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





Hey MJ, I Want You Back

25 06 2010

Today is the 1 yr anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. By now everybody knows what happened and it goes without saying that just about every media outlet will be doing something to honor the guy so I will spare you any overly verbose statement of reverence and just give you the goods. I wanted to showcase a few moments from his career. Some of which are monumental, while others are just pieces I really appreciate.

As a big Motown fan, I had to start with the early days of the Jackson 5. There are actually quite a few videos that capture the boys at this period in their career. This one is from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Per Dick’s intro, it commemorates their hit “I Want You Back” going platinum in 1970. The video quality is not great but the performance is supercharged. They amp it up just a bit by increasing the tempo… it burns.

This next one is, perhaps, from one of their low moments but I find it to be a really interesting piece that I had never seen before. It’s a medley of two popular covers done as part of a western themed sketch from the Jackson 5’s mid 70’s variety show. The segment shows the boys doing War’s “The Cisco Kid” and Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff”. It’s not their best work but, like I said, really neat to watch. The theatrical stage antics are way too much for my taste but who knew they had covered War and Marley. That was the one cool thing about this TV show, they used to show off their talents with material beyond their own catalog or that of other Motown artists.

This next one is without a doubt one of the biggest moments in Michael’s career. It’s that famous performance of “Billie Jean” from the Motown 25 show live at NY’s Apollo Theater in Harlem. This is the first time Micheal displayed his trademark moonwalk. The whole performance is phenomenal but once he hits the move, the audience erupts… it gives me goosebumps to watch it decades later.

This is just a song that I happen to like, despite its down tempo beat.  As one of his more mellow tracks, it’s a real standout. It’s “Man In The Mirror”, live from the Moonwalker concert film. The audience footage here really shows how big of a superstar the man really was. He touched millions upon millions of people (pardon the off-color pun).

This is the ever famous “Thriller” video from 1983. This 14 minute John Landis video is usually referred to as the greatest music video of all time and has had a huge impact on pop culture as we know it. As many times as you’ve seen it (I know, countless), it’s always pretty cool. I, like many, absolutely loved it when I was a kid.





Diana Ross | diana

15 06 2010

For some strange reason, I have recently become reacquainted with an album that I only remember from my childhood. It’s Diana Ross’ 11th studio release from 1980, diana. My memories of this record are a little faint but there are two songs in particular that I remember very well and consequently, prompted me to revisit the album. Both songs, you will undoubtedly know as they are some of her biggest solo hits. The first is the original single “Upside Down” and the second is a follow up single, “I’m Coming Out”. The whole album was a huge success for her and Motown Records, selling over 6 million copies and going platinum in just months. “Upside Down” reached as high as #2 and was on the charts for 12 weeks, marking her highest peak performance as a solo artist. “I’m Coming Out”, despite being the fourth single from this album, made it as high as #13 and stayed on the charts for 10 weeks. Since it’s release, diana has sold well over 10 million copies worldwide, an incredible achievement considering the timing of it’s release.

Following the success of 1979’s The Boss, Ross wanted a fresher, more modern sound. Production team Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic had recently written a whole album’s worth of material with Aretha Franklin in mind. Franklin had however declined the offer and all the songs were subsequently passed on to Ross. The sessions were grueling and there was a lot of tension throughout. After the recording wrapped, Ross received an sneak peak at the resulting work. Reportedly, she was not pleased with its results. Following an advance preview of the record, to be released in the aftermath of the anti-disco backlash, an influential New York City DJ warned Ross it would even be the end of her career. When the master tapes were submitted to Motown in March 1980, a nervous Ross consequently remixed the entire album with the assistance of Motown engineer Russ Terrana. The goal was to tone down the funkier elements of Chic’s playing, removing extended instrumental passages and speeding up the tracks’ tempos to give the her voice a brighter, more youthful sound. The new mix also put Ross’ vocals front and center. The remixing of the master tapes and the re-recording of all Ross’ lead vocals were performed without the knowledge or approval of Rodgers and Edwards. Needless to say, it made for a very awkward record release, with the production team threatening to remove their names from the credits. They even unsuccessfully tried to sue Motown over it.

So, in a post-Supremes, post-Disco world the incredible Diana Ross is still making hits. It’s great material like this that introduced her to a whole new, much younger, audience and helped her establish that iconic persona that will forever live on in music history. She’s the original diva and with tunes like this (in addition to her earlier catalog) she deserves every bit of praise. Other than notables like Marvin Gaye, she’s one of the only Motown artist to take her career into 70’s & 80’s and beyond.


Below are both the singles I referred to above: “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out”. Younger audiences will most certainly recognize the latter as the sample for Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”… a 90’s hip hop classic. It makes sense when you consider the source.

References:

More info on Diana Ross

More info on diana

More info on “Upside Down”

More info on “I’m Coming Out”

More info on Motown

More info on The Supremes

More info on Bernard Edwards

More info on Nile Rodgers

More info on Chic





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





NEW! On The Turntable

11 05 2010

Now that May is in full swing, the On The Turntable page has been updated. This month it’s yet another classic: Stevie Wonder’s 1970 Motown release Signed, Sealed & Delivered.  This one is probably my favorite Stevie LP although it’s really too tough to say for sure. This one, like so many others, has so many great songs that is is a great listen form start to finish. Just the other day I had it on and someone said, “you got to send me this playlist”, as though I had weeded out all the bad songs or something. Well, not the case… this one is just a solid collection of material that doesn’t quit. There are some great videos of Stevie promoting this album back in 1970 (and plenty of later stuff too). I’ve tried to select just one or two but it is so hard to choose. Below is some footage of Stevie performing one of the lesser known hits live, “Heaven Help Us All”. This version is really great. The rap he gives in the intro is amazing and, damn, what a groove…

Here is the title track “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” from the Dick Cavett show. I love when Stevie gets up from the keys and starts groovin’ out with the back-up singers.

The interview from this appearance is very funny as well as informative. It’s pretty neat to see him be so candid. Not only does the man have a ton of talent but he has a great sense of humor too.

Visit the On The Turntable page to listen to the entire album and learn more about it.  If you don’t already own this one, you can follow the links to make a purchase online… it’s a must have.








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