Was there ever a record company better at getting mileage out of its songs as Motown?
One artist would cut a song. Then it would be covered by another, and perhaps another, and perhaps still another. The hit version might not necessarily be the first version. That was Motown’s genius.
Hear, then, three examples of familiar Motown songs covered by other Motown artists. All three were written by the great Barrett Strong and the legendary producer Norman Whitfield.
“War,” the Temptations, from “Psychedelic Shack,” 1970. The LP is out of print but apparently being released digitally on March 19.
This is the original version recorded in 1969, but Motown sat on it, preferring to not piss off the Temptations’ fans with such a political song. It was a No. 1 hit for Edwin Starr in 1970.
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” The Undisputed Truth,” from “The Undisputed Truth,” 1971. The LP is out of print. The song is apparently not available digitally. Too bad. This version cooks.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded the original version in 1966, but Motown owner Berry Gordy didn’t like it. It was a No. 2 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1967. Marvin Gaye also recorded it that year, but Motown didn’t release it as a single until 1968, when DJs started playing it off the “In The Groove” LP. It was a No. 1 hit.
One of the first LPs I ever had. Also my introduction to world music. Also for my friend Glick, who has been digging music with me for 40 years.
“Molina,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, from “Pendulum,” 1970.
I once really dug the “Green River” and “Cosmo’s Factory” LPs. “Pendulum” not so much, but this is a good song. I like the sax. Creedence was one of my faves when I was in my teens and 20s, but I’ve found them almost unlistenable since John Fogerty released “Centerfield” in the mid-’80s. I didn’t like that record and it somehow soured me on Creedence.
Not long after starting this blog, I wrote a Complete Idiot’s Guide to the J. Geils Band for the blog that eventually became Popdose. I’m qualified because I have all 14 J. Geils Band LPs. Idiot completist. As I listened to all 14, this struck me as one of their best records. I almost picked “Gettin’ Out,” a keyboard-driven rave-up with a bunch of showy solos, but went instead with this slow groover. It has sort of a Latin beat and features Jay Geils on mandolin and Seth Justman on piano and that slinky organ.
“Theme From ‘Enter The Dragon’,” Dennis Coffey, from “Instant Coffey,” 1974. (The LP out of print but the song is available digitally.)
Detroit guitar legend Dennis Coffey is one of the artists I’ve rediscovered since starting this blog. I have a bunch of his records now.
“The Blacker The Berrie,” the Isley Brothers, from “The Brothers: Isley,” 1969. (The LP is out of print. The song isn’t available digitally that I can find.)
Likewise the Isleys, who I somehow knew almost nothing about before starting AM, Then FM. I have a bunch of their records now, too. This cut also is known as “Black Berries.”
At the other end of the store, they had the Record Store Day releases left over from Black Friday. I found this.
There’s something to get you in the Christmas spirit. I rarely buy 45s, but you gotta love that colored vinyl.
It’s another step in a quest started perhaps 25 years ago. This was one of about a dozen mostly Christmas songs taped off the radio late one night. I’ve been collecting those songs ever since. Here’s that story.
“This Christmas,” Donny Hathaway, Atco 7-inch 532757-7, a limited edition reissued in 2012. The original was released in 1970.
This is the single edit that runs about 3 minutes. I have another version, from the great “Soul Christmas” CD, with an outro that runs about 30 seconds longer. An even longer version, running almost 4 minutes, is available digitally.
This was written by Hathaway and Nadine McKinner. It was recorded at Atlantic Studios in New York in November 1970 and released as Atco single 6799 on Nov. 30, 1970.
All that said, two questions remain. Should I play the flip side? Do I really want to hear Cee Lo Green’s cover?
Your wise counsel (and Christmas music requests) in the comments, please.
If AM, Then FM is known for nothing else, it may be for Christmas music at Christmas time. So it is again this year.
That said, a confession: My passion for Christmas music has waned since the “Three Under The Tree” series debuted five years ago.
There’s just so much Christmas music now. It starts so early, too.
So this year, here, less Christmas is more.
Starting today, you’ll find one Christmas song here every day until Christmas. We’ll take requests, as we always have. Perhaps we can fulfill your Christmas wish for that certain song. That would be nice.
At this time of year in 1970, I was 13 and digging all kinds of sounds on WOKY, the Mighty 92, out of Milwaukee. I eagerly waited for these tunes to pop up roughly once every three hours: the Guess Who’s “Share The Land,” Canned Heat’s “Let’s Work Together,” the Fifth Dimension’s “One Less Bell To Answer,” Sugarloaf’s “Green-Eyed Lady” and 100 Proof (Aged In Soul)’s “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.”
I had no idea there was that kind of Christmas music — pop, rock, R&B and soul versions of Christmas songs, all played only at a certain time of year.
So that’s how we’re playing it this year. Amid the cacaphony of the season, we’re dropping one song here each day. It may not be as electrifying as a young Michael Jackson was in 1970, but we hope you dig it anyway.
The tributes to R.B. Greaves started popping up on Facebook late this afternoon, while I was off the grid. The smooth R&B singer was 68 when he died last week in Los Angeles.
His self-titled LP from 1970, the one with “Take A Letter, Maria” on it, was among the first big bunch of records I bought when I got back into collecting vinyl a few years ago. It was part of a haul of 20 records for $20 from the $1 record boxes in the tent in my friend Jim’s back yard.
I wrote about that record from time to time, and I’m glad I did so while Greaves was still with us.
Twice, it was to share his cover of “Always Something There To Remind Me.” Most recently, it was to celebrate the songs of Hal David, the great lyricist, something I did not do while David was still with us.
The first time, it was after I’d accidentally erased a small audio clip of our son’s voice, recorded before his voice changed. That was four years ago, and somehow, I still remember what that little boy’s voice sounded like. Maybe writing that post about a little bit of innocence lost helped to preserve it in my head.
Once, though, it was a deep cut from that self-titled LP, which despite that familiar hit single summons up a bunch of little mysteries.
I also have R.B. Greaves’ second album, also self-titled, which was released on Bareback Records in 1977. It’s full of pleasant enough but unremarkable mid-’70s pop-R&B. The 1970 LP is the only one you really need to have.
Always delighted to hear from you. Your guide can be reached at jeffash at new dot rr dot com
About the music
These are mp3s from my collection, taken from vinyl whenever possible. Enjoy. They are intended to encourage you to get out to the music stores, real or virtual, or out to support live music.
If you hold the copyright to something posted here, and you don't want it posted, please e-mail me at jeffash at new dot rr dot com and I'll remove it. Then again, who else is exposing your music to a new audience today?
About the words
The text is copyright 2007-2013, Jeff Ash. Text from other sources, when excerpted, is credited.