Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Billie Jean’

Lovechild-single-supremes
Diana Ross and the Supremes – “Love Child,” Pop # 1, R&B # 2

By Joel Francis

The departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland reverberated throughout Hitsville, but no one felt it as acutely as the Supremes. Between 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” and 1967’s “Reflections,” the powerhouse songwriting and production triumvirate landed 10 songs at No. 1 and a three more in the Top 10.

Berry Gordy spared little expense in turning the Supremes into the biggest group on his label, and he was loathe to see them slink back to their pre-HDH obscurity. Before the two trios met, the best the Supremes could muster was No. 23. Those numbers were no longer acceptable.

Desperate, Gordy sequestered a half dozen of his best writers in a Detroit hotel and demanded they come up with a new hit for Diana Ross and the Supremes. Credited anonymously to “The Clan,” the result was another No. 1 hit for Gordy’s favorite group. The Clan model worked so well, Gordy revived it the following year, this time as “The Corporation,” to write hits for the Jackson 5. Gordy gave both these teams generic names to prevent writers and producers from superseding the fame of the performer or the label.

It would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall as the writers pitched this song to Gordy. Love songs were the Supremes bread and butter, but it’s doubtful Gordy envisioned his siren singing about abstinence. In “Love Child,” a woman, scarred by being born out of wedlock, the singer tries to convince her man to “hold on just a little bit longer” and understand that “no child of mine will be bearing/The name of shame I’ve been wearing.” “Love Child” wasn’t the first song to touch on unwanted pregnancy – Gordy himself and Smokey Robinson wrote the song  “Bad Girl” in the early days of the Miracles  – but it became the definitive song on the subject until “Billie Jean.”

Diana Ross is the only Supreme to appear on “Love Child,” and for once her voice does a song justice. This might be because the background of the woman in the song mirrors Ross’s childhood in the Brewster-Douglass housing project in Detroit. Unlike the song’s subject, Ross was born to married parents. The painfully shy Ross could no doubt to the lyrics like “So afraid that others knew I had no name” and “I started school/And a worn, torn dress that somebody threw out. Too poor to afford the stylish clothes she coveted, the aspiring fashion designer made her own clothes cobbled from scraps and hand-me-downs.

“Love Child” opens with a few bars of funk guitar before the sweep of strings relegate the guitar to the back of the mix. The arrangement – particularly the strings and backing vocals – foreshadows the disco trend that would serve Ross so well in the decade to come. For such a hard-driving song, the percussion is surprisingly soft. During Hitsville’s production-line heyday, the song would have been driven by snare and tambourine. Nearly a minute of “Love Child” passes before the snare a full drum kit completely engage. Instead, the propulsion rests with what sounds like ride cymbal, maracas and a glockenspiel.

Although they aren’t on the record, Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong performed the song with Ross on the Ed Sullivan Show in September, 1968. Despite the show’s conservative stance against the Rolling Stones “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” and the Doors “Light My Fire,” they lyrics to “Love Child” were performed as-is with no discussion. It was one of the group’s final performances on the popular Sunday night TV staple.

Despite its success, few performers have covered “Love Child.” It is unlikely the Supremes number will be confused with Deep Purple’s 1975 song of the same name.

Read Full Post »

(Above: Stevie Wonder performs “Never Can Say Goodbye” the day after Michael Jackson’s death. Wonder dedicated his performance at Starlight Theater to Jackson.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Stevie Wonder walked on stage at Starlight Theatre on Friday night with zero fanfare and cut to the heart of the night before playing a single note.

“God blessed us with a talented man who brought us joy with his dancing, music, videos and all of that,” Wonder said as part of his five-minute monologue about his friend and former Motown labelmate Michael Jackson.
Finally settling behind his grand piano, Wonder delivered a powerful acapella performance of “Love’s In Need of Love Today” that gave me goosebumps. After two verses, the band joined in. When the song was over, Wonder led them into a spontaneous version of “Kansas City” that caught most of the musicians off-guard.It was that kind of night. The mood altered between moving tributes to Jackson, who died the day before, upbeat hits and random moments.

It took Wonder a half hour to get the nearly sold-out crowd on its feet. Once “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” finally did the trick, Wonder ensured they stayed up by playing the signature bassline to “Billie Jean.” With no vocal support from the stage, Wonder let the crowd sing the entire song.

The audience did a good job at impromptu karoke the first time around, but was less successful in carrying “I Can’t Help It.” Wonder has good reason to be proud of the song he wrote for Jackson that ended up on his “Off the Wall” album, but few in the audience were familiar with the number.

The crowd did better on Wonder’s classic material. “All I Do,” “Higher Ground” and “Living for the City” all drew big responses.

Later in the set, Wonder led the band through a jam with his vocoder. Safe behind the distortion of this electronic vocal altering device, Wonder was surprisingly honest.

“Last night and today I was in so much pain,” Wonder said, “but I knew if I played for you I would play a little better.”

Still employing the vocoder, Wonder segued into the Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.” The poignant moment was made even more mournful by the vocal alteration and Wonder’s decision to let a male backing singer take the final verse. Emotions built as Wonder led the crowd through the chorus again and again, turning the song into a remembrance and a celebration.

Wonder was backed by a 14-piece band that included four backing vocalists – including his daughter Aisha Morris – two percussionists, keyboard players and guitarist and a rhythm and horn section.

Given his orchestrations on record, it was no surprise the band arrangements were sublime. The ensemble knew the right moments to back off and give Wonder the spotlight and the right time to come in and kick the performance up a notch. As usual, the sound at Starlight was great.

After the South American syncopation of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing,” Wonder paused for a moment behind the keyboard. Playing a gorgeous piece of music, he started humming and mumbling until the words congealed into stream-of-consciousness thoughts about Jackson being “in the arms of God.” The energy from this moving melody was poured into an amazing reading of “You and I” that found Wonder showing of his vocal range and its resilience to time and age.

Randomness struck again in the last 30 minutes of the night when Wonder had his sound man play Jamie Foxx and T-Pain’s “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” over the PA while he rested his throat and the band hydrated. That was followed by a jazz number performed by Wonder’s daughter. The song was pleasant, but not what folks came to hear.

Two other shortcomings also bear mention. The only time Wonder played harmonica was during a cover of Chick Corea’s “Spain.” His solo brief solo there was both a tease and a crime. Also, Wonder’s ‘60s catalog was completely ignored. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” from 1970 was as far back as Wonder went for the night, which meant “Uptight,” “Hey Love,” “My Cherie Amor” and others were forgotten.

Wonder ended the night with the murderer’s row of “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” “Sir Duke,” “Superstition” and “As” that more than erased any minor missteps. As the final notes of “As” died out, the strains of “ABC” faded in. The Jackson 5 number kicked off a pre-recorded medley of Wonder’s favorite Jackson moments.

As the tape played, everyone remained onstage dancing, singing along and brushing away stray tears. Two hours and 20 minutes after taking the stage, Wonder and his band filed slowly offstage as “Man in the Mirror” played. There was no encore, but there was nothing left to say.

sw2

Setlist: Love’s In Need of Love Today, Going to Kansas City> Bird of Beauty> As If You Read My Mind> Master Blaster (Jammin’), Billie Jean, Did I Hear You Say You Love Me> All I Do, I Can’t Help It, Vocoder Jam> Never Can Say Goodbye > Higher Ground, Spain> Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, Improvised MJ tribute> You and I, Living For the City, Signed, Sealed, Delivered, Blame It (On the Alcohol) (Jamie Foxx and T-Pain song played over PA), I’m Going to Laugh You Right Out of My Life (Aisha Morris, lead vocals), Sir Duke> Superstition, As, Michael Jackson medley (played over PA)

Keep reading:
More Stevie Wonder articles from The Daily Record.

sw1

Read Full Post »

(Above: Bill Cosby emcees the Jackson 5’s infectious reading of “I Want You Back.”)

By Joel Francis

Before Michael Jackson was the King of Pop or Wacko Jacko he was little Michael, the adorable child singer for the Jackson 5. Michael and his brothers were the final star group to come out of Hitsville U.S.A. Their career bridges the gap between Motown’s glory days in Detroit and its descent to becoming just another record label in Los Angeles.

Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers and all the other tween pop stars with arena tours and television shows would be nothing today without the groundwork Michael and the Jackson 5 laid in the early ‘70s. Motown founder Berry Gordy was among the first businessmen to recognize how lucrative the tweener market could be. He marketed the Jackson 5 to fans the same age as the performers. Black or white, young Americans tried to imitate the dance moves and routines they saw on the Ed Sullivan Show, network television specials and even the band’s own Saturday morning cartoon.

Like that other brilliant piece of musical marketing, the Monkees, the Jackson 5 didn’t write their own material. Holland-Dozier-Holland may have departed, but Gordy was able to round up another ad hoc songwriting team to write material for the teen sensations. Anonymously dubbed “The Corporation” so other labels wouldn’t steal them away from Motown, the team was responsible for “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” “The Love You Save,” “Maybe Tomorrow” and “Sugar Daddy” to name but a few of their J5 hits.

The music may have been marketed to tweens, but it more than holds up today. The titles alone of the aforementioned songs should be enough for smiles to spread on most faces. Don’t worry if they don’t, though. After a few bars have played, they will jolt the rest of the way into your consciousness, making you involuntarily start tapping your feet and grooving along with the happy rhythms.

In 1972, 14-year-old Michael started cutting his own records for Motown. His early solo hits include “Got to Be There,” a cover of “Rockin’ Robin.” Michael’s first No. 1 solo hit was the title song to the film “Ben.” The movie may have been about a boy and his pet rat (Ben was the rat, of course), but Michael’s song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Jackson’s biggest moment occurred when he was no longer on the Motown label, but front and center on Motown’s stage. In 1983 a television special was shot in Los Angeles celebrating 25 years of Motown records. Many of the label’s biggest hits reunited or returned to pay tribute to Berry Gordy and Hitsville, U.S.A. After performing with his brothers as the Jackson 5 for the first time in eight years, Michael took the stage himself to perform his new song “Billie Jean” and debut the dance step that defined the ‘80s – the moonwalk.

That iconic moment helped propel Michael’s career to unfathomable heights, but his music was never as fresh, fun and invigorating as it was before. As the decade fell away, Michael fell into parody and a host of other well-known problems.

But forget about all of that. Tonight, celebrate the kid who couldn’t stop smilin’, dancin’ and singin’ in front of those day-glo bell bottoms and beret-topped afros. Remember Michael for his best years on Motown.

Keep Reading:
More Michael Jackson Memories
Stevie Wonder Celebrates Michael Jackson at Starlight

Read Full Post »