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The Heart of Motown in the 60’s

Probably the most prolific and successful song writing team in history was Holland-Dozier-Holland.

MOTOWN’S TRUE VISIONARIES

The brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and their friend Lamont Dozier created the Motown Sound, and an unusual sort of love song.

Motown was headquartered in Detroit, and so the Motown metaphors are industrial: the record label was a machine, a factory, an assembly line fitting songs together, part by part. But the heart of the company was human, and much of the art it produced can be traced to the exertions of two brothers, Brian and Eddie Holland, and their friend Lamont Dozier. With all due respect to Smokey Robinson, the Motown Sound as we know it was created by Holland-Dozier-Holland. “Heat Wave,” “Baby Love,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” and all the others: looking over a list of their best songs is like reading a snatch of pages from the American Songbook.

In the eighth or ninth grade, when I decided to be the kind of person who “knew about music,” I listened to those songs over and over—and developed a reputation for singing them, too loudly, in student lounges and on playing fields and in hallways between classes. I filled my Discman with greatest-hits compilations and my notebook with hand-drawn charts, trying to glean what I could from these songwriters, whose names I didn’t yet know. Sometimes, I learned, you start a major-key piece with a blaringly gloomy minor chord, as in “Stop! In the Name of Love.” Part of love’s allure is its capacity—its threat, its guarantee—to someday let you down. Maybe I picked up more about love than I did about songcraft.

Between 1963 and 1967, almost fifty of H-D-H’s singles topped the pop or R. & B. chart, and occasionally both. In their hits, they found a way to express, through the subtleties of song structure, a strange vision of love. All three of them were church boys, and that vision has a faintly religious cast—a union of two lovers, one praising and pleading with the same fervent breath, the other mysteriously mute. H-D-H always wrote and arranged the music first, and even without lyrics their compositions speak of romance that is wrenching and helpless, though not always sexual. There’s certainly little foreplay to be found: the chorus often leads an H-D-H song, a bit of anti-magic that reveals the big trick at the outset but somehow manages to build on that foundation a structure for suspense. This is another thing I learned: to “show your cards,” in art or in life, isn’t always an act of total honesty.

My parents met in a church choir, and I was always enthralled with the voice. But through these songs I came to see how a good band, artfully choreographed, could surround a singer like a circle of friends, working to assure her success before she ever entered the scene. The arrangements are intricate but restrained—low, husky horns; strict drums; a daydreaming underlay of Hammond organ—leaving a surprising amount of space between instrumental layers. There’s enough for the melody and its accompanying harmony parts, and also for a curious interplay between grandeur (often pushed, chromatically, toward joy by James Jamerson, the bassist for the Funk Brothers, Motown’s legendary backing band) and a sweet sadness, framed cursively by strings or a chorus of flutes.

Then came the words. Eddie Holland used to go around asking women for the secrets of their relationships—inner thoughts, hidden hopes, deepest fears. “I always thought that females were the most interesting subjects,” he once said. This goes some way toward explaining why, although H-D-H wrote for almost every classic male Motown act, their most riveting work came with the Supremes, and through the odd instrument that is Diana Ross’s voice. That voice: it had little range or depth, none of the outright power of Martha Reeves’s or the athletic movement of Marvin Gaye’s, but there was something literary—a quiet clarity and a way of delivering phrases that made them sound half-remembered, as if they’d been plucked right out of a dream. Eddie’s lyrics had the same partly precise, partly mystified quality: “Where did our love go?” he had Diana ask, and the question made you turn your head and join the effort to locate that lost jewel.

The resulting mood—an unlikely alloy of experience and naïveté, innocence and fatigue—is what drew me to Motown. Even today, as I try to fit the parts of my own work together—paragraph after unwilling paragraph; always failing to make of myself a machine—I am in some way striving to describe the kind of love that Holland-Dozier-Holland conveyed, the kind that lavishes its object with overwhelming light, then swings and bops away, impossible to keep for long.

Several of my favorites –

The reverb on this one is set too tight , but…

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2016 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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Jimmy Ruffin

Another Motown great, Jimmy Ruffin – older brother of Temptations great, David Ruffin…

As I recall, Jimmy originally recorded “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” which would be covered by several other Motown groups –

And, my personal favorite by him – “I’ve Passed This Way Before” –

Motown Singer Jimmy Ruffin Dead At Age 78

Jimmy Ruffin, the Motown singer whose hits include “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” and “Hold on to My Love,” died Monday in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 78.

Philicia Ruffin and Jimmy Lee Ruffin Jr., the late singer’s children, confirmed Wednesday that Ruffin had died. There were no details about the cause of death.

Ruffin was the older brother of Temptations lead singer David Ruffin, who died in 1991 at age 50…

Jimmy Lee Ruffin was born on May 7, 1936, in Collinsville, Mississippi. He was signed to Berry Gordy’s Motown Records, and had a string of hits in the 1960s, including “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” which became a Top 10 pop hit.

He had continued success with songs such as “I’ve Passed This Way Before” and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got,” but Ruffin marked a comeback in 1980 with his second Top 10 hit, “Hold on to My Love.” The song was produced by Robin Gibb, the Bee Gees member who died in 2012.

Ruffin worked with his brother David in the 1970s on the album, “I Am My Brother’s Keeper.”…

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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Motown Concert At the White House

Seems to be going around… But inspired by the Motown Concert at the White House tonight, everyone is picking their Top All Time List of Motown Songs.

President Obama to host Motown concert at White House

President Barack Obama is celebrating rhythm and blues with a Motown White House concert Thursday night.

Smokey Robinson is set to headline PBS’ “The Motown Sound: In Performance at the White House,” with guests, including singers Sheryl Crow and John Legend, who will perform Motown hits.

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden will also attend the event.

Other performers for the night include Natasha Bedingfield, Jamie Foxx, Gloriana, Nick Jonas, Ledisi, Amber Riley, Mark Salling, Seal and Jordin Sparks.

Now unfortunately, other than Smokey Robinson, I’m not sure how many actual Motown Stars are going to be there. But without further ado – He’s BTx3’s Top 30 All Time Motown Song List!
  1. My Girl – Temptations
  2. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) – Four Tops
  3. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg – Temptations
  4. The Tracks of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
  5. Where Did Our Love Go? – Supremes
  6. (Love Is Like a) Heat Wave – Martha & The Vandellas
  7. What’s Goin’ On? – Marvin Gaye
  8. Dancing in the Street – Martha & The Vandellas
  9. I Want You Back – Jackson 5
  10. Superstition – Stevie Wonder
  11. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted? – Jimmy Ruffin
  12. Please Mr. Postman – Marvelettes
  13. My Guy – Mary Wells
  14. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) – Temptations
  15. Shotgun – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
  16. Shop Around – Miracles
  17. War – Edwin Starr
  18. You Keep Me Hangin’ On – Supremes
  19. Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone – Temptations
  20. Super Freak Part I – Rick James
  21. Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye
  22. Jimmy Mack – Martha & The Vandellas
  23. Don’t Mess With Bill – Marvelettes
  24. Since I Lost My Baby – Temptations
  25. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston
  26. All Night Long (All Night) – Lionel Richie
  27. Let It Whip – Dazz Band
  28. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love?) – Jr. Walker
  29. Function At The Junction – Shorty Long
  30. Does Your Mama Know About Me? – Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers

Now This is the Lead Vocal Track off of the 4 Tops “Just Ask The Lonely” Song performed by Levi Stubbs. I suspect someone re-created this because the background singers are flat. I would guess when this was originally recorded they still only used 8 tracks, and may not have moved up to 16. In any event it illustrates the shear power and artistry of Levi’s voice, on what I think is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and performed.

Here is the full mix, apparently from an analog source –

 

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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Gladys Horton, Lead Singer, Founder of the Marvelettes

“Deliver the letter…The Sooner the better!”

Another of the 60’s favorites…

Gladys Horton

Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes Dead at 66

Gladys Horton, the powerful soul singer who co-founded the all-female Motown ensemble the Marvelettes, died late Wednesday in a nursing home outside of Los Angeles. The 66-year-old’s cause of death is unknown, though she was recovering from complications due to a stroke she suffered last year, her son told the Associated Press.

Horton was born in 1944 in a suburb of Detroit and raised by foster parents. She joined a glee club in high school and almost immediately recruited four club members, including Georgia Dobbins, to create the modestly named the Casinyets (as in, can’t sing yet).

The group’s big break came in 1961 with an audition for Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson of the then-startup label Motown. They weren’t originally given the opportunity — they had placed fourth in their high school’s talent show, with the top three receiving auditions — but were granted an exception.

The quintet wowed the label with a second audition, performing what would become their first hit single, ‘Please Mr. Postman,’ co-written with Dobbins’ friend and songwriter William Garrett. They settled on a new band name, the Marvelettes, and recorded the song with the infamous Funk Brothers backing them. The song and its eponymous album skyrocketed to the top of the charts.

The fame was short-lived, however. While the group released several records over the next six years, they failed to garner the same success as their debut. During that time one member, Juanita Cowart, had a nervous breakdown and quit. Another, Georgeanna Tillman, was diagnosed with lupus and left. At the same time, Motown began to shift its focus to newer artists better positioned to compete with suddenly popular English rock bands like the Beatles.

Horton left the group in 1967 to get married, and never returned fully to music. She devoted herself to taking care of her handicapped son, and largely stayed out of the public eye, even during the controversy that surfaced when the Marvelettes chose to continue performing with no original members. She performed only occasionally in the ensuing decades with no apparent interest in launching a solo career, billing herself simply as “Gladys Horton from the Marvelettes.”

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2011 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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Motown Great, Teena Marie

Motown Great Tina Marie passed yesterday, at 54 years of age.

Teena Marie was known for a powerful voice and perfect pitch – and produced 18 Albums under the Motown label.

Here’s Teena Marie in 2006, with her R&B Classic – “Deja Vu”

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2010 in Music, From Way Back When to Now

 

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