Tag Archives: Undisputed Truth

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.

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3 Comments

Filed under March 2013, Sounds

The Starr-crossed dig

Our spring record show was Saturday morning. Shortly after they opened the doors at 10 a.m., there were so many people that it was tough to find room to dig. Rather than going where you wanted, you went where you could.

A spot opened up at my friend’s tables, so I started looking through his boxes at the H records, making my way to the end of the alphabet. A through G, though, were occupied and remained occupied.

Truth be told, I was waiting for some room to open up at another table nearby. I finally slid over there just as the dealer was wrapping up a sale. I glanced over at what the guy ahead of me was buying. Edwin Starr’s “25 Miles” LP. Oh, man. That’s one I really would like to have. But he got there first.

After the Edwin Starr near-miss, there was the Ruby Starr near-miss.

You might remember Ruby Starr as a backup singer for Black Oak Arkansas. She recorded a couple of solo albums in the ’70s. She also gigged around Wisconsin with another group. They billed themselves as Ruby Starr and Grey Ghost. I found one of her records, but not the right one.

After those near-misses, you don’t want to get something just for the sake of getting something. It becomes a matter of heeding the words of the grail keeper: “Choose wisely.”

So three hours of crate-digging — always enjoyable — yielded just five LPs, and one of them is for someone else.

This was in one of the last boxes I dug through, at another friend’s tables.

“What It Is?” the Undisputed Truth, from “Face To Face With the Truth,” 1971. It’s out of print.

Finding a record by the Undisputed Truth, Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s experimental soul-funk-psych group of the early ’70s and one of my favorites, always is nice. This is the group’s second LP.

This cut is a scorcher from the get-go. The singers are Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce, all great if underappreciated voices from that time. That’s the still-fabulous Dennis Coffey on lead guitar, complemented by a host of Funk Brothers.

“What It Is?” — one of five cuts co-written by Whitfield and Barrett Strong — was released as a single in 1972. It reached the Top 40 on the R&B charts, but didn’t have much broader appeal.

Enjoy. We’ll get to the more far-out stuff on this record another time.

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Filed under April 2011, Sounds

Dad, Dionne and me

As Dionne Warwick’s show drew near earlier today, I found myself with an extra ticket. I’d hoped to go with the lovely Janet, but she begged off because of too much work.

So I took my dad instead. I figured he’d enjoy it.

This is a man who watched virtually every TV variety show on the air in the ’60s and ’70s, when Dionne Warwick, by then an established pop star, was seen regularly on those shows. I know, because I remember seeing her. I was certain Dad knew who Dionne Warwick was. Apparently not. That, and it took him half the show to get his hearing aid adjusted to get the sound just right. Ah, well, so it goes.

Dionne Warwick is a lovely 67, and still in fine voice. Neither seems to have aged much, if at all. She is one of America’s pop icons, a national treasure, yet seems to be considerably underappreciated. (Even by me. I have exactly two Dionne Warwick tunes in my collection, yet I know a couple dozen.)

In a show that lasted little more than an hour, she sang almost everything you’d hope to hear. She reinterpreted two familiar tunes — “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” — with new, Latin-flavored arrangements and new phrasing. They sounded just fine.

I would have liked to hear “Then Came You,” her 1974 hit with the Spinners. However, she reportedly didn’t care much for the tune when they cut it. As far as I’m concerned, though, everything that followed her second song was gravy. That song?

“Walk On By,” Dionne Warwick, 1964 single. Available on “Walk On By: The Definitive Dionne Warwick Collection,” a two-CD, 40-track import released in 2000.

Why I dig it so much is not so much about Warwick as it is about an album that once belonged to Dad and now belongs to me. As I’ve written before, I played the bejeezus out of the following LP when I was a kid. This instrumental was my introduction to “Walk On By.”

“Walk On By,” the Baja Marimba Band, from “Baja Marimba Band Rides Again,” 1965. Out of print. (Happily, I found another copy of the album last month.)

Here’s another take, one I only recently came across. Burt Bacharach and Hal David interpreted by Motown producer Norman Whitfield.

“Walk On By,” Undisputed Truth, from “Law of the Land,” 1973. Out of print.

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Filed under May 2008, Sounds