Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Harvey Fuqua’

The Spinners – “It’s A Shame,” Pop #14, R&B #4

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The Spinners had been absent from the charts for five years when “It’s A Shame” came out in June, 1970. In fact, the Detroit quintet had only two hits in their 10-year history up till that point.

The group came to Motown when Berry Gordy hired Harvey Fuqua and bought his Tri-Phi label. Fuqua was an essential part of Motown’s artist development, nurturing a young Marvin Gaye and singing Tammi Terrell.

By 1970, the Spinners were considered collateral damage from the Tri-Phi takeover, serving mostly as road managers and chaperones for more successful groups. Their hunger for a hit was a natural match for another Motown artist’s desire to spread his wings.

When Gaye wanted to show his independence, he wrote and produced two hits for the Originals. Now Stevie Wonder looked at the Spinners and wanted to do the same.

“It’s a Shame” was written and produced by the same team responsible for Wonder’s most recent hit “Signed, Sealed and Delivered.” Wonder’s musical and romantic relationship with Syreeta Wright continued to blossom and Lee Garrett once again contributed to the composition.

The song opens with a hypnotic guitar hook, but it’s the Spinners’ harmony vocals that cement the number as a soul classic. The lyrics speak of heartbreak, but the delivery is effortless and graceful.

The performance was so stellar that few artists have attempted to cover “It’s a Shame.” The song instead lives on as a sample, appearing in songs by R. Kelly, Sounds of Blackness, Lethal Bizzile and Monie Love.

Read Full Post »


Jr. Walker and the All Stars – “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Pop # 4, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

“What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” was Jr. Walker’s second chart-topper and first since 1965’s “Shotgun,” but the two songs couldn’t have been more different. While “Shotgun” was a raw roadhouse rumble with the horn dominating the vocals, “What Does It Take” was a smooth love song designed to drive traffic to the bedroom.

Although Walker penned many of the All Stars’ best numbers, like “Shake and Fingerpop,” “Hip City” and “Last Call,” he handed the reigns over to the songwriting and production duo of Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol in a bid for greater pop success in the late ‘60s.

On paper it looked like a solid decision. Fuqua and Bristol were trusted entities. The latter discovered Walker, and the former gave Walker his first record deal. When Fuqua’s Harvey Records were purchased by Motown, Fuqua, Bristol and Walker became part of the Hitsville family.

While Fuqua and Bristol were successful in taking Walker back to the top of the charts, they did it by depriving Walker of his signature sound. The great saxophone that propelled so many All Stars singles was relegated to anonymous responses that could have been handled by any session player. Walker has overcome his initial microphone shyness to deliver a credible vocal, but his delivery his hardly distinct. All the right elements may be in place, but the product is competently forgettable.

Any thoughts that Walker strayed too far from the sound that made him great are reinforced by Kenny G’s 1986 cover featuring Bristol on lead vocals.

Read Full Post »


David Ruffin – “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me),” Pop # 9, R&B # 2

By Joel Francis

Former Temptation David Ruffin stuck pretty close to his old band’s template on his solo debut. The Harvey Fuqua/Johnny Bristol song was slated to be the Tempts’ next single, but Ruffin was able to sweet talk taking the song with him when he was fired. With backing vocals provided by the Originals, the song sounds enough like the Temptations casual listeners could be forgiven for thinking the news of Ruffin’s departure was nothing but a bad dream.

The lyrics also deal with the frequent Temptations theme of lost love. Like he did in “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Since I Lost My Baby,” Ruffin ruminates over how a promising relationship soured and what to do with the loneliness and ache.

A Top 10 pop hit that just missed the top spot on the R&B charts, “My Whole World Ended” was a promising start to Ruffin’s new career. Unfortunately, the problems that plagued him in the Temptations continued to haunt. Because he wasn’t a songwriter, Ruffin was dependent on others for material, and Ruffin’s erratic behavior and continued drug use didn’t endear him to many Hitsville songsmiths. Ruffin caused further problems when he started forcing his way onstage during Temptations concerts. Fans were ecstatic to hear the old singer deliver the hits, but the group, with new member Dennis Edwards, was less than enthused.

Despite these problems, Ruffin maintained a decent solo career. Although he never matched the success of “My Whole World Ended,” he had several minor hits peaking with another Top 10 smash on 1975’s “Walk Away From Love.”

There was a flurry of immediate covers after the release of “My Whole World” in early 1969. The Chi-Lites, Kiki Dee and the Spinners all recorded interpretations of the song within 18 months of its initial release.

Read Full Post »

Edwin Starr – “Twenty-Five Miles,” Pop # 6, R&B #6

By Joel Francis

If the horn arrangement on “Twenty-Five Miles” sounds like something out of the Stax studio, that’s because it is. Motown songwriters Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol based their number on the obscure Wilson Pickett song “32 Miles Out of Waycross (Mojo Mama)” written by Bert Berns and Jerry Wexler and recorded in 1967.

It’s little surprise Fuqua and Bristol turned to a Pickett number when looking for material for Edwin Starr. Like Pickett, Starr was a strong baritone who sang from the throat. And like fellow Motown family member Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, Starr’s voice was seeped in the Southern style.

Unlike, Stubbs, however, Starr didn’t have a string of hits under his belt, which made him a bit of an outcast at the label. A Detroit native who somehow escaped Berry Gordy’s eagle eye for talent, Starr’s biggest hit. to date was the 1965 song “Agent Double ‘O’ Soul” recorded on the Ric-Tic label. Three years later, when Motown purchased Ric-Tick in 1968, Starr joined the Hitsville stable.

“Twenty-Five Miles” opens with Benny Benjamin’s athletic drumming and he stays front and center as the funky scoutmaster that keeps Starr’s (and everyone on the dance floor) feet relentlessly moving. The bass line echoes a horn line that has become a staple of marching and pep bands across the country. The listener never learns what happens when Starr reaches his destination, but the energetic vocals definitely prove that getting there is half the fun.

Although “25 Miles” was a Top 10 hit, it often been overlooked when acts mine the Motown catalog. For nearly 20 years, Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were the only group to cover the song. Their version was released several months after Starr’s as an album track on “In the Jungle, Babe.” In 1989, UK dance outfit the Cookie Crew sampled “25 Miles” on their hit “Got to Keep On.” Australian boy band Human Nature covered “25 Miles” on their 2005 release “Reach Out: The Motown Album.”

Read Full Post »

mountain
Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Pop # 19, R&B # 3

By Joel Francis

Marvin Gaye found his greatest early success as a duet partner. The 1964 album “Together” was his first album to chart, and his duets placed in the Top 20 with a consistency that eluded him as a solo artist. Unfortunately, Gaye’s soul partners, Mary Wells and Kim Weston, both left Motown for (allegedly) greener pastures shortly after collaborating with Gaye. As established Motown solo artists, pairing of Gaye with Wells and Weston made sense. The teaming of Gaye with Hitsville newcomer Tammi Terrell, however, was inspired.

Terrell arrived at Motown in 1965 after bouncing from Scepter Records, where she recorded as Tammy Montgomery, James Brown’s Try Records and the Chess Records subsidiary Checker. Her initial Motown singles didn’t much fare better than her previous efforts, but “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” took both her and Gaye’s careers to a new level.

Motown’s new singing pair was paired with the songwriting team Berry Gordy hired to replace the gradually exiting Holland-Dozier-Holland squad. Husband and wife Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson came to Gordy’s attention in 1966 with their No. 1 hit “Let’s Go Get Stoned” for Ray Charles. (Ironically, “Stoned” was Charles’ first single after leaving rehab for his heroin addiction.)

“Mountain was a heck of a debut for both Ashford and Simpson and Gaye and Terrell. It’s obvious from the few seconds of spoken introduction that the signers have great rapport and their voices dance perfectly on the chorus. Although Gaye and Terrell sound like they’re giggling from the same care-free piano bench, their vocal parts were actually recorded separately. Terrell felt like she hadn’t rehearsed the lyrics enough to record with Gaye, so after some coaching with producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol she cut her part alone.

Although Fuqua and Bristol had helmed dozens of Motown hits, “Mountain” doesn’t have the expected Hitsville sound. The most obvious explanation is that Ashford and Simpson were an “outside” songwriting team and that Holland-Dozier-Holland were on their way out. It also highlights that when people talk about the “Motown sound” they are often talking about Holland-Dozier-Holland’s signature production style. Holland-Dozier-Holland’s defection not only deprived Motown of its greatest songwriting team, but also Gordy’s vaunted “sound of young America.”

As one team of stars left, another was being born. The success of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” helped transform Gaye into one of Motown’s biggest and most enduring performers, whose brightest days were yet to come.

Read Full Post »

hunter

The Marvelettes – “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” Pop # 13, R&B #2

By Joel Francis

The Marvelettes gave Motown its first No. 1 hit with “Please Mr. Postman,” but that was way back in 1961. But that was five years before “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” came out – a lifetime in pop music. The interceding years weren’t too kind. The group found some follow-up success with “Beechwood 4-5789,” but lost a founding member, and famously passed on “Where Did Our Love Go,” which became the Supremes’ first No. 1 hit.

By the mid-‘60s, the Marvelettes had lost another member. Only the success of greatest hits and live albums were keeping the band tethered to the Motown roster. Then Smokey Robinson entered the picture.

Robinson penned “Don’t Mess With Bill,” the comeback single for the now-trio. His pen also produced “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” sung by Wanda Young, wife of Miracles’ guitarist Bobby Rodgers.

The lyrics are straightforward, but what makes the song is Young’s slinky singing and an equally elastic performance from the Funk Brothers. Check out the great guitar performance holding the whole song together and the great and rare Motown harmonica solo to appear outside of a Stevie Wonder or Shorty Long album.

The Marvelettes found a Top 10 hit with their next single – a remake of Ruby and the Romantics’ “When You’re In Love” – before losing another singer. They carried on with some success, but a full-scale comeback was quashed when the remaining members decided not to follow Berry Gordy to Los Angeles and Young’s pregnancy. After the Marvelettes dissolved, singer Ann Bogan joined New Birth, a soul outfit founded by former Motown staffer Harvey Fuqua.

“The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” has been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Raconteur Brendan Benson, Jerry Garcia, Blondie and Massive Attack. A reggae cover by Grace Jones reached No. 87 on the R&B charts in 1980.

Read Full Post »

soulsville sings hitsville

By Joel Francis

Rare was the time Berry Gordy would let Motown artists record songs outside of the Hitsville catalog (and its lucrative publishing).  Fortunately, Jim Stewart at Stax did not have the same stipulation. Thanks to the 2007 compilation “Soulsville Sings Hitsville: Stax Sings the Songs of Motown Records” soul fans have at least one direct barometer to use in the never-ending debate of Stax vs. Motown.

Rivalries and arguments aside, “Soulsville Sings Hitsville” is a great 15-song collection that casts many soul nuggets worn out by oldies radio in a new light. Soul fans from either side of the Mason-Dixon line will find a lot to enjoy here. And now for the 15-round battle in the head-to-head match of Stax vs. Motown.

Round 1:  – “Stop! In the Name of Love”

Margie Joseph vs. the Supremes

The Supremes took this song to No. 1 in 1965 and made it one of their defining songs. Margie Joseph adds a lengthy monologue and a completely new arrangement that transforms the song. They lyrics are about the only element these versions share. Although it’s hard to top Holland-Dozier-Holland production, Joseph accomplishes the feat by making the song her own and having an infinitely better singing voice than Diana Ross.

Winner: Stax

Round 2:  – “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”

David Porter vs. Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5

David Porter made his name as half of the Porter-Isaac Hayes hitmaking machine in the ‘60s before striking out on his own in the ‘70s. His version of “I Don’t Know Why” easily tops the Jackson 5’s reading. Michael Jackson just isn’t old enough to put the necessary grit in his vocals and ends up practically shouting the song. The gold medal here, though, goes to the co-author and original performer Stevie Wonder. Released as a single from his 1968 album “For Once In My Life,” the song peaked at No. 16 on the R&B charts. Wonder’s vocals simmer, building in intensity until they boil over at the 1:40 mark. Wonder sings so hard he’s almost out of breath as the great arrangement continues to build until the only options are to explode out of the speakers or fade out. Faced with potential lawsuits from music lovers, the track ends just under the three-minute mark.

Winner: Motown

Round 3 – “You’ve Got to Earn It”

Staples Singers vs. the Temptations

One of the Staples Singers’ biggest hits, this song is so closely identified with the group that I didn’t even know the Temptations recorded the original. This Smokey Robinson-penned number was released in 1965 on the b-side of “Since I Lost My Baby.” The Tempts version is serviceable, but aside from Eddie Kendricks’ lead vocals isn’t that memorable. The Staples version trumps on every level: Mavis Staples great singing, the spectacular arrangement featuring a signature descending horn line and harmonica, and the soulful playing and support of Pops and Yvonne Staples.

Winner: Stax

Round 4 – “Can I Get a Witness”

Calvin Scott vs. Marvin Gaye

In the NFL, when a play is challenged and the officials go under the hood for review, there must be incontrovertible evidence to overturn the call. So goes it with covers. It is not sufficient to merely equal the original recording, the burden of the cover is to surpass the original. Calvin Scott does a good job putting his twist on one of Marvin Gaye’s earliest hits, but he doesn’t add anything to it either. Take pity on Scott, however – topping Gaye is no small feat.

Winner: Motown

Round 5 – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

Mar-Keys vs. Four Tops

Although some session credits are available, the Mar-Keys kind of became the catch name for whoever was playing with the Memphis Horns. Some of their cuts ended up on Booker T. and the MGs or Isaac Hayes albums, some were added to Bar-Kays releases and others credited to the Mar-Keys themselves. The Mar-Keys’ 1971 version of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” is one of the numbers that has fallen through the cataloging cracks – Stax historians aren’t really sure who played on it. However, one fact is indisputable: this track rocks. Andrew Horn blows a mad sax solo with enough grit and soul to match Levi Stubbs’ incomparable voice, while the rest of the musicians strip the sheen laid by the Funk Brothers on the original Motown recording. That said, the Four Tops version became one of their defining performances for good reason. The decision here comes down to preference: the dirtier R&B of Stax or the polished soul of Motown. I like ‘em both.

Winner: Push

Round 6 – “Never Can Say Goodbye”

Isaac Hayes vs. Jackson 5

Isaac Hayes and the Jackson 5 both released their interpretations of Clifton Davis’ “Never Can Say Goodbye” in 1971. The results couldn’t be more different. The pain in Hayes’ deep voice pits him as a grown man with life experience against a bunch of talented kids acting their hearts out. In the weeks following the death of Michael Jackson, the J5 performance has become an unofficial tribute to their singer. It’s a fine sentiment, but, as Mos Def would say, this is grown man business. Hayes wins, no contest.

Winner: Stax

Round 7 – “My Cherie Amour”

Billy Eckstein vs. Stevie Wonder

In the 1940s, Billy Eckstein’s orchestra was one of the first large bop combos in jazz, providing an early home for Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In the ‘50s, Eckstein’s smooth voice influenced up-and-coming soul singers like Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke. Eckstein dabbled in both soul and jazz in the 1960s, even popping up on  a couple Motown LPs. Although his career was pretty much over by the ‘70s, Al Bell was able to coax the legend to cut a few albums for Stax. Unfortunately, Eckstein’s 1970 delivery of “My Cherie Amour” borders on parody and sadly resembles Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors’ version of “You Are the Sunshine Of My Life” that may be found on the Golden Throats series.

Winner: Motown

Round 8 – “Oh, Be My Love”

Barbara Lewis vs. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Barbara Lewis actually got her start as a teen soul singer in early ‘60s Detroit before finding greater success on Stax. Based on this number, it’s odd that Berry Gordy passed on Lewis at a time when he was seemingly signing every promising young singer in the city. Lewis’ voice is a perfect fit for the Motown sound. Then again, maybe it’s for the best Lewis didn’t join the Motown family. Chances are she would have ended up another in the long line of promising female talents discarded in the wake of Diana Ross. Lewis does a fine job with this interpretation of a 1967 Miracles b-side penned by Smokey Robinson. Unfortunately, the original version could not be located for comparison.

Winner: No decision

Round 9 – “I Hear a Symphony”

Booker T. and the MGs vs. Diana Ross and the Supremes

On paper, this looks like a slam dunk: Remove Ross’ weak vocals and replace it with one of the tightest, funkiest groups of the day. But somehow, the MGs’ performance just doesn’t add up. The melody just doesn’t sound complete coming only from Steve Cropper’s guitar and Booker T. Jones’ organ can’t replicate the fullness of the Funk Brothers playing. The Supremes’ version is definitely more than the sum of its parts, and a testament to the acumen of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team.

Winner: Motown

Round 10 – “Chained”

Mavis Staples vs. Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye took a break from cutting duets with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell to lay down this funky number in 1968. The backing vocals and atmosphere give the track a live feel and the sax break is as close to the Stax sound as Motown gets. Mavis Staples cut her version a year later. She more than holds her own against Gaye’s vocals, and the arrangement is just as energetic. Both versions can pack the dance floor, yet are just different enough to stand on their own. Why choose one performance when you can have both?

Winner: Push

Round 11 – “Ask the Lonely”

John Gary Williams vs. Four Tops

John Gary Williams cut several sides for Stax/Volt as a member of the Mad Lads until he was drafted in 1966. When Williams got out of the military, he wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms. His former group had carried on in his absence, and found Williams’ replacement to be much easier to work with. Stax owner Jim Stewart pressured the group to take Williams back and he recorded with the Lads until 1972. That year, Williams was finally able to go solo. He released only one album, which included covers of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” the Spinners and this reading of “Ask the Lonely.” The smooth sax solo that opens this song and Williams’ vocals foreshadow the Quiet Storm movement. Williams arrangement and delivery may have been ahead of it’s time, but it’s not nearly enough to wrestle the title away from Levi Stubbs’ gut-busting performance on the original.

Winner: Motown

Round 12 – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”

Soul Children vs. Stevie Wonder

The success of “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” – it spent six weeks at No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1970 – gave Stevie Wonder a great deal of leverage when he renegotiated his contract with Motown and gained the artistic control that birthed his spectacular output later in the decade. “Signed” was the first single 20-year-old Wonder produced; his arrangement is so good you can get lost in the various instruments. There isn’t much that can be improved on Wonder’s version and the Soul Children’s slowed-down gospel interpretation falls flat in the face of his triumph.

Winner: Motown

Round 13 – “Someday We’ll Be Together”

Frederick Knight vs. Diana Ross and the Supremes

Diana Ross’ name is coupled with the Supremes on the label of “Someday We’ll Be Together,” technically making it the ensemble’s final No. 1 hit before Ross started her solo career. Peeling back the label and examining the musicians’ chart, however, one can see that the song was actually a dry run for Ross’ solo career. Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, who replaced founding ‘preme Florence Ballard, are nowhere to be found, but even if they did they probably wouldn’t have been able to help. The song, co-written and produced by Harvey Fuqua, is a mess. The strings are way too syrupy, and the backing vocals are over-performed. Everything on the track is over-produced. Perhaps this was an effort to make Ross’ thin vocals sound more emotionally relevant, but even that is a failure. It does sport a great guitar line, though. Frederick Knight vaults over this ridiculously low bar, but he doesn’t exactly salvage the song. His strings are more restrained, the arrangement slightly more funky and the vocals greatly improved, but the song itself – which predates Fuqua’s time at Motown – is far from memorable.

Winner: Stax

Round 14 – “I Wish It Would Rain”

O.B. Clinton vs. the Temptations

“I Wish It Would Rain” is one of the most devastatingly heartbreaking songs in the Motown catalog. Mourning his lost love, David Ruffin lays his soul bare for all to see. Topping this soul masterpiece would be quite a challenge – so O.B. McClinton didn’t even try. Dubbed the “Chocolate Cowboy,” McClinton was an oddity on the Stax label. His singles only charted on the country charts, with his slower tempo, pedal steel-backed version of “I Wish It Would Rain” peaking at No. 67 in 1973. His is a noble attempt, but the song works better in R&B than it does country.

Winner: Motown

Round 15 – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

The Bar-Kays vs. Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips

The wah wah guitar solo that punctures the Bar-Kays’ version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” just past the four-minute mark eclipses anything Gordy had imagined at Motown (save Rare Earth) and points Stax down the very odd path of Iron Butterfly and the acid rock of the early ‘70s. This version draws on the spirit of Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning “Shaft” and steers close to CCR’s lengthy, jammed-out rendition. I’m not sure if this actually tops the performances Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight took to No. 1 a little more than a year apart. The versions are so different; it’s comparing apples and oranges. Enjoy them all.

Winner: Push

Final score: Stax 4, Motown 7.

The winner in this (the only) bout is overwhelmingly Motown, but Hitsville has an incumbent’s advantage of making Stax tackle its material. Listening to the Supremes tackle the Emotions, Levi Stubbs sparring with the Otis Redding songbook , the Temptations doing Sam and Dave and Norman Whitfield and Holland-Dozier-Holland applying their touches to Hayes/Porter and MGs arrangements would not only be a fantastic delight, but likely tip in favor of Soulsville. Sadly, we’ll never know. As a consolation prize, we have this compilation to bridge two very different and influential approaches to soul music.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 320 other followers