Tag Archives: Marvin Gaye

National anthem performances, ranked

On this Independence Day, a ranking of the top national anthem performances of all time. This is a highly subjective list. Yours likely will be different. That’s what makes America great.

1. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. The national anthem as searing social commentary. A month later, he talked about it with Dick Cavett.

2. Marvin Gaye at the NBA All-Star Game, 1983. It was “groundbreaking,” Grantland wrote. It became “the players’ anthem,” sung by “the archbishop of swagger,” The Undefeated wrote. “You knew it was history, but it was also ‘hood,” said no less than Julius Erving, the mighty Dr. J himself.

3. Jose Feliciano at the World Series, 1968. Controversial at the time, it paved the way for Hendrix and everyone else who dared do the anthem a different way. Feliciano’s version came “before the nation was ready for it.” NPR wrote. It “infuriated America,” Deadspin wrote. Ever since, it has “given voice to immigrant pride,” Smithsonian magazine wrote.

4. Mo Cheeks helping a 13-year-old girl who forgot the lyrics, 2003. A beautiful moment of empathy and grace. “Treat people the right way. That’s all that is. It’s no secret. It’s no recipe to it,” the modest, humble Cheeks told the Oklahoman in 2009.

5. Whitney Houston at the Super Bowl, 1991. An epic performance at a time when America desperately wanted to wrap itself in the flag, ESPN wrote. Truth be told, this isn’t one of my favorites because it came at this time and in these circumstances, but it belongs in the top five.

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Filed under July 2019, Sounds

And so our story concludes

Does it seem to you that the ‘70s were a more adventurous time than now? Perhaps it’s just that we were younger then.

Bruce Heikkinen was 17 when he started working in radio at the beginning of that decade. Who does that today?

When he was 24, already a seasoned radio pro after jobs at four stations, the artist formerly known as Bruce Charles headed off to college. He went to the University of Wisconsin-Stout, over in the western part of the state, and worked at the campus radio station.

In 1978, a friend asked Bruce, “Hey, do you want to go to Washington with me?”

“I’ve never seen the Capitol,” Bruce said.

“No,” his friend said. “I’m going to the state of Washington.”

So off they went, leaving college in search of adventure. Bruce had $100 in his pocket. They drove west, found a lady who rented them a place, found jobs and forged new lives.

Having learned that “talking and entertaining people wasn’t work,” Bruce found a new gig that wasn’t work, either. He spent 25 years selling advertising for AT&T and US West. Based in the Seattle area, he “traveled all over the West on a good expense account,” enjoying its benefits at a time when business was booming.

“Have you seen ‘Mad Men’ on AMC? That was us.”

These days, Bruce Heikkinen has moved on to his third career. He runs a small advertising agency in the Seattle area. He still does some voice work. He lives on 20 acres about 25 miles south of Seattle. This is the view from his deck.

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These days, Bruce has a side gig that takes him beyond Mount Rainier, to taverns, saloons and roadhouses all over western Washington.

“About 15 years back, an old wino died at the pub I went to. We had a memorial and I did the eulogy for him, saying some kind words and some thoughts about life and afterlife. It turned out he was a very interesting man, a Navy diver who tried out for the Olympic swim team, had a Purple Heart from World War II and more, a lot of things no one knew or he ever shared with others.

“After that, on occasion, I’m asked to be the MC/Tavern Preacher for wakes in some of the ‘finer establishments’ for the dearly beloved. I’ve found out there’s something interesting about everyone! I try to make that individual look like a saint even though that might not be the case.”

Lest you think our man is getting too pious, remember that he’s from Wisconsin.

“Plus I get free beer!”

Ah, yes, that rock ‘n’ roll spirit is alive and well.

Bruce, would you like to cue up some of your favorite tunes for us?

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“I Got A Line On You,” Spirit, from “The Family That Plays Together,” 1968.

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“What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye, from “What’s Going On,” 1971.

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“I’ll Be Around,” the Spinners, from “The Spinners,” 1972.

Thanks, man, then and now.

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Filed under February 2009, Sounds

Motown by Motown

Today is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the legendary Motown Records in Detroit.

Today we have the early Motown story, told by those who lived it.

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“The Motown Story” came into the house when Janet and I merged our record collections. She bought it in the early ’80s, when the soundtrack to “The Big Chill” revived interest in classic Motown tunes.

What Janet bought so long ago is a five-LP box set that was released in 1970. It’s hanging on for dear life, having survived a memorable party in the early ’80s. The box is battered. The booklet that came with it is long gone. When I opened it last week, three of the LPs had one kind of sleeve, one had another kind of sleeve and one had no sleeve.

“The Motown Story” is essentially an audio documentary, complete with a narrator, sound bites from the performers and near-complete versions of 58 of Motown’s biggest hits from its first decade.

What makes this set so special almost 40 years on is that we get to hear Motown performers tell their stories in their own words. The cuts that follow have spoken intros or outros and, at times, end a little abruptly.

“Detroit, Michigan!
“Motor Town! Motown!
“This is the Motown sound!”

— Charlie Van Dyke, the narrator

“We, uh, really dug the type of things that reflected, uh, the society.”

— Motown Record Corp. founder Berry Gordy, 1970.

“We were just kind of a, like a small company then, you know, most of the employees were musically inclined.”

— “Money,” Barrett Strong, 1960.

“I was trying to find myself and I didn’t quite know where, where I was, or where I wanted to go, and, uh, Smokey Robinson, who is probably, uh, the greatest living poet, kind of pulled me up out of, uh, out of my depression at that time.”

— “I’ll Be Doggone,” Marvin Gaye, 1965.

“The ideas come from experience, so maybe my surrounding has a lot to do with the, the way I would write a song.”

— “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” Stevie Wonder, 1965.

“I don’t, I don’t consider myself as being a heck of a singer, man. I’m more of a stylist, if you will. … I like to live what I, what I do, and, you know, with the performances, you know, I like to live ’em.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” the Four Tops, 1966.

“‘Standing In the Shadows Of Love,’ is, uh, it’s hard for me to describe that tune. At first I couldn’t, I couldn’t get a, get a feeling for it.” (Levi Stubbs)

“‘Bernadette’ is a tune that I didn’t think I could do at all. You know, it really didn’t have a message for me until there was, there was an Italian fella came over, to teach us some Italian lyrics to this particular tune. And through his explaining, uh, you know, about what some of the various words meant, you know, and the significance of them in Italian, it gave me a better outlook on, on the thing. And, uh, through that, I was able to get a little message across.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Standing In the Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” the Four Tops, 1966 and 1967.

“That, um, that was a good beginning because I had no idea that, uh, Tammi was as good a singer, as, uh, she of course turned out to be.”

— “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967.

“This is when Holland-Dozier-Holland decided to go more mechanical and do weird sounds and things like that, and I believe it came about because of, uh, the Beatles era, which, um, everyone — writers, producers, singers — were influenced by the Beatles, quite a bit, I must say. … ‘Reflections’ is a very weird, weird song.” (Mary Wilson)

— “Reflections,” Diana Ross and the Supremes, 1967.

“The first date we sang, uh, professionally, uh, was at the Y, the YWCA, for a tea. And it, um, came off all right. And from there it seemed like things, we just got, um, um, nice breaks and so forth. And, uh, we didn’t have a name at the time. Everybody’s assignment was to go home and try to come up with a name that would kind of suit the group.” (A delightfully bubbly Gladys Knight)

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, 1967.

“A lot of people thought we were talking about getting high, which we weren’t. We were talking about just a state of being.” (Otis Williams)

— “Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1968.

“It’s so much fun working with, uhhh, the boy groups. Because, um, you kind of put them uptight and they put you uptight. In other words, it was like a challenge and everybody was trying to outdo everybody, so you came up with some great material. Especially like on ad libs and endings and stuff like that.” (Diana Ross)

— “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, 1968.

“I never thought a great deal about ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ uh, after recording it. I had, I had no idea that it was going to sell as many records as it did. In fact, I wasn’t too optimistic about it.”

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968.

“We started to recording, and I told him, I said, ‘Man, this ain’t my bag, man,’ … He said, ‘Will you just record the record, Junior?’ and I said, ‘All right, man.'” (Jr. Walker, on a persistent songwriter, likely Johnny Bristol or Harvey Fuqua)

— “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, 1969.

“I don’t know what that is on the beginning of, uh, ‘Psychedelic Shack’ because it has that funny yow sound and then it goes into the beat, you know, but, uh, I’ve learned by being in the business and being around that, that, uh, record-buying people, they like things that’s, uh, different and sounds unusual.” (Otis Williams)

— “Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations, 1970.

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All from “The Motown Story,” 1970.

It’s out of print, but is available in somewhat different form as “The Motown Story, Volume 1: The 1960s.” This 2003 CD release has only 42 cuts, not 58, and doesn’t include the Berry Gordy sound bite, “I’ll Be Doggone,” “Standing In the Shadows Of Love,” “Bernadette” or “Psychedelic Shack.” It also has some cuts not on the 1970 set.

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds

Look what was under our cap

Last month, when I went through the microfilm to research the local coverage of Elvis Presley’s death, I also came across this.

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From late August 1977, it’s a newspaper ad for Prange Way, one of a small chain of discount stores in Green Bay and elsewhere in Wisconsin. It was the budget outlet for Prange’s, which until the early ’90s was one of the big, old-style department stores in Wisconsin.

I bought quite a few albums at Prange’s in the early ’70s. I never bought any at Prange Way. It just wasn’t a cool place to shop. Think K mart.

Here are the eight “popular albums and tapes” in that ad from 30 years ago, selling for $4.99 on vinyl and $5.99 on tape. (That’s $17.15 for vinyl and $20.59 for tape, in today’s dollars. See? We were getting hosed by the record companies back then, too.)

— On Columbia: “Little Queen,” Heart.

— On Reprise: “American Stars ‘n Bars,” Neil Young.

— On 20th Century: “Peter McCann,” Peter McCann.

— On A&M: “Izitso,” Cat Stevens, and “I’m In You,” Peter Frampton.

— On Arista: “I Robot,” The Alan Parsons Project.

— On Casablanca: “Love Gun,” Kiss.

— On Atlantic: “CSN,” Crosby, Stills & Nash.

No disrespect intended, but I didn’t remember Peter McCann until I googled him. He was the guy who did “Do You Wanna Make Love?” that summer, his only hit. (Great second line: “Or do you just want to fool around?”) He also was the guy who wrote “Right Time of the Night” for Jennifer Warnes, a hit earlier that year.

Here are the five “album and tape favorites” selling for $3.99 on vinyl and $5.99 on tape. (That’s $13.71 for vinyl and $20.59 for tape, in today’s dollars.)

— On Elektra: “Judith,” Judy Collins, and “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” by Andrew Gold.

— On MCA: “One of the Boys,” Roger Daltrey.

— On Capitol: “Diamantina Cocktail,” Little River Boys.

— On RCA: “Ol’ Waylon,” Waylon Jennings.

One album was selling for $8.99 on vinyl and $9.99 on tape (a staggering $30.90 for vinyl and $34.34 for tape in today’s dollars) — “New York, New York,” which is described in the ad as “Liza Minnelli’s newest hit album from the motion picture of the same name, ‘New York, New York.'” That’s some clever ad copy, eh?

Of the 14 “popular albums and tapes” and “album and tape favorites” shown in this ad, I had none then and have none now. Make of that what you will.

At the end of the summer of 1977, I was 20. I was headed off to finish college, leaving home for good. I’d already moved past Kiss, hadn’t yet gotten into Neil Young and was too weary of having heard “Luckenbach, Texas” all summer — and just too damn dumb — to figure out there was more to Waylon Jennings.

There was some good music being made in the summer of 1977. It just didn’t get into Prange Way’s ad. I doubt it’s a coincidence that neither the Sex Pistols nor any black artists are advertised. That just didn’t sell to the masses in small-town Wisconsin in the late ’70s.

No, I don’t think the folks were quite ready for Marvin Gaye getting his groove on, nor for any album cover from Charlie. So, enjoy.

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“Got to Give It Up,” Marvin Gaye, from “Live at the London Palladium,” 1977. This is the single version. It runs almost 12 minutes on the album.

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“Johnny Hold Back,” Charlie, from “No Second Chance,” 1977.

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Filed under September 2007, Sounds