison powered sleigh tomorrow. I hope that you get everything you want this Christmas and more importantly I hope that you have a really enjoyable Yule.
The first song for the letter X has been a tough one to find. But I have found one, I know hardly anything about it so if you have any information feel free to get in touch. I do feel like I’ve cheated you a little though, the song is called “Xmas Twist” although the chorus uses the proper phrase ‘Christmas Twist’. The song was released by a group calling themselves the Twisting Kings. So clearly no cynical tie-in with a popular dance craze then! The song was written by Berry Gordy and Barney Ales. Gordy was the producer for the song which was released in November 1961. It can be found on a couple of compilation albums to my knowledge; #A Motown Christmas Volume 2′ and ‘The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 1 1959-1961’ released in 2001 and 2005 respectively.
For the letter Y I have chosen a song from a superb act who haven’t yet appeared in this ABC of Motown. It’s Gladys Knight and the Pips with “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You)”. The most memorable line up from the Pips included her brother Merald ‘Bubba’ Knight and two of her cousins; Edward Patten and William Guest. Her first pitch at fame came when she won a local TV talent show aged 7 in 1952.Gladys and the Pips were the first Motown act to record the classic song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” which they took to number two in the US charts. In their early Motown career they were the opening act for Diana Ross and the Supremes. It is alleged that Diana had them kicked off the tour because Gladys and the Pips were far more powerful a talent and probably a very tough act to follow. “You Need Love Like I Do” was an US hit in 1970 reaching number 25 in the Billboard charts and number 3 in the US R & B charts. It never charted in the UK. The song was another from the talented song writing partnership of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. It was also recorded by the Temptations.
The final song from my ABC of Motown selection is a rather well-known album track from the Commodores who made an appearance in this Advent Calendar with the letter J on December 10th, click here to read it. The song is “Zoom” and should not be confused with the Fat Larry’s Band song of the same name. It was never released as a single in the US but made it to number 38 in the UK charts in 1978. The album it came from was released in 1977 and in the US it was called ‘Commodores’ whilst in the UK it was called ‘Zoom’. The song was written by Lionel Richie and Ronald LaPraed from the band. The album also included two other Commodores classics in “Brick House” and “Easy”. Fergie sampled “Zoom” on her ‘Duchess’ album on the track “All That I Got (The Make-Up Song)”
Finally let me wish you a Happy Christmas once again and to finish please enjoy two of my favourite Motown Christmas songs from the Jackson 5 and then Stevie Wonder.
Incidentally if you’d like to know the songs that came before in the ABC of Motown Advent Calendar, here they are;
ABC – Jackson 5
Bernadette – Four Tops
Cloud Nine – Temptations
Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) – Frank Wilson
Endless Love – Diana Ross & Lionel Richie
Farewell Is A Lonely Sound – Jimmy Ruffin
Gotta See Jane – R Dean Taylor
How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You – Marvin Gaye
I’m In A Different World – Four Tops
Just To Be Close To You – Commodores
Keep On Truckin’ – Eddie Kendricks
Let’s Get Serious – Jermaine Jackson
Money – Barrett Strong
Needle In A Haystack – Velvelettes
Ooo Baby Baby – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Pops We Love You – Various
Quicksand – Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
Rockin’ Robin – Michael Jackson
Superstition – Stevie Wonder
Take Me Girl I’m Ready – Junior Walker & the All Stars
Up The Ladder To The Roof – Supremes
The Night – Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons (this is the only one based on artist name rather than song)
We’re easing down that Christmas road pretty fast now, it’s December 22nd and we’re at the letter V on my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar. I have a confession to make before I tell you what the song is. It doesn’t begin with V, it was so difficult to find a V song. So for today I have opted for an artist whose surname starts with a V. It is the one and only Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons with the Northern Soul classic, “The Night”
In 1970 the group signed to Motown subsidiary label Mowest and the single was originally released in 1971 in the UK with no success it was never issued in the US. When it was re-released in the UK in 1975 following a lot of interest in Northern Soul clubs it reached number 7 in the UK charts.
When the band left Motown in 1974 Frankie Valli wanted to buy the master tapes of everything they had recorded for the label. However when he heard the price he decided to buy just one song for $4,000. That song was “My Eyes Adored You” which Valli took to Private Stock records who wanted to release it as a Frankie Valli solo single. They did and it became a massive hit reaching number one on the US Billboard charts and number 5 in the UK.
I also found a couple of strange covers while looking for this song; firstly Pulp (sorry Jarvis it really isn’t very good mate) then Lene Lovich (a little weird) and finally Soft Cell (a faithful rendition). I prefer the original to all of these though. How about you?
Please allow me to paraphrase from an Elton John song for just a moment; ‘ho ho ho grab a beer, the bearded weirdy’s nearly here’. Yes folks in just a few days Old Saint Nick will be giving your chimney a good clean with his beard. Don’t worry if you don’t have a chimney, in that case he’ll just break into your house. Of course he is the only person who illegally enters your property and leaves stuff rather than taking anything, well not counting the odd tipple or mince-pie of course. Anyway it’s now December 20th and therefore day 20 of my ABC of Motown Advent calendar. Which brings us to the letter T. For me this was an easy choice. It’s “Take Me Girl I’m Ready” from the stellar band that was Junior Walker and the All Stars.
Surprisingly for me Junior Walker wasn’t his real name. When he was born in June 1931 in Blytheville, Arkansas he was called Autry DeWalt Mixon, Jr. He played in a number of bands from the age of 14 including the Jumping Jacks and the Rhythm Rockers before settling on the All Stars. The band was spotted by Johnny Bristol who was friendly with Harvey Fuqua who had is own Harvey label. Fuqua signed the band in 1961 but they didn’t have much success until the Harvey label was bought by Berry Gordy to become part of his Motown empire.
Their first Motown hit was the timeless classic “Shotgun” which was written by Junior Walker and produced by Berry Gordy himself. It also featured Funk Brother James Jamerson on bass. That song reached number 4 in the US Billboard chart and was an US R & B number one in 1965. They had plenty more hits but the only one that equalled “Shotgun” in the charts was “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” in 1969, that song also hit number 13 in the UK. Sadly Junior died from cancer aged just 64 back in 1995.
“Take Me Girl I’m Ready” was originally an US hit in 1971 reaching number 50 in the Billboard chart. It was written by Pamela Sawyer, Gloria Jones and Johnny Bristol. Bristol produced the song which was arranged by Dave Van DePitte. It was a record I could never get hold of in my early teenage years, but then it was finally reissued in the UK in 1977. Obviously I bought it as soon as it came out. I no longer have the vinyl copy but I have it on CD and MP3.
I have blogged about this song before with regards to its appearance on a pub jukebox. Myself and a bunch of friends used to be regulars at the Windmill pub in Ruislip Manor back in 1977/ 78 and “Take Me Girl I’m Ready” was selection number 77A on the pub jukebox. Usually it was myself or my good friend Glen Voisey who were first at the jukebox and without looking we would always select 77A. However on one occasion I approached the jukebox as usual and fed my coins into it and then hit the buttons for 77A. I then started looking for what other tracks I would choose. After a few seconds of that scratchy stylus hitting plastic sound a familiar refrain started. However it wasn’t Junior Walker, much to my dismay and embarrassment it was “Save All Your Kisses For Me” by Brotherhood Of Man. My friends just started laughing and muttered about disowning me, but I was able to prove that I had indeed chosen 77A. The landlord stepped in to support me when he said that all the records on the jukebox had been replaced and the old tenant of 77A no longer lived on the machine. It was a devastatingly disappointing moment for me, but as they say, ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger’!
So without further ado please enjoy the former occupant of 77A on the Windmill pub jukebox in the late 70s; “Take Me Girl I’m Ready” from Junior Walker and the All Stars. This one goes out to Glen Voisey, Keith Plant, Chris Skinner, Neil Payne, Phil Isaacs and Jonesy (aka Bryan Jones)!
RIP the Windmill Pub in Ruislip Manor. It was built in the 1930s and closed down in 2006. Like many of my old haunts it has been knocked down or put to use other than as a pub.
It’s the 19th December, it’s day 19 of my ABC of Motown Christmas Advent Calendar and we’ve reached the letter S. I have chosen one of my favourite Motown songs for this letter. It is the timeless and truly amazing “Superstition” from Mr Stevie Wonder. The song was the first single from Stevie’s ‘Talking Book’ album. He wrote, produced and arranged the song and played drums and keyboards, obviously he did the vocal too.
It reached number one in both the US Billboard chart and the US R & B chart in 1972. It made it to a sadly less impressive number eleven in the UK. It was his first US Billboard number one since “Fingertips Part 2” in 1963. Whilst I really love much of Stevie’s music I really don’t like the only two number ones he has had in the UK. “Ebony and Ivory” the duet with Paul McCartney in 19282 and the dreadful “I Just Called To Say I Love You” in 1984. But he has recorded so much excellent music I can happily forgive him for those two. I’m just not sure I can forgive the British public for making them both number one.
Stevie originally wrote “Superstition” for Jeff Beck but Motown Supremo Berry Gordy saw the potential in the song and insisted that Wonder should record it himself. Jeff Beck later recorded his version with Beck, Bogert and Appice. Jeff has often played the song live and also recorded Stevie’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” for his ‘Blow By Blow’ album in 1975.
The song as the title would suggest is about superstition, however there are not many superstitious elements mentioned in the lyrics. Notably thirteen, breaking a mirror and ladders get a name check. The song can also be heard in a few movies. A character in John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ listens to it on a boombox. Will Smith’s character listens to it at the start of ‘I Robot’. Enjoy Jeff Beck’s version followed by Stevie’s below.
We’re inching closer to that fine old Yuletide celebration good people of the blogosphere and I would like to help it be a really cool Yule with my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar. What do you think of it so far?…………. RUBBISH! Oh i see there are a few Morecambe and Wise fans out there. Anyway we’re now at December 16th and (rather obviously) it is day 16 of the advent calendar. It’s the letter P today and it is one of the few songs in the Motown canon that is effectively to Various Artists. the song in question is “Pops, We love You” or to give it’s full title “Pops We love You (A Tribute To Father)”
The song was written as a tribute to Motown Supremo Berry Gordy‘s father who had been his spiritual and business mentor and guide. he also did the same for many of the artists in Berry’s Motown family. Berry Gordy Jr’s Dad was named Berry Gordy Sr but was known by many very affectionately as Pops. (My dad shared a name with me, perhaps I should add the Junior bit to my name). The song was written and recorded as a special tribute in 1978 a short while after Pops died from cancer, a disease which he had fought for some time.
It was written produced by Marilyn Mcleod and Pam Sawyer and also formed the centrepiece of a ‘Pops, We love You’ album. The album bought Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye together as a duet for the first time since 1973’s ‘Diana and Marvin’ album. That song was called “I’ll Keep My Light In My Window”. Unlike that 1973 album they actually recorded the new song whilst in the studio together. They were joined on the Pops tribute song by Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder.
Berry wonders what exactly has landed on Diana's head
Marvin, Diana and Smokey recorded their parts together in Motown’s LA Studios. Stevie Wonder’s vocals were added later as he was bunkered down in another studio recording what was for me a very underrated and misunderstood soundtrack album called ‘Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants“.
Diana was very proud of her incredibly large muff
“Pops, We Love You” reached number 59 on the Billboard charts in the US and number 66 in the UK. It did make number 26 in the US R & B charts though. I used to own the 12 inch vinyl copy of the song, but now I just have a version on a Motown compilation CD. The song was also the last UK chart hit with Marvin’s name on it on the Motown label, but he did go on to score a few other hits on the Columbia label. Most notably with “Sexual Healing”. but for now I hope that you enjoy todays song “Pops, We Love You (A Tribute To Father)”
Smokey and the Miracles really tried their best to help out in the promotion of my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar
Have you been good? Will Santa bring you lots of goodies (I mean as in presents as opposed to Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie of course)? I hope you are getting excited anyway as we’re now on day 15 of my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar, yes folks it’s December 15th and it’s the letter O. the song is from one of my favourite Motown voices, Smokey Robinson. It comes from his days with the Miracles and it is “Ooo Baby Baby”
The song was written by Smokey and Pete Moore of the Miracles. The strings were arranged by Pete Moore. As is usual with almost all Motown hits it was the supremely talented Funk Brothers who provided the backing. “Ooo Baby Baby” reached number 16 in the US chart in 1965. A cover version of the song by Linda Ronstadt hit number 7 in the US in 1979. sadly it never charted in the UK. It has been covered by many other artists in addition to Ronstadt; including Todd Rundgren, Ella Fitzgerald and Shalamar who covered it as part of their “Uptown Festival” hit from 1977. That recording was actually a medley of classic Motown hits.
Smokey’s real name is William Robinson Jnr. His Uncle Claude gave him the nickname ‘Smokey Joe’ when Smokey was a boy. Smokey initially thought of it as his cowboy name, but as he got older his Uncle explained that as young Master Robinson was quite light-skinned it was a name to remind him of his roots. He dropped the Joe part of the nickname when he was a teenager. A couple of Smokey’s children also have interesting names too. There is a son called Berry, named after Motown President Berry Gordy. Smokey was Vice President of the label from 1961 until 1988. He also has a daughter called Tamla named after a label from the Motown portfolio. Those Motown fans from the UK will be very familiar with the amalgamated name the label took in Europe where it was known as Tamla Motown.
He also gets a mention in a couple of hit songs too. Firstly there is the sublime “Genius Of Love” from Talking Heads offshoot the Tom Tom Club in 1981. Most notably though he was the main man in ABC’s 1987 hit “When Smokey Sings”