Tag Archives: Stevie Wonder

A smaller Christmas, Day 25

“Someday at Christmas, there’ll be no war.”

Someday.

motownxmaslp

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder, 1967, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. That tremendous compilation, one of the first Christmas records we bought back in the late ’70s, is out of print but is available digitally.

This is the title track from Wonder’s 1967 Christmas record. A Motown original written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells, it addresses the social concerns of that time — and of our time — war, poverty, hunger, civil rights, injustice.

“Someday at Christmas, man will not fail
Hate will be gone and love will prevail”

Someday.

Enjoy your holidays, everyone.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2012, Sounds

12 days of Christmas, Day 1

This year, a little something different for Christmas.

Because, somehow, it feels like a different kind of Christmas this year.

I stopped at the record store the other day and went through the Christmas CDs. Didn’t find anything. The new ones by Annie Lennox and Shelby Lynne looked interesting enough, but in the end, no.

In writing the Three Under the Tree series for the last three years, I picked up a bunch of old Christmas vinyl and CDs. To be honest, more for you than for me. They’re really more than anyone should have.

So this time around, on these 12 Days of Christmas, please enjoy some of the tunes that have become our holiday favorites. Then seek out the records and make them yours.

“A Motown Christmas,” various artists, 1973.

This record has been part of Christmas at my house since the late ’70s.

The first cut on the first side is the song that blew my 13-year-old mind in 1970 — “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town” by the Jackson 5.

That there was Christmas music like this, and that they played it on the radio every December, well, that made the season all the more special.

If I could have only one Christmas record, this would be it.

The songs are mined from the Motown archives, all from a time when the label was at its peak. Most of them appeared on the five artists’ own Christmas records, then were repackaged here.

“My Favorite Things,” the Supremes, originally from “Merry Christmas,” 1965.

This isn’t necessarily a Christmas song, and I’m not necessarily a big Supremes fan, but this is a nice holiday cut. It’s a Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from “The Sound of Music.” The lineup for this was Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard with the Andantes on backing vocals. Harvey Fuqua produced.

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder, originally from “Someday at Christmas,” 1967.

“Someday at Christmas, there’ll be no war.” We’re still hoping.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, originally from “The Season For Miracles,” 1970.

A little jazz styling, anyone?

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the Temptations, originally from “The Temptations’ Christmas Card,” 1970.

A song that really showcases each of the Tempts’ talents. This was the lineup with Eddie Kendricks hitting the high notes, Melvin Franklin the low notes and Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams and Otis Williams everything else. Barrett Strong co-produced.

“Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the Jackson 5, originally from “The Jackson 5 Christmas Album,” 1970.

Mind-blowing every time. It still summons the feeling of being 13 and hearing it for the first time.

All from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

One more thing: Yes, we’ll have 12 days of Christmas here this year. No, they won’t be 12 consecutive days, though.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2010

That ’70s song, Vol. 10

Joe Tait was on the radio the other night, calling a Cleveland Cavaliers game. Just as he was back in the ’70s.

Which might explain why I look at the charts from this week in March 1970 and draw a bit of a blank. Sure, there are plenty of songs I know. But others, not so much.

That’s because the Panasonic AM-FM radio that sat on top of the filing cabinet in my bedroom did double duty.

On nights when I wasn’t listening to WOKY, the Top 40 station out of Milwaukee, I was noodling around on the dial, seeking basketball games from across the nation on whatever clear-channel AM station that night’s atmospheric conditions allowed.

The other night, ESPN radio played a sound bite of Joe Tait calling a key play in a Cavs game, and I thought, “Hey, I’ve heard this guy.” He’s called their games since 1970. I listened to him way back when.

So why is it that I recognize Joe Tait after almost 40 years and I don’t recognize the Stevie Wonder single sitting at No. 23 on the WLS Hit Parade from Chicago?

Then I give it a listen. Oh, sure, I’ve heard that. But not often.

“Never Had A Dream Come True,” Stevie Wonder, from “Signed, Sealed & Delivered,” 1970.

Here’s another reason that I didn’t immediately recognize this tune. The first of three Stevie Wonder singles released in 1970, it was only moderately successful. Sitting at No. 23 was about as good as it got. You may have heard the singles that followed: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “Heaven Help Us All.”

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Filed under March 2010, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 36

Picking the ’70s Christmas record that’s most enjoyable cut after cut, start to finish, is more about the memories associated with it and less about the quality of the tunes.

Truth be told, that’s probably the case with our favorite ’80s record, sampled in Vol. 35. Listening to Alexander O’Neal’s “My Gift To You” brings back good memories of Christmases in the first house we owned, a rambling 1920s-era two-story on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin.

It was the late ’80s. The lovely Janet and I were just married. It was a time when we started to forge traditions that were ours, distinct from those of our families.

That’s why picking that most enjoyable ’70s Christmas record was easy. We listened to it then, too.

“A Motown Christmas” was one of the first Christmas records I ever bought. I picked it up about 30 years ago at Prange’s, a big regional department store, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I was going to college. We’d always had Christmas records at home, and I figured it was time to have my own.

There’s something for everyone on “A Motown Christmas.” I like some songs. Janet likes others. It has sophisticated songs. It has kids’ songs.

But as I sat down and surfed through the iTunes, I realized I most enjoy “A Motown Christmas” as presented on the record, in that particular order, rather than as individual, random cuts. Out of order, it somehow doesn’t hold up as well. It isn’t the soundtrack to my memories.

So here, in a most particular order, are three from under our tree.

“Someday at Christmas,” Stevie Wonder. It’s the title track from Wonder’s 1967 Christmas record. It’s a Motown original, written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells. “Someday at Christmas/there’ll be no wars.” Sadly, that message hasn’t aged a day.

“Frosty the Snowman,” the Jackson 5. On which the other Jacksons take a few well-deserved turns with the lead vocals before Michael steals the show in the final minute. It’s from “The Jackson 5 Christmas Album” from 1970.

“Jingle Bells,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Cool, laid-back vocals backed by the Funk Brothers’ guitars and drums. It’s from “The Season for Miracles,” their 1970 Christmas record.

They are the third, fourth and fifth cuts from Side 3 of “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. This two-record set is out of print but is available digitally.

Another good long-player from the ’70s (and another guilty pleasure) is “Christmas Jollies” by the Salsoul Orchestra, from 1976. It’s chock full of tunes done in the style of the day. I’ve had “Peace Is ‘Blowin’ in the Wind'” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers for only a couple of weeks, but that 1972 record measures up as well. We sampled it in Vol. 32.

Next up, a good one from the ’60s.

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Filed under December 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.

motownstory5lpset2

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

Three under the tree, Day 22

williexmastape

Willie’s Hot Christmas continues.

In this little series within a series, we’re recreating a radio show I taped off the air while living in Madison, Wisconsin, in the late ’80s. For the back story, check out the Day 20 post.

The first part consisted of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by Jimmy Smith, an unknown jazz sax instrumental version of “The Christmas Song” and “Merry Christmas” by Lightnin’ Hopkins.

The second part had “Christmas Blues” by the Ramsey Lewis Trio, “Christmas In The City Of The Angels” by Johnny Mathis and “You’re All I Want For Christmas” by the Salsoul Orchestra with Jocelyn Brown.

We return to the old WORT-FM show, where Willie Wonder has cued up …

motownxmaslp

“What Christmas Means to Me,” Stevie Wonder, 1967, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. Originally released on Wonder’s 1967 Christmas album “Someday at Christmas.” Both out of print, but this tune is available on “The Best of Stevie Wonder: The Christmas Collection,” 2004.

A wonderfully upbeat original from one of our favorite Christmas albums, complete with a classic bit of Wonder on the harmonica as it winds to a close. It’s another Motown original, written by George Gordy, Anna Gordy Gaye and Allen Story.

whispershappyholidayslpjpg

“Funky Christmas,” the Whispers, 1979, from “Happy Holidays To You,” 1985. Out of print, but available digitally.

This fast-paced dance tune has a funky bass line and a big horn chart, but the best thing about it are the smooth vocals from this veteran Los Angeles R&B group. It’s an original written by Nicholas Caldwell and Willie Marshall. I finally found this record on a trip to Madison earlier this month. I was looking for something else at the time, but no complaints.

bbkingxmascelebrationcd

“Christmas Celebration,” B.B. King, 1960, available on “The Best of B.B. King: The Christmas Collection,” 2003. This CD is a reissue of “A Christmas Celebration of Hope,” which came out in 2001.

This is another good one. It’s a rollicking, upbeat swing blues number stuffed full of delightful guitar, piano and horns. King’s voice is in fine form, too. Whether this is the version originally released in 1960, I can’t say.

(This last cut has gone from radio to tape to CD, and then ripped, so that may explain the sound quality if you find it lacking.)

Willie’s Hot Christmas concludes tomorrow.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Vol. 11

Over at JasonHare.com, my fellow bloggers Jason and Jefito have begun another season of Mellowmas. The weather outside is frightful, and so is their choice of music. The lads lovingly select Christmas tunes, post them and then gleefully rip them to shreds.

On Sunday, they posted Jim Nabors’ version of “O, Holy Night.”

Rob saw that and left this comment:

“For a GREAT take on this song, check out Irma Thomas’ version on a compilation called ‘A Creole Christmas.’ Goosebump-inducing stuff.”

Rob is correct.

As a reward for his insight, I promised Rob I would try to counteract the effects of Camp Mellowmas — or is that Mellowmas camp? — by offering that terrific song here tonight.

It’s one of three tunes that are reverent but thrilling.

“O Holy Night,” Irma Thomas, from “A Creole Christmas,” 1990. Out of print.

Done as a New Orleans dirge with some terrific Hammond organ.

“Ave Maria,” Stevie Wonder, from “A Motown Christmas,” 1973. Also out of print.

A simple piano line and Stevie’s vocal — then listen for a 45-second harmonica solo about 2 minutes in — backed by a welling, soaring choir.

“Silent Night,” the Staple Singers, from “The 25th Day of December,” 1962, re-released on CD, 2007.

Listen for the reverb from Pops Staples’ guitar and some more sweet Hammond organ. (Circle back to Vol. 8 for more from this fine album.)

Enjoy. More to come.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2007, Sounds