I love Rick James‘ classic funk single “Super Freak”, although perhaps not as much as Mr Baggy Trousers himself, MC Hammer did. Anyway did you know that Melvin Franklin of the Temptations provided backing vocals on “Super Freak”. Well you know now! Do you also know that Melvin is in fact Rick James‘ uncle? You know that too now!
This is not the first time I have posted about protest songs and I doubt that it will be the last. If you’d like to read my last protest post click here. My good friend Nick Horslen switched me on to the excellent work that one.org do; In particular a superb recent piece providing an extensive playlist of protest songs which range from the classic to the obscure. There are also some very interesting cover versions included. Click here for the protest playlist
The protest song has been around for many years but for this post I’d like to focus on protest songs from the sixties onwards. The song in this genre that most people know is probably Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”. The song has been covered by many people and remains a standard for buskers all over the world. The lyrics are essentially a set of questions which I am sad to say are still pertinent today. I recently watched the U2 documentary film, ‘Rattle And Hum‘ and was reminded of how powerful the song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is. There is a heartfelt speech from Bono during that version where he berates Irish terrorists. This was filmed on the day the IRA murdered 11 innocent people at a remembrance day service in the town of Enniskillen in 1987.
Whilst the early songs of the rock era, including Dylan, were rooted in folk music the fight for many causes has subsequently been taken up by almost every genre from rap to reggae and from soul to punk. I would like to focus on a few of my favourites in particular some that don’t get played too often and currently are not included in the one.org Agit 8 playlist. But before that I should mention two protest songs that I return to often; Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”
I believe that Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, who wrote many classic Temptations songs for Motown were never recognised widely enough for their protest songs; The Temptations recorded “War” before Edwin Starr had a global hit with it. Whitfield and Strong also wrote “Ball Of Confusion” and “Take A Look Around”. But perhaps one of the bravest given when it was released was “Message From A Black Man” from their 1969 album ‘Puzzle People’
Many singer songwriters from Guthrie, Seeger and Dylan through to Neil Young, Billy Bragg and more recently Frank Turner have written and recorded some very strong protest songs. One of my favourites of that type is Jackson Browne‘s “Lives In The Balance”. In my opinion he was one of too few voices that were constantly critical of the Reagan regime in the 80s. This particular song focuses on America’s ongoing involvement in foreign wars which frankly they should not have been anywhere near!
My last song choice for this post is the very topical “Same Love” from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. A slow hip hop style song about being gay. In my opinion this is one of the finest rap protest songs that has been released for some time. It also helps to prove that rap can handle gay issues. It is a long way removed from the Tom Robinson Band‘s late 70s gay anthem “Glad To Be Gay” but no less powerful. If any budding songwriters are reading this and you have a protest song you’d like me to air, you know where I am. I would also love to hear from you with your own protest song suggestions.
With all the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first album, ‘Please Please Me’ back in 1963 it got me thinking again about the impact the fab four had on popular culture. I know much has been written about the Beatles from a social history point of view so I won’t be getting deep and heavy about that. But my thoughts are more around mentions of the mop tops in popular music.
There have been some great songs that mention John, Paul, George and Ringo and to celebrate 50 years since the recording and release of ‘Please Please Me’ I thought I would mention some of those songs. Apologies in advance to Dora Bryan though as I won’t be including her ode to the band; “All I Want For Christmas Is A Beatle”. The chosen songs are;
“All The Young Dudes” – Mott The Hoople – for the line ‘My brother’s back at home with his Beatles and Stones, I never got it off on that revolution stuff’ I believe that this is probably the best song Bowie ever wrote.
“1977” – The Clash – a summation of life in the UK in 1977. The line ‘No Elvis, Beatles or Rolling Stones in 1977′ sums up the punk new boys.
“London Calling” – The Clash – a brilliant song that includes the line ‘Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust”
“(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” – Oasis – whilst this song doesn’t mention the Beatles it does mention a Beatles song from the ‘Revolver’ album; ‘Walking to the sound of my favorite tune tomorrow never knows what it doesn’t know too soon’. It’s no surprise that the Burnage Boys songs contain many references to their musical heroes from Liverpool.
There are plenty more songs that reference the Beatles, including solo Beatle songs that mention or reference the band. I’d love to hear what your favourites are too.
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)
Ho Ho Ho we’re nearly there, you’d better not be bad, you’d better not dare! It’ s December 23rd and Day 23 of my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar. Which brings us to the letter W. This was a tough letter for me I had four songs in mind before I finally selected a song with a real message, it’s “War” by Mr Edwin Starr.
Edwin was born Charles Edwin Hatcher in Tennessee in 1942 and sadly died aged just 61 in 2003 at his home in Bramcote in Nottinghamshire. I never knew he lived in England, but apparently he moved here in 1973. Ironically his death came just a couple of weeks after the start of the war in Iraq. He started his singing career in the late 50s with a doo wop group called the Future Tones. He later signed to the Ric-Tic label where he had his first big hit with “Agent Double ‘O’ Soul’ in 1965 which reached number 21 in the US charts. He became a Motown artist in 1968 when Motown took over the Ric-Tic label.
“War” started life as a Temptations album track, but Starr’s version was his biggest hit by far when it was released in 1970 hitting the top of the US charts and going to number three in the UK. Motown and the Temptations were very reluctant to release such a controversial song by one of their most popular acts. But Norman Whitfield who wrote the song with Barrett Strong kept pushing for its release. Eventually Motown offered a compromise and said that it could be released if Whitfield recorded it with another act. He chose Edwin Starr who was seen by many as a second string Motown artist. But for many others, including me, he was seen as a fantastically powerful vocalist.
Edwin made the song his own and it became his signature song. Many other artists (including the Jam, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen) have covered it but none have reached the power and impact of Starr’s version. The Undisputed Truth supplied backing vocals on the song and once again those Motown stalwarts the Funk Brothers played the music in another excellent Whitfield production. Incidentally the Funk Brothers also played on the original version by the Temptations.
Enjoy Edwin’s version followed by a Baby Bollox remix of the Temptations original and some covers of this great song, ending with a live perfprmance featuring both Springsteen and Starr. It’s sad to think that the message still resonates today more than 40 years after it was released.
Hasn’t time flown? We’re already at 11th December and we’ve arrived at the letter K in my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar for 2011. We need to truck on for just a little while before Christmas so to help with that journey how about the marvellous “Keep On Truckin’” from the magnificent Mr Eddie Kendricks. The song was an US number one and a UK number 18 in 1973.
Eddie spent a several years with the Temptations and finally left in part because he was allegedly unhappy with the late 60s psychedelic direction the group was taking. The last Temptations hit single that he appeared on was the sublime “Just My Imagination”. It is also alleged that another 1971 hit for the Temptations “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” was directed at Kendricks and another former Temptation; David Ruffin.
“Keep On Truckin'” was written by Leonard Caston, Jr, Anita Poree and Frank Wilson. (You may recall that Frank was featured in this Advent Calendar on December 4th. Had he lived he would have been 72 in six days. But sadly he succumbed to lung cancer aged just 52 in 1992.
Can you believe that it’s now less than 20 days until the big bearded weirdy in red arrives? Yes it’s December 6th and time to rip off todays flimsy cardboard flap on my Advent Calendar which regular readers know has an ABC of Motown theme in 2011. Today is celebrating the letter F in the Motown lexicon and it’s a Jimmy Ruffin classic “Farewell Is A Lonely Sound” which reached the UK top 10 in 1970. Like many of his contemporaries he is the son of a minister. He is also the older brother of the sadly departed David Ruffin, formerly a member of the classic Temptations line-up. Neither of them are related to reggae singer Bruce Ruffin. This was a popular misconception in the 1970s; well certainly to me and my teenage friends!
Jimmy and David began their careers by singing gospel songs in church. Jimmy had a stint in the US Army and when he returned home in 1964 he was asked to audition for a place in the Temptations. Which he may well have got had his brother not auditioned as well. David sadly died aged just 50 in 1991 after an alleged accidental cocaine overdose.
Jimmy is now 72 and his 10-year-old granddaughter may well be on the verge of a successful career as a singer too. Aiyana-Lee Anderson recorded a song “As One” earlier this year to raise money for victims of the Japanese earthquake. Aiyana-Lee has been given the chance to record an album in LA as a result of the on-line success of “As One”. She lives with her moth in North London (Kingsbury) and attends the Sylvia Young Theatre School.
Are you ready for the third instalment of the ABC of Motown advent calendar? I hope so, because todays song is from the incredibly talented vocal group, the Temptations. The song is “Cloud Nine” a US no 6 hit for the band in 1968. It reached number 15 in the UK. It was included on their 1969 album of the same name. The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Once again it was the Funk Brothers that were the band on the session.
It is a great showcase for the whole group trading vocals. In a sense you could argue that there isn’t really a lead vocalist on this song. It was also the first Temptations single featuring Dennis Edwards who had replaced David Ruffin. It has been suggested that the song is drug related and Berry Gordy is alleged to have had this view. The lyric about ‘riding high on cloud nine’ might suggest to some that he is right.
News broke earlier today that the immensely talented Gil Scott-Heron passed away yesterday in New York aged just 62. He fell ill after returning from a European trip. He was perhaps more poet than anything else, but was also seen as a pioneer of rap and hip hop with his mainly spoken word recordings. In fact his first album came about after his first book of poetry was published and he suggested to his publisher that it would be a good idea to record a backing for his readings of his words.
He also had a great talent for intelligent and clever protest in his lyrics. Classics of that genre would be songs like “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” which is still quite pertinent today. The first time I ever heard anything by him was when I heard “Johannesburg” on the radio in 1976. That was probably my first experience of what apartheid was all about as well and added to my political views, which were very much shaped by the music I listened to in my formative years; Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Bob Marley, The Clash and John Lennon among others.
He worked regularly with Brian Jackson who helped provide the fusion of soul and jazz that backed a lot of Scott-Heron’s work. After a couple of spells in prison for cocaine possession and alleged parole violation he returned with an excellent new album early last year. The album was ironically titled ‘I’m New Here‘ and received widespread acclaim. A remix of the album retitled ‘We’re New Here’ was done in collaboration with Jamie Smith aka Jamie xx of the band the xx.
He has been described as the Godfather of Rap and the black Bob Dylan. His influence runs very wide and he will be sorely missed. My condolences go to his family, friends and all his fans around the world. Gil Scott-Heron RIP. I would like you to celebrate his life with some of his greatest songs, well my ten favourites at least. Let me know what you thought of Gil’s work.
This is quite a difficult post for me. Some months ago I tried to help out a good friend by finding them a job where I was working at the time. You understand, I hope, that giving names may cause them embarrassment and get me into trouble. Actually it is the former that bothers me most. Anyway the lily livered people where I was working decided that as they had seen my friend when she previously worked at the same place via a consulting company that they didn’t like her. Lily livered is a bit strong for one individual for whom I have immense respect, he bothered to tell me personally how he felt about my friend and that he didn’t rate them. Fair enough and to each their own, I didn’t agree with him, but at least he had the balls to voice his opinion to me.
However there was at least one other individual (personally I believe it was more than one) who decided to go straight to the top and say that they didn’t like my friend and that I should not be allowed to appoint them. I was informed of this but the names of the complainants were not given as ‘they had given their views in confidence’. Which obviously gave me no right of reply. so I was persuaded against my better judgement not to employ my friend. I then compounded this by not telling them the whole truth as to why there was no longer a job. I did this to spare their feelings.
What happened next was that my friend went back to the same place with another consulting company whereupon one of the sad two-faced losers that had actually expressed their liking for my friend during that previous debacle once again complained to the ‘powers that be’ that my friend should not be employed. I am not one to seek revenge, but I do believe in karma and if an opportunity presents itself for me to crap on this pathetic two-faced lowlife, believe me, I will. he knows who he is and so do I. He must be aware that what goes around comes around, but then perhaps he’s too much of an arsehole to realise.
Enough said, now enjoy two very appropriate songs;