Vintage Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

15 12 2010

I just found this old video of The Miracles from 1967. At this point they were just billed as The Miracles. It wasn’t until later, that Smokey’s named was brought to the fore.  Despite The Miracles being Motown’s first really successful group, Berry Gordy decided it was clever marketing to lead with Smokey’s name. After all, he  was one of the biggest songwriters and producers in the business. In their almost 20 years, The Miracles charted over 50 hits, 26 of which reached the top ten. Not to mention that Smokey has written and/or produced countless other hits for Motown.

I’m not exactly sure where this footage is from, but it’s a great little medley of two early 60’s classics, “(Come ‘Round Here) I’m The One You Need” and “More Love”. Whether you’re a Motown fan or not, it’s hard to deny that this was truly a great era in music.

While we’re checking out some vintage Smokey, here are just a few more. The first is “You Really Got A Hold On Me”. While the second is “I Second That Emotion” …and in color no less! Take a look at these dance routines. They’re where it’s at, no?





The Isley Bros. | Why When Love Is Gone

15 09 2010

I really love this old Isley Brothers tune, “Why When Love Is Gone”. It’s from the earler part of their career, during a short stint with Berry Gordy at Motown. It was recorded in 1967 on the Motown subsidiary Tamla Records and released the same year. It absolutely is a soul tune but it also has elements more a kin to the British rock music from the same period. It’s kinda like The Animals meets Marvin Gaye… really good stuff. As great as this song is though, it was never a hit single for The Isley Brother or any other Motown artist for that matter (there are versions by The Originals and Kim Weston too). In fact it was never even considered as a potential single release. Instead, tt was released on the group’s second and final album for Motown, Soul on the Rocks.  Given the attention the song gets 50 years later it’s hard to believe it could be overlooked but then again, Berry Gordy was sinking all his resources into act like The Temptations and The Supremes. Don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing acts, but this tune is a classic.

References:

More info on The Isley Brothers

More info on Soul on the Rocks

More info on Motown

More info on Berry Gordy

More info on O’Kelly Isley Jr.

More info on Ronald Isley

More info on Rudolph Isley





Grazing In The Grass

30 08 2010

“Grazing In The Grass” is a very cool (and yet little known) tune from 1968. Originally recorded by South African trumpet Master Hugh Masekela, it is an all instrumental soul groove that sounds more jazz inspired R&B than afro-pop. It’s full of great horn lines and A LOT of cowbell. Masekela is a pop legend both at home and here in the States. “Grazing In The Grass” was probably his most popular tune, selling over 4 million copies to date. Later in his career, he also had a hit with a song dedicated to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison called “Bring Him Home”. Even in his early days, Masekela was a go-to “world music” collaborator for everyone from Paul Simon to The Byrds, as well as numerous jazz ensembles. That aside, this is easily my favorite of all his work.

There are many covers of this song but only one that stands out to me. And, it comes with a cool back story. It’s from Eivets Rednow’s 1968 release Alfie, which was an all instrumental album inspired by the works of Burt Bacharach and Hal David (most notably their hit score “Alfie”,  hence the title). What is not commonly known is that this is actually an early Stevie Wonder album. If you look again at the artist, you will see that it is Wonder’s name spelled backwards. It was released without much promotion on a Motown subsidiary called Gordy Records because Berry Gordy and the rest of the Motown machine were still establishing Stevie as a soul/pop shouter on their more popular label. As not to confuse their audience, it was practically released in secret. Funny enough, there is almost no hint as to who the real artist is except for a tiny little note on the top corner of the album spine saying, “How do you spell Stevie Wonder backwards”. The album is mediocre at best, in the scope of Wonder’s catalog but it’s a very cool one to own for die-hard collectors. Stevie plays harmonica, piano, clavinet and is accompanied by Motown greats Benny Benjamin on drums and James Jamerson on bass. For me, that’s the best part… it’s this little known, under-the-radar snapshot of these guys just playing and having fun in the studio.

References:

More info on Hugh Masekela

More info on Eivets Rednow

More info on Stevie Wonder





Berry Jones | Tonight

3 08 2010

This album from Philly-based Berry Jones is an extremely refreshing release from some young new talent. Tonight is a collection of works that honors two musical legends who spent their careers perfecting the art of the dance song: Quincy Jones and Berry Gordy. Released on a format I happen to think is ideal for today’s consumers (LP w/ free MP3 download), it’s one of my top Summer picks that will surely be great for late night parties and lazy beach days alike.

As I said, all of the music was conceived as an homage to two of leader Jim Thomas’ musical heroes. Creating something that stands up to such visionaries is quite a tall task but Thomas does it with great reverence while being sure to inject his own youthful sensibilities into the mix. The album is separated (rightfully so) into an A Side & B Side, true to vinyl form. The A side tends to showcase the aesthetic and appeal of mid-80’s Quincy Jones. Throughout you’ll hear all the electronic synthesized tendencies that ooze so tastefully from those great Michael Jackson albums of the era, along with a pulse that undeniably makes you want to move. The opening track “Bouffant Bangout” is, perhaps, the best tune on this side as it’s inclusive of all the elements that made Quincy an icon. “Philly Night” is also a standout but it’s difficult to narrow them down as each song has it’s own unique thing happening and all are equally enjoyable. The B Side is full of tunes that bring back that propulsive Motown sound. Wisely, Thomas doesn’t try to recreate the sound of Gordy’s famous Studio A. Instead, he focuses on the power of those old R&B  arrangements from yesteryear. It’s a style that has nearly been forgotten by young musicians but Thomas seems to be a long time fan who grew up listening to old Detroit soul music. Fittingly, there is a little inspiration from the Sweet Philly Soul days as well. As a native to the Philly area, it would be hard to ignore such influences like Jackie Wilson, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and even The O’Jays. As evidenced by songs like “Baby, Baby” and “Work It Out”, he definitely has a firm grasp on this 60’s soul thing. But, what is most interesting to me is how the sound and style of the contemporary singer/songwriter at the heart of Thomas’ solo work blends so smoothly with the material on this entire album. By design, it’s a concept album but in execution it’s much more. Each song is a testament to something old but they all seem so relevant and relatable for young audiences. As an album, it proves to be very accessible and may be just what the doctor ordered for the tail end of this long, hot Summer.

Here are a few of my favorites songs to sample:

“Bouffant Bangout”

“Philly Night”

“Baby, Baby”

“Work It Out”

These guys are pretty cool live too, although  as of lately you can only catch them in the local Philly area. Here is a video I captured from a pre-release gig a few months back. Right on par with Thomas’ typical musical tastes, they do a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s classic “Move On Up”. They were a horn or two short that night but the energy is still all there…

Below are some links to learn more about the album, artist and this interesting side project. Of course,  you will also find a link to sample the album and purchase it in either vinyl or digital format.

References:

Purchase Tonight Online

The Official Berry Jones Site

Berry Jones on Facebook

Berry Jones on MySpace

Berry Jones on YouTube

Blue Floor Records Site

Blue Floor Records on MySpace

More info on Quincy Jones

More info on Berry Gordy





It’s A Shame

25 05 2010

The dual guitar intro on this Spinner’s tune from 1970 just grabs you as soon as you hear it. So much so that it helped take “It’s A Shame” to #14. The song was released on Motown’s subsidiary VIP, which is ironic because VIP was usually reserved for Berry Gordy’s least desirable acts. “It’s A Shame” was actually written and produced by Stevie Wonder (and wife, Syreeta Wright), specifically for The Spinners. It was his first that he produced by himself for an act other than his own. It proved to be The Spinners’ biggest hit in their entire career with Motown, which ended in 1972. The group signed with Atlantic after being referred by fellow Detroit native Aretha Franklin. In all their years with Motown, The Spinners were always highly respected but lacked any remarkable success. Often they would act as lackeys for Berry Gordy and Motown, taking work as road managers, chaperons or chauffeurs for other groups, and even as low as shipping clerks at one point. Shortly after signing with Atlantic, they became one of the biggest soul acts of 1970’s with numerous top 10 hits to their credit. Fitting retribution for all those years of hard work and no big pay day with Motown.

Here is The Spinners’ classic “It’s A Shame” circa 1970. No spectacular video here but the audio is all you need for this one.

There are a ton of covers of this tune but that should be no surprise. For starters, it’s a Stevie Wonder composition which always seem to make the rounds. On top of that, it’s one of those crossovers from the time when soul went funky, mixing the bass groove and harmonies of the 60’s with the energy and fire of the 70’s.

Here is Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings doing an all instrumental version of “It’s A Shame” live. I love how the baritone sax plays the lead vocal part, while the rest of the horn section blast away on the arrangement.

This cover is absolutely brilliant. So much so it almost deserves it’s own post. It’s Alton Ellis giving this classic an old school dub reggae feel back in 1971.

Finally, here is the instrumental track from Motown’s original house band The Funk Brothers. This is the actual original recording from the session that has since surfaced. This happens to be one of James Jamerson’s greatest bass lines so to hear it like this is a real treat. It has serious groove, implies the harmony and even touches the melody at points… genius.

References:

More info on The Spinners

More info on “It’s A Shame”

More info on Motown

More info on VIP Records

More info on Berry Gordy

More info on The Funk Brothers

More info on Alton Ellis








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