Monday, 17 October 2016

Norman Whitfield Musical Legacy Lives On Pt.2

Whilst at Motown, in addition to his success with the Temptations, Norman produced gold singles and albums for Rare Earth, a white rock band. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, in the version performed by the late Marvin Gaye, was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value. In 1986, two years after Gaye's death, the song was re-released in the UK and peaked at number eight on the UK official Pop Singles Chart, thanks to a Levi's commercial. The song also charted successfully in Germany, peaking at number five on the chart. The song also achieved chart success twice on the Irish Singles Chart, reaching number seven on its initial release in 1969 and peaking at number four on its 1986 re-release.

Marvin Gaye's version of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” has since become a landmark in Pop music. In 2004, it ranked at number 80 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
On the commemorative 50th Anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Marvin Gaye's version was ranked as the 65th biggest song on the chart. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.

Before Norman left the Motown organisation, he received several Grammy Awards. "Cloud Nine" won Motown Records its first Grammy Award in1969. He received a second Grammy award for “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone" for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group and he finally received Grammy awards for the instrumental B-side to “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone" with the legendary Motown strings arranger Paul Riser for Best R&B Instrumental Performance and a joint award with co- writer Barrett Strong for Best R&B Song “Psychedelic Soul” the same year at the Grammy Ceremony.

 The legendary Motown strings arranger Paul Riser received a Grammy with Norman for Best R&B Instrumental Performance and joint award with co-writer Barrett Strong for Best R&B Song “Psychedelic Soul” the same year at the Grammy Ceremony.

"Car Wash" soundtrack
After his departure from Motown Records he went on to have tremendous success with a film sound track called “Car Wash” which was his first major project after leaving Motown Records. The album and single were certified gold and platinum by the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America). The single went on to achieve number one both on the Billboard Pop and R&B single chart listings, whilst the album went to number 14 on the Billboard Pop album chart listings. The soundtrack won a Grammy award in 1977 for Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special at the 19th Grammy Award Ceremony. The film cost less than $2 million to make and generated over $20 million at the box office. By the end of the 1970s, it is interesting to note that black soundtracks and films generated over $100 million in estimated
revenue, marketed mainly to black audiences.  


Norman Whitfield Musical Legacy Lives On Pt.1

The mastermind Norman Whitfield
Norman Whitfield was born on 12th May1940 in Harlem, New York and passed away on 16th September 2008 in Los Angeles at the age of 68. He founded Whitfield Records in Los Angeles after his departure from Motown Records. He was known as the father of the “Psychedelic Funk” sound. Longer songs, heavy bass line, distorted guitars, multi-tracked drums and inventive vocal arrangements became the trademarks of Norman’s production outputs, mainly with The Temptations.

He developed the sound with the help of the Motown studio band “The Funk Brothers”, with the assistance of the legendary Paul Riser as conductor and strings and horns arranger. His innovative music production concentrated more on instrumentation and put less focus on vocals, which was a major departure from the Motown signature sound, the “Sound of Young America”, that made production and song-writing team Holland, Dozier and Holland famous.

Prior to Norman Whitfield’s departure from Motown Records, he produced and co-wrote with Barrett Strong the majority of The Temptations’ recording projects during the first ten years of the label’s operation into the early 1970s, with such songs as “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”, “Ball Confusion”, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”. All these singles achieved platinum certification in America for selling over two million plus copies each. "Cloud Nine" won Motown Records its first Grammy Award, for Best R&B Vocal Group Performance of 1969. The Temptations’ recording projects produced by Norman featured the funky psychedelic sound which eventually created a large body of gold, platinum and multi-platinum certifications that still continue in the UK and America into the 21st Century, making The Temptations the most certified black male vocal group in music history. This demonstrates the excellent production ability of Whitfield and the sound engineer at the time, the legendary Russ Terrana (a white man who was responsible for the sound engineering and mixing of over 89 number one records for Motown Records from the mid 1960s to early 1970s). The musical compositions of Norman and Barrett reflected the social unrest and violent disturbances that took place across America’s inner cities after the death of Martin Luther King and also America’s involvement in the Vietnam War during the late 1960s. Musically they were totally in tune with the current events of that time.


Friday, 23 September 2016

The Philadelphia Signature Sound in 1986

Image result for jean carne closer than close
The album recorded by Jean Carne
featuring the classic hit single
 "Closer Than Closer"
Did you that over thirty years ago in the month August 1986 two Female artists who dominated the American Billboard R&B Singles Chart for the entire month of August with singles produced and recorded in the city of Philadelphia, at different recording studios. These two female recording solo artists were Shirley Jones and Jean Carne.
Both artists shared the number one position for two weeks each, beginning with Jean Carne taking a run at the top of the Billboard Soul and R&B Singles Chart week-ending 
2nd August 1986 (2 weeks) with “Closer than Closer” Omni 99531. Which was produced by the late Grover Washington, Jr. Also Jean was once signed to Philadelphia International Records during the 1970s to the early 1980s.

Image result for shirley jones PIR album
The album by recorded by Shirley Jones
 featuring the number one
 "Do You Get Enough Love"
Shirley Jones achieved the top position on 16th August 1986. Co-Produced by Kenny Gamble and Bunny Sigler. The single “Do You Get enough Love” on Philadelphia International Records 50034, was the second single for Philadelphia International Records to have achieved one during the 1980s, with Patti LaBelle’s single been the first in 1984 for “If Only You Knew”, Philadelphia International Records 04248, 28th January 1984 (4 weeks). The single was extracted “I’m In Love Again” album, been the last gold certified album to be distributed CBS Records for label for PIR (Philadelphia International Records) before expiration of distribution deal with label and CBS Records around 1985.


Friday, 29 July 2016

The Year Was 1965: A Significant Events In Motown's History Pt.4

Image result for marvin gaye
Marvin Gaye

While the main production teams were enjoying spectacular success, other producers at the label were coming up with hits such as “Ain’t That Peculiar” released on Tamla Records and performed by Marvin Gaye, produced and co-written by Smokey Robinson. The song peaked at number one week-ending 27th November 1965 (1 week) on the Billboard Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles Chart. The development of the song benefited from the expert help of several creative masterminds, including Willie Shorter who was doing the majority of the rhythm charts for Smokey Robinson and his song-writing team, working in conjunction with Robinson’s key creative partner Marv Tarplin during that period, with Paul Riser taking care of string arrangements. Tarplin’s brilliant guitar skills were vitally important to the overall success of the song.  He and Robinson collaborated on songs such as “I’ll Be Doggone” and “The Tracks Of My Tears.”

By the end of 1965 Motown Records had dominated the number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart for a total of eight weeks during the year with three different acts. Motown Records also controlled the number one position on the Billboard Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles for a total of twenty-five weeks
While Marvin Gaye was enjoying great success with Smokey Robinson, he also recorded his first major duet with Kim Weston, called “It Takes Two”. The album from which the single was taken, also entitled “It Takes Two”, was co-produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson and Harvey Fuqua. The hit song was co-written by female song-writer Sylvia Moy and William “Mickey” Stevenson. The song charted the following year in May 1966 and reached number four on the Billboard Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles Chart, peaking at number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. This was soon to be followed by his successful duets with the late Tammi Terrell, starting in 1966.


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Year Was 1965: Significant Events in Motown’s History Pt. 3

Grand Gala du Disque Populaire 1968 - The Four Tops 1.jpg
The Four Tops
 performing live
The next all-black male vocal group to top the charts was The Four Tops who knocked The Supremes off the top position with their thunderous performance of the single “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” The track exploded with a bang when it was released by Motown Records. It peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart week-ending 19th June 1965 (2 weeks). It is one of those songs that define “The Sound Of Young America,” all within two minutes and 43 seconds! Before the group had their first number one, Holland-Dozier-Holland had produced a song entitled “Baby I Need Your Loving” which was The Four Top’s first Top Twenty single which peaked at number eleven on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. It has become another classic.

Holland-Dozier and Holland in
the studio with The Supremes

Image result for The Supremes
The Supremes
Holland-Dozier-Holland were certainly on a roll when they surprised everyone with a sixth consecutive number one for The Supremes with “I Hear a Symphony.” The song displaced The Rolling Stones single “Get Off Of My Cloud” week-ending 20th November 1965 (2 weeks). That very same week Chess Records’ “Soul Queen” Fontella Bass was at number four with “Rescue Me.” Another song was released from the album “I Hear a Symphony” entitled “My World Is Empty Without You.” It was the first single by The Supremes not to peak at number one on any singles chart listings in America. The recording style of the single was completely different from its predecessor with musical instrumentation sounding extremely gothic from a bygone era sometime in the 1500s in Europe. Earl Van Dyke’s Hammond organ sound configuration was made to sound like a liturgical pipe organ and reflected the trend towards baroque pop music during the mid-1960s. The song peaked at number five on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart for two weeks in February 1965 and reached number ten on the Billboard Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles Chart.


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Year Was 1965: Significant Events in Motown’s History Pt. 2


Marvin Gaye's first number one hit single
In the month of May Smokey Robinson produced his magic formula again with Marvin Gaye, as the latter stepped out of his studio drumming role and turned to singing as the label’s leading up-and-coming male vocalist. Robinson also found time to compose the song “I’ll Be Doggone” with guitarist Marv Tarplin and Pete Moore, founding members of The Miracles, whilst on tour. Marvin Gaye was an emerging genius who co-wrote his first three hit records, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, “Hitch Hike” and “Pride and Joy”. He was one of the first artists at Motown to do so. Gaye became brilliant at interpreting other song-writers’ material, improvising and improving on the original song and making it his own in the process. “I’ll Be Doggone” was certainly one of those songs. It topped the Billboard Hot Rhythm and Blues Singles Chart week-ending 22nd May 1965 (1 week). Each member of The Funk Brothers added their own momentum and richness to the song’s groove helping to send the song to the top! 
The Supremes' album  containing
 the 1965 single "Come See About Me"

The Motown organisation was by now a winning brand and a major player within the industry. In the eleven months from August 1964 to June 1965, The Supremes had five number one singles on several singles chart listings. The five consecutive number one hits were “Where Did Our Love Go”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In the Name of Love”, and “Back in My Arms Again” The industry was now aware of the fact that Berry Gordy Jr. had tremendous power within his hit-making teams, with the credentials for consistent success. The key leading act The Supremes were performing a musical fusion of gospel and rhythm and blues which was sophisticated, innovative and intoxicating, with a high level of musical excellence. It also helped that the women were beautiful and well-dressed as leading fashion icons of the era!  

The fourth of the hit run, the power house song “Stop! In the Name of Love”, knocked The Beatles song “Eight Days a Week” off the number one position with a big bang and started its reign week-ending 27th March 1965 (2 weeks). The Supremes became the first group in Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart history to have four chart topping singles in succession!

The hit album featuring the number one
 singles "Stop! In the of Love"
 and "Back In My Arms Again"
The label then released another monster classic recording called “Back in My Arms Again”, which reached the number one position week-ending 29th May 1965 (1 week), once again produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland. It thus became the fifth consecutive number one on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart week-ending 12th June (1 week). A new record! The track vocals were laid down on the 22nd December 1964, followed by the dynamic and thunderous bass line of James Jamerson Jr. with Mike Terry’s excellent performance on saxophone and James Gittens’s ringing and driving vibes giving the song its special touch. Studio A was packed with musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing strings, located on a built-up stage up again the wall, until the company acquired more studio space.

By 1965 many experts in the industry were trying to define the sound’s musical elements but Adam White, a British former music editor of Billboard Magazine, captured the essence brilliantly: “ A bedrock bass line; an emphatic beat accentuated by tambourines performed by both Jack Ashford and James Gittens; pounding percussions, drums and piano tracks; saxophone-driven brass charts; shrill femme backup vocals in the classic call-and-response mode of gospel performances; and those swirling, riff-reinforcing strings of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Motown had finally broken down racial barriers. The musical sophistication spread around the world. When you listen to ‘Back in My Arms Again’ you do not think about the track in terms of black or white sound; the music was an international language with a powerful spiritual force that changed the atmosphere all around you.


About Me

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Old Harlow, Essex, United Kingdom
Kevin Tomlin has over 34 years of teaching experience in Jamaica, England and America, including 15 years teaching music history of black origin and visual art in South Florida, U.S.A., through Arts in Education. Tomlin created special training programmes and workshops for music teachers in South Florida schools, using music history as the foundation, to build exciting programmes of study and support materials for education professionals. Since 2000, he’s taught music history, geography, religious education, history, visual arts and performing arts at schools in Hertfordshire and Essex, at both primary and secondary levels. He conducts research and provides consultancy services for multi-media organisations, schools, recording artists, cultural and faith-based groups and entertainment professionals.

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