Tag Archives: Temptations

Doin’ fine on Cloud Nine

We interrupt our appreciation of music legends still with us for an appreciation of something else still with us.

AM, Then FM is quietly celebrating its ninth anniversary in the blogosphere.

It arrived on the scene during the last week of February 2007.

It gradually gained a modest group of regular visitors, thanks to gracious and kind support from fellow bloggers who remain friends to this day. Back then, there were many blogs, many readers. Times change.

When AM, Then FM debuted …

— Our son had just turned 12 and was in sixth grade. He’s now 21, a college junior, performing in still another play this week and heading to New York on a spring break theatre tour in a couple of weeks.

— I’d just marked 29 years in the news business. I’m no longer in the news business.

Yep, times change.

But I’ll continue to buy records and talk about them here as if we were in the same room, listening to them and sharing our takes on them.

Your continued loitering is much appreciated. We’ll keep on keepin’ on.

I wanna say I love the life I live.
And I’m gonna live the life I love.
Up here on Cloud 9.

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“Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1969, from “The Motown Story” box set, 1970. It’s out of print. This cut features a minute-long intro with Otis Edwards discussing how they came to record the song during the fall of 1968. He insists it’s about the state of black life at the time, and not about drugs, as widely believed at the time.

Also featuring Dennis Coffey on lead guitar and Mongo Santamaria on conga drums. Santamaria covered it later that year on his “Stone Soul” LP.

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“Cloud Nine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, from “Nitty Gritty,” 1969. A cool cover on which the Pips get gritty, too.

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Filed under February 2016, Sounds

Under the Motown covers

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.

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“War,” the Temptations, from “Psychedelic Shack,” 1970. The LP is out of print but is available digitally.

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.

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“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.

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“Smiling Faces Sometimes,” Rare Earth, from “Ma,” 1973.

The Temptations did the original version in 1971. The Undisputed Truth had a No. 3 hit with it later that year.

Rare Earth’s “Ma” also is featured over on our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, which delivers vintage vinyl one side at a time. Check it out.

3 Comments

Filed under March 2013, Sounds

Witness to history

History is being made in Wisconsin this week.

No matter where you are, you’ve likely seen it on the news. Tens of thousands of protesters — public employees, teachers and union workers — have been filling the state Capitol in Madison and its grounds as they fight the Republican governor’s proposal to strip them of collective bargaining rights.

The story has taken one astonishing turn after another.

On Tuesday, it was simply that 13,000 people showed up to protest on a weekday. On Wednesday, the legislative hearing on the bill went until 3 in the morning. And the protesters kept coming. On Thursday, 14 Democratic senators fled the state to block a vote on the bill. On Friday, so many teachers were protesting that some districts canceled classes.

On Saturday, 60,000 people came to the Capitol Square, representing both sides of the debate. An estimated 500 police officers were on hand. Welcome to Madison. The protests were spirited and loud but peaceful all week, with only a handful of arrests for disorderly conduct. It stayed that way Saturday, when the governor’s opponents still far outnumbered the governor’s supporters.

We’ve not seen anything like this in Wisconsin since the Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It’s a story of such magnitude that the Green Bay Packers’ victory in Super Bowl XLV just two weeks ago — also a big story in Wisconsin — has been shoved far into the background, rendered almost an afterthought.

Here’s a look at the protests, set to the music of “14 Senators,” a song written Friday morning by Madison folk singer Ken Lonnquist and performed live on the radio less than an hour later.

And some timeless music perhaps appropriate for the moment.

“We The People,” Allen Toussaint, from Bell single 782, 1969. Available on “What Is Success: The Scepter and Bell Recordings,” a 2007 import CD.

“Eyes On The Prize,” Mavis Staples, from “We’ll Never Turn Back,” 2007.

“World In Motion,” Pops Staples with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, from “Peace to the Neigbhorhood,” 1992. It’s out of print but is available digitally.

“(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” the Chi-Lites, from “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power to the People,” 1971. The LP is out of print but the song is available digitally.

“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” the Temptations, from “Greatest Hits II,” 1970. The LP is out of print, but the song is available digitally.

“Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2),” the Isley Brothers, from “The Heat Is On,” 1975. The LP is out of print but the song is available digitally.

8 Comments

Filed under February 2011, 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. 29

As July turned to August in the summer of 1970, a 13-year-old kid who lived a few blocks from Lake Michigan was starting to figure out that although there were many wonderful songs pouring out of his Panasonic AM-FM radio, not all of them were wonderful.

It was a time when that 13-year-old kid listened and, roughly every three hours, thought:

“Hmmm. The Carpenters. Bread. Do not want.”

Not when the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” is blowing your mind.

When producer Norman Whitfield died two years ago, I thought back to that 13-year-old and what ran through his head when he heard that scorching protest number:

“What should I think about everything referenced in that song?”

“Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration, aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation” … and that’s just the flash point.

“Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today,)” the Temptations, from “Greatest Hits II,” 1970. The LP is out of print but the song is available on “Psychedelic Soul,” a 2003 compilation of the Tempts’ heavier, more funked-up tunes.

“Ball of Confusion” was released as a single, and then on the “Greatest Hits II” compilation instead of a conventional studio LP.

The Wisconsin kid’s mind-blowing summer will continue another day …

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Filed under July 2010, Sounds

That ’70s song, Vols. 5 and 6

Even if you were around in February 1970 and listening to the Top 40 radio of the day, your take on it may be different than mine.

If you lived in Chicago, your Top 40 was more diverse than the Top 40 heard in Stevens Point, a small college town in central Wisconsin.

Of the 40 songs on the WSPT chart in the first week of February 1970, six were by black artists or groups. As you’d expect, Chicago’s WLS had more than twice as many — including five in the Top 10 alone.

WLS was so influential in the Midwest that it was like dropping a stone into a pond. The songs charted first in Chicago, then rippled through to smaller markets.

Which explains, for example, why the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” was in the first week of February 1970 just breaking into the Top 10 in central Wisconsin and on its last week in the Top 40 in Chicago.

Also among the black artists in the WSPT Top 40 that week: Sly and the Family Stone, Jimmy Cliff, Dionne Warwick and …

“Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations, from “Psychedelic Shack,” 1970. (The LP is out of print, but the tune is available digitally.)

It had just debuted at No. 38 on WSPT. It was No. 5 in Chicago at the same time. Perhaps this early taste of producer Norman Whitfield’s reinvention of the Tempts’ sound was too freaky for central Wisconsin.

“Blowing Away,” the 5th Dimension, from “The Age of Aquarius,” 1969. (The LP is out of print, but the tune is available on “Ultimate 5th Dimension,” a 2004 greatest-hits compilation.)

This peppy, swinging cover of a Laura Nyro tune was moving up both charts, but was further along in Chicago (No. 9, up from No. 15) than in central Wisconsin (No. 13, up from No. 22).

Charting that week in Chicago but not in central Wisconsin: Eddie Holman, Thelma Houston, R.B. Greaves, Brook Benton, Chairmen of the Board, Delfonics, Luther Ingram, Diana Ross and the Supremes, B.B. King and Stevie Wonder.

I’ll leave it to you to draw any further conclusions from this evidence.

1 Comment

Filed under February 2010, 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.

4 Comments

Filed under January 2009, Sounds