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Category Archives: motown

Another King is Dead…

The King of Pop, 1958 - 2009

The King of Pop, 1958 - 2009

They shared more than a close connection to Lisa Marie.    Parallels in life and death abound between Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.  One was the King of Rock, the other the King of Pop.  Both had a profound, deep and lasting affect on the music scene.  Both struggled with self image, relationships and health.  Both were talented on a level that few can comprehend, yet hid a flipside of “mad” genius.  Both died tragically young.

Just as Elvis stormed the music scene in the ’50s, Michael ruled the ’80s.  Elvis shocked with the “hip thrust”, Michael wowed with the Moonwalk.  When Elvis died tragically in 1977, Michael Jackson began his ascent.  He used MTV, revoluntionary dance videos and ground-breaking R&B that changed the genre forever.

I was 13 when Elvis died.  It was shocking and profoundly sad.  Such a waste of a talent whose star was quenched much too soon.  I was aptly affected.  While I loved Elvis in the movies and all of his old music, I was also deeply entrenched in The Jackson 5 and knew every word to Rockin’ Robin, I’ll Be There, One Bad Apple, Easy as ABC, Ben and countless others. 

  I Want You Back

When he went solo in ’79, I wore out Off the Wall

  Workin’ Day & Night

Then came the pivotal Thriller, that catapulted Michael to unfathomable fame…

  Billie Jean

  Beat It

Then, things started to get really weird.  Dozens of plastic surgeries, skin lightening, dalliances with young boys, a sham marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, Neverland Ranch, children with another sham wife, veils and balcony dangling…it never seemed to end.

After losing everything and a brief exile to Bahrain, Michael was reportedly rehearsing heavily for his greatest comeback tour in Europe.  While many will refuse to recognize his genius because of his controversial private life — and maybe justifiably — his musical imprint is wide and long.  There is no denying that.

At 44, the familar feeling of loss of such a large cultural figure that was so integral to my generation is painfully reminiscient of that awful summer 32 years ago when another king departed much too soon.

Perhaps Michael will finally accept The Man in the Mirror. 

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2009 in Elvis, memorials, motown, music legends, the king

 

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I’m Your Puppet…

 

For two solid days, four plane rides, 13 hours in airports, through three client meetings, in my dreams at night and of course, while driving…I have had this tune incessantly playing in my head.

Yesterday, on the way to the airport, I was singing it out loud under my breath.  After we returned the rental car and were walking to the terminal, my boss began to sing it.  I think he now has the “Puppet Blues”, as well.  Somewhere in Omaha, a guy is walking down the street humming this…

  James & Bobby Purify

Originally released in 1966 by James & Bobby Purify, I’m Your Puppet was written by FAME studios legend, Spooner Oldham (with Dan Penn).  If Spooner’s name isn’t familiar to you, other songs that he has written will be….When A Man Loves a Woman, Mustang Sally, I Never Loved a Man….you get the picture.

I’m Your Puppet stayed on the charts for 14 weeks in 1966 and sold over a million records, getting as high as #6 on the Billboard charts.  Mr. D was a senior in high school and the song takes him right back to Prom.

Evidently, my subconcious is talking to me for some reason.  Cosmically, who knows?  All I know is that it goes on an on…

Pull the string and I’ll wink at you, I’m your puppet
I’ll do funny things if you want me to, I’m your puppet

I’ll be yours to have and to hold
Darling you’ve got full control of your puppet

Pull another string and I’ll kiss your lips, I’m your puppet
Snap your finger and I’ll turn you some flips, I’m your puppet

Your every wish is my command
All you gotta do is wiggle your little hand
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet

I’m just a toy, just a funny boy
That makes you laugh when you’re blue
I’ll be wonderful, do just what I’m told
I’ll do anything for you
I’m your puppet, I’m your puppet

Pull them little strings and I’ll sing you a song, I’m your puppet
Make me do right or make me do wrong, I’m your puppet

Treat me good and I’ll do anything
I’m just a puppet an you hold my string, I’m your puppet
Yeah, I’m your puppet

Walking, talking, living, loving puppet
I’m hanging on a string girl, I’ll do anything now

I’m a walking, talking, living, loving puppet, and I love you

I’m a smiling happy face when you want me to
Even make you happy when you’re feeling blue

I had no idea about the eclectic group that have covered I’m Your Puppet.  Most recently, the song was featured on Bernie Mac’s last movie, Soul Men.  The background singers are a little rough, but John Legend saves it.

  Bernie Mac, Samuel L. Jackson, John Legend

A lovely rendition by Motown royalty:

  Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell

Now, this brings me back….1971.  Posters on the wall.  Heavy sighing.   Dear Donny….

  Donny Osmond

Sir Elton?  Who knew?

  Elton John & Paul Young

And a nice touch by the Drive-By Truckers with Kelly Morris….

  Drive-By Truckers

I guess there’s worse songs to have philandering around in your head than I’m Your Puppet.  It could be Soft Cell’s Tainted Love.

Have a great day.  :)

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2009 in cover songs, motown, Music History, oldies

 

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A WONDERful Christmas Time…

stevie20wonder2013

Sorry for being so absent lately.  Not that there’s not alot of music thoughts going through my head, it’s just that something has to give, sometime.  With work, hauling down the decorations, decorating, gift searching, gift buying, gift wrapping, cleaning, cooking, college searching, and the various asundry tasks on my To Do list, that there is no “free time” to write the type of meaningful posts that I like to do.  And, after all, I can’t give up “The Midgets” on Monday night or Biggest Loser on Tuesday or the host of mindless crap (a quote from my husband) that I consider valued entertainment after 5 p.m.  Truth is, after a long day, all I want is mindless crap, but that’s another topic for another day.

While I’ve been busy, I haven’t been void of music and of course my FAVORITE genre of Christmas music.  We officially kicked off the Holiday season with some festive tunes on our drive back to Alabama from Louisiana after Thanksgiving and each day, I’ve been sampling my vast Christmas collection and compiling my list for the 2nd Annual Music Maven Christmas Playlist.  Be on the lookout over the next week or so for that compilation of Christmas goodness.

I’ve always LOVED Stevie Wonder’s Christmas music, particularly What Christmas Means to Me.  It just gets me in the right Christmas spirit and is such a happy song.  And, the other night, I was watching the movie This Christmas and heard an old familiar Wonder song that I hadn’t thought of in a long, long time.

The WONDERfulness of Twinkle, Twinkle is the fact that just like the Christmas season it’s joyful, melancoly, introspective and warm….just one of the great tunes of Stevie’s enduring Christmas repetoire.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Me is one of those soulful songs of the period when a plethora of non-traditional Christmas music was introduced, capturing the spirit of Christmas in new ways.  In 1967, Little Stevie Wonder having just dropped the “Little” and fresh off of hits like FingerTips, Uptight (It’s Alright), A Place in the Sun  and For Once in My Life, Wonder released an epic Christmas compilation, Someday at Christmas and Twinkle, Twinkle was one of the hidden gems on this wonderful collection of the man entering his heyday. 

Someday at Christmas is a mix of traditional and non-traditional Christmas songs and was released right after Thanksgiving in ’67 and was, no doubt, well-received.  However, I don’t recall hearing much of Stevie’s Christmas music until I was an adult and largely through movie soundtracks.  That’s how I got turned on to What Christmas Means to Me, the anchor song on Someday at Christmas.

This song always puts me in such a festive mood.  The kind of Risky Business, Tom Cruise in tighty whities, sock sliding across the floor in sunglasses, strummin’ air guitar kind of mood.  It is one of my absolute favorite Christmas PARTY songs.

But, Someday at Christmas has a little something for everyone and is a superbly well-rounded record, particularly for a specialty CD.  But then, it IS Stevie Wonder, after all.  A Warm Little Home on the Hill and Bedtime for Toys bring a sweetness and longing for family, home and hearth.  A new find that I am particularly enjoying this year is The Day That Love Began, which is a combination of doo-wop, Motown, and classic Wonder:

I like that one almost as much as the inspiring, soulful One Little Christmas Tree.  (NOTE:  The video for One Little Christmas Tree was pulled off of YouTube, so the others may vanish, as well…another subject for another post.)

Of course, Stevie doesn’t stray too far away from the standards with traditional takes on The Christmas Song, Silver Bells, Ave Maria, and The Little Drummer Boy…all of which are superbly sublime.

If you’re looking to expand your Christmas collection, Stevie Wonder’s Someday at Christmas CD is a “must have”.  Unfortunately, the original album/compilation is no longer available, but fear not…all songs from this CD, plus a couple more are available on iTunes and Amazon via 20th Century Masters under The Christmas Collection: Stevie Wonder.

stevie-wonder-xmas1

Click here to order from iTunes.

Many times, when I’m doing research for these posts, I find unanticipated nuggets.  This time, I found a wonderful cover of Someday at Christmas, by a very talented young man named Justin Bieber:

Just goes to show that good music endures.  BTW, Stevie Wonder re-released For Once in My Life as a single this past Monday…40 years after original release. 

Everything old is new again. 

 

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Colette’s Corner: More Smoke

Part II in Colette’s homage to Smokey Robinson….

SMOKEY SINGS AND SIZZLES
 
In Part 1 of my tribute to the incomparable Smokey Robinson  focused on the many hits he wrote for such fellow Motown artists as The Temptations, the Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye.
But Smokey, an ebullient charmer and pop music Renaissance Man,  has always loved performing as much as he loves songwriting.  He began pulling together his own singing groups with friends while in high school.  (He attended Detroit’s Northern High, by the way, when my Uncle Sid was the vice principal — and had many future Motowners in his classes!) 
One of  Smokey’s  teen groups was called The Matadors.  The young Berry Gordy wrote a tune for them, “Got a Job,”  which did well. Then Gordy went on to form Motown Records with Robinson very much on the scene, and the rest is history. 
From the jump, Smokey was a singer, record producer and composer vital to Motown’s success.    The Matadors changed their name to The Miracles (Smokey’s first wife Claudette was an early member).  And with Smoke penning most of their tunes, with various collaborators, and crooning the leads in his sweetly unique and  soulful falsetto, the group  quickly cut Motown’s first million-seller, the 1960 doo-woppy classic,  “Shop Around.”  
No good footage of “Shop Around,” but here’s the golden oldie on disc:
 
  – “Shop Around”
 
Throughout the ’60s, Smokey and the Miracles put out hit after hit,  and kept on touring, while the tireless Robinson also produced and wrote for other Motown stars.   Here are some of the many Miracle classics — a bluesy wonder, which the Beatles covered, and a demonstration of the Smokey’s irresistible sex appeal:
      
   — “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”
 
Smokey could get down and funky, but he was also a master of the wounded-lover ballad, and his early performances bring to mind such soul forefathers as Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.  This smash hit was a heartbreaker classic, and Smokey can still sing the bejesus out of it.  Here’s the MIracles doing a lip-synched version, but smooooooth.  Dig those white suits:
 
 — “Tracks of My Tears”
 
Though he’s a ballad freak, Smokey loved putting out dance records too.    Here’s his delightful, uptempo follow-up to “Tracks of My Tears,”  with nifty lyrics and arrangement that riff off the sad clown/carnival imagery.  Terrific vocal performance too:
 
  — “Tears of a Clown
 
OMG —  beach movie idol Frankie Avalon on TV’s “Hullabaloo,”  introducing Smokey and his dance hit “Going to A-Go Go”  by singing “Don’t Mess With Bill,” and frugging with the dancers?  Yikes!   Sorry for the terrible miking on this one, but Smokey is selling the tune hard:
 
 
But here’s my favorite live 1960s ballad performance by Smokey & the Miracles, on an absolutely awesome “make out song,”    He’s in top form here:
 
   — “Ooh Baby Baby”
 
Sorry the clip is fuzzy, and ends abruptly, but how can I not share this jewel, a brief duet on the same song with Smokester’s lifelong friend, the Queen of Soul?  If only they’d recorded together!:
 
   — “Ooh Baby, Baby”
 
Smokey left the Miracles in 1972, eager to go solo.   Lovable and loyal guy that he is, he dedicated his debut solo album to the Miracles.   But he didn’t chart a  hit of his own until 1975’s  “Quiet Storm.”    Live clips of him singing that one, and his radiantly sensuous hits since then, are sadly hard to come by.  So we’ll have to look to the music videos Smokey made to promote these swoony delights, which layer in the use of synthesizers and multi-tracking seamlessly:
 
    — “One Heartbeat”
 
And hey, the guy loves the beach!   The video for another very intimate, flowy kind of Smokey love song:
 
    —  “Being With You”

 
I’ve been hunting for alive TV vid of Smoke and Aretha doing this great fave.   He still causes a frenzy these days when he closes his live shows with it:
 
   — “Just to See Her”
 
Though in his late 60s now, Smokey is still a wonderfully vital performer, and a deserved recipient of a Kennedy Center lifetime arts award.   I saw him in an outdoor concert this summer, with his ace band and backup singers.  His set lasted nearly two hours, with the ecstatic crowd singing along at his behest —  but him singing a lot better than we ever could!    Sure, the guy has had a little, shall we say, “work done” to keep that youthful glow.  But his talent and spirit are timeless!   Here he is, with Vince Vaughn, Whitney Wynonna  and Boyz 2 Men chiming in on his tunes.  As usual, Smokey is having a blast!:
 
                 
I’ll end with the disc version of a Miracles song that, of all the dozens of hits he’s forged, could be Smokey’s theme song.   For nearly half a century, the man has followed through on the lyrics’ beautiful pledge to his listeners:
 
             As we grow older no need to fear
        When you need me I’ll be here
        I’ll be beside you every step of the way 
        A heart that’s truthful & keeping you youthful with… 

      
        More love, more joy 
        Than age or time could ever destroy 
        My love will be so sound
        It would take about 100 lifetimes 
        To live it down, wear it down, tear it down
         
    —  “More Love” — Smokey Robinson and the Miracles  
 
 
 

Colette’s Corner: Where There’s Fire….There’s Smokey

Nah, not that Smokey, THIS Smokey…
 
The Great Smokey Robinson.  Singer.  Songwriter.  Producer.  Talent Extraordinairre.
Here’s Colette’s entertaining homage to William Robinson, Jr.:
It’s wonderful  to sing well.  It’s even more meaningful to write a great and enduring song.
Both talents were bestowed on young William “Smokey”  Robinson, long before he helped to start Motown Records in Detroit in the early 1960s, with his friend Berry Gordy.
Gordy had the business acumen; Smokey had the musical chops.  By the time he was in his early 20s, Smokey was writing, recording and arranging a stream of hit tunes for this landmark record company, which blended bluesy soulfulness with sleek arrangements and killer hooks.  He also was a terrific talent scout, cultivating the musical gifts of the kids he grew up with in  Motor City.
As an entertainer, Smokey’s still terrific — I saw him recently, and in his late 60s he’s not only still in great voice (one of the best pop falsettos ever) but he’s still sexy, romantic and full of joy.
But while I’ve found a lot of great performances on video of Smokey, with his hit-making crewT he Miracles and after he went solo,  Part I of this tribute considers some Smokey tunes especially wrote (and produced) for other Motown masters.
What makes Smokey’s songs so memorable?  The lyrics, though inevitably about boyfriend-girlfriend passions, are so clever that Bob Dylan once called Robinson one of his favorite poets, and  John Lennon and George Harrison also gave him props.

Smokey knows how to twist a phrase to make it fresh every one of his songs tells a compelling story, and there are indeed poetic images in a lot of his tunes,  along with real wit.   But it’s also the arrangements he worked up with the fabulous Funk Brothers (Motown’s brilliant house  musicians), including the miraculous James Jamerson on bass, that make the best of the tunes he produced instantly unforgettable.  Listen to the baselines — a symphony in themselves! And there’s a perfect layering of percussion, piano, vocals, guitar, bass and backup voices (augmented sometimes by horns and violins). 

But Smokey’s been a huge fan of many kinds of music his entire life — from opera to Cole Porter to modern jazz.  A grouchy Boomer like me wants to encourage this in  young artists:  listen, listen, listen to all the greats, and absorb!
 

 
So from the more than 1,000 tunes in Smokey’s songbag, I’m picking out some gems.   (Later,  I’ll play tribute to Smokey doing his own material, with and without the fab Miracles.)

 

Let’s start with the suave, magical Temptations, since Smokey wrote their break-through hits.      Here are some  rare live  versions (sometimes with lipsynching, which was what some people did on TV at the time) with the ultra-suave Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin singing leads.  Do check out the choreography, created by such legendary jazz-tappers as Cholly Atkins and Honi Coles.  It’s a total delight.
 
First comes “The Way You Do the Things You Do,”  with a lyric led by Eddie that’s full of charming similes (“You got a smile so bright/You know you could’ve been a candle….”)
   “The Way You Do the Things You Do”  — The Temptations  (rare live on a NY TV show)
 
Another Temps classic.  Picture a little blurry, but the guys look so great, and move so hot:
 
   “Get Ready” — The Temptations
 
If you ever go see the Temps, and some incarnation of them is still out there touring, this is the tune they turn into a huge audience sing-along.  And who doesn’t know “My Girl”??  The song is in our collective bloodstream.  David Ruffin does the lead honors this time:
 
   “My Girl” — The Temptations
 
The other “My Girl” rendition that brings a different vibe and some rough-edged soul to the song is this live version by the incomparable Otis Redding, the Love Man.  ‘Nuff said.
 
    “My Girl” — Otis Redding  (with his great band, The Bar-Keys, live in England)
 
As a kind of book-end to “My Girl,” Smokey also conconcocted “My Guy” for Motown solo artist,  Mary Wells.  With its jaunty beat, witty internal rhymes  (“Nothing you can buy can make me tell a lie to my guy”), and that ultra-cool vocal by Mary, another favorite of the Beatles, it was another big-selling classic:
 
  “My Guy” — Mary Wells
 
The Smoke (as pal Stevie Wonder calls him) also took a strong interest in shaping the musical style of The Marvelettes, who  toured with the Beatles on their U.S. tour.  Talk about sexy, these girls were HOT, and I prefer them to the Supremes (shown here briefly).  Here’s one of the treasures Smokey wrote for them, featuring the sultry Wanda Rogers on lead —  one of the great “hands off, ladies!” tunes of all time.  And love their moves:
 
    “Don’t Mess With Bill
 
Finally, we have another Motown genius, Marvin Gaye, who was like a brother to Smokey.   The ebullient Gaye started out at Motown as a session drummer, but that skill was soon eclipsed by his mounting fame as a smooth, sexy, utterly distinctive vocalist.   Marvin is one of my soul gods! And these are his early classics, tailor-made for him by his pal:
 
   “Ain’t That Peculiar” —  Marvin
 
Another from Marvelous Marvin — what can I say?  I’m a sucker for a guy who looks this cool in a tux! :
 

   — Take This Heart of Mine — Marvin
 
Finally, a little novelty from the Smokey annals, first done by the Contours and later the J. Geils Band.  It’s a tongue-in-cheek tune about being a gold-digger, the lyrics are a hoot:

 

    
   “First I Look at the Purse” — The Contours
 
 
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Posted by on October 1, 2008 in colette's corner, motown, music legends, oldies, Soul

 

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On This Day in Musical History….July 26th

1971:  Mozart born.

1943:  Mick Jagger is born.

1960:  Sam Cooke’s Chain Gang is released

 

1968:  John Lennon and Paul McCartney complete Hey Jude (arguably the one of the best songs ever written — but then I AM BIASED)

 

1968:  The Jackson 5 sign a 1-yr. contract with MoTown

 

1969:  Marilyn McCoo marries Billy Davis, Jr.

 

1975:  The Hustle, by Van McCoy & The Soul City goes to #1 on the Singles Chart

…man, flashbacks.

 

1980:  The Rolling Stones hit #1 with Emotional Rescue – it would remain there for seven weeks.

 

1984:  Prince, or the artist formerly know as Prince, premieres his new movie, Purple Rain

 

1986:  Peter Gabriel goes to #1 with Sledgehammer — IMO, the BEST rock video ever made.

 

1992:  MoTowner and originator of My Guy, Mary Wells, dies of cancer

 

2000:  Napster receives an injunction via the RIAA to refrain from allowing file sharing of RIAA material on their site.  Too bad the genie was already out of the bottle.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on July 26, 2008 in motown, Music History, oldies, on this day

 

1968

1968.

The watershed year when the future angrily separated itself from the past. The world at large experienced radical change in this short trip around the sun. There are just some “pivot” years that thrust the door wide open and barge through with the winds of change. Years that provide excruciating tragedy accompanied with euphoric triumphs that set the tone for decades to come. 1968 was definitely one of those years.

Forty years ago today, Robert Kennedy died from gunshot wounds suffered when was gunned down the day before in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in San Francisco. It was seemingly the boot that kicked the door in and escorted the “the revolution” of change through the portal.

I turned four in the fall of 1968 and one of my first vivid memories was of the day Robert Kennedy died. My young mind couldn’t fully understand the weight of the situation, but I had a distinct feeling that things were dire….and there was a shift of some sorts happening.

Each night, after my father came home from his business, we all sat in the living room while my mother cooked supper and watched Walter Cronkite on “the news”. I vividly remember the riots, the war, the dogs, the water hoses, the crying and the desperation coming from all three channels of that big console TV.

And, like the soundtrack in an epic movie, music provided the backdrop. To be sure, music and musicians were as affected by the times and ’68 provided the metamorphosis from the safe, idealistic music of doo-wop and surfer tunes to hard guitar licks and lyrics of conviction and angst. Music’s personality was also losing its innocence, becoming raw, painful, soulful, rhythmic, pure, free and exploratory.

In January, the Tet Offensive brought the war in Vietnam to a crescendo and directly into our homes.   The posthumous hit from the great Otis Redding, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, ushered in the year, a short month after his tragic death in a plane crash, providing a bittersweet premonition of the year to come.

The early Spring of 1968 brought relative calm in the year of turbulent change and the #1 song in the land mirrored the docileness of the proverbial “calm before the storm”:

  Honey, Bobby Goldsboro

As tempartures began to rise, numerous college campus protests were the topic of the day.  And then, the powder keg of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  We watched angry and inconsolable people rioting in the streets, burning their neighborhoods and vowing retribution. Fear of the future was like a lead anvil on my chest and I was very worried for my family–my brother in particular, because he was 13 at the time and I was afraid that he’d have to go to Vietnam and I’d never see him again.

Notice The Beatles birthday cake.

When MLK was killed in early April, officials in Boston turned to the great James Brown to try and quell the violent backlash of rage and oppression in Beantown. They not only encouraged Brown to perform but actually televised the performance, via tape delay. Because of the broadcast and officials urging people to stay home and watch it on TV. James Brown performed and addressed the audience helping to Boston avert an explosive situation.

Got the Feeling, James Brown

But the world turned on….My parents continued to have their usual Summer house parties and that helped to quell some of the fears of the outside world.

That’s my Daddy, center and my Mamma in white

While they weren’t exactly playing and singing protest songs, they were all huge Johnny Cash fans and I distinctly remember them “covering” Folsom Prison Blues:

I also remember everyone under the age of 30 being completely and utterly ga-ga (technical term) over The Beatles. Perhaps the most pivotal year in their reign over Rock, 1968 saw The Beatles incorporate under the Apple Ltd. partnership in an effort to produce other arists, where they promptly signed a hot young acoustic artist named James Taylor.

Something in the Way She Moves

George Harrison was inspired to write Something from James Taylor’s melodic soul stirrer from his debut album on the Apple label, and showed up in 1969 on Come Together. In 1968, The Beatles were going through massive transformation and the outcome of their retreat to the studio from May to October was the fabled White Album. The rush of music and lyrics during this time came from The Beatles trip to India to “study” with the Maharishi Yogi, as well as John’s painful divorce. The Beatles top selling single of all time, Hey Jude, was Paul’s cathartic ode to Julian, John’s young son.

The White Album included 45 tracks of raw, multi-faceted talent that may just be the best album ever recorded. The got by with a little help from their friends, including god (and wife stealer), Eric Clapton on While My Guitar Gently Weeps:

In August of 1968, the Republicans made the fateful decision to nominate Richard Nixon as their candidate for President and a few short weeks later there was a major altercation between protesters and law enforcement at the Democratic National Convention. Tempers were on the rise and music reflected the sentiments of the day:

People Got to be Free, The Rascals

But perhaps the fall of 1968, brought the most significant changes. The space program put the first manned spacecraft in orbit in October, captivating weary Americans with the anticipation of The Last Frontier.

One of the most famous images of 1968 is the picture of U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black gloves in solidarity of the Civil Rights Movement.

 

As they were protesting, the Motown Sound was taking over the charts and one particular artist, with one particular smash hit was storming the national scene.

  Heard it Through the Grapevine, Marvin Gaye

Shortly thereafter, the milestone album of Astral Weeks by the milestone artist, Van Morrison, was released in early December.  The eight songs of Astral Weeks would become one of the seminal albums of the era and a literal roadmap for many soulful artists to come.

Lester Bangs summed it up pretty well in this 1979 quote:

Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because the fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid. I spent endless days and nights sunk in an armchair in my bedroom, reading magazines, watching TV, listening to records, staring into space. I had no idea how to improve the situation and probably wouldn’t have done anything about it if I had.

Astral Weeks would be the subject of this piece – i.e., the rock record with the most significance in my life so far – no matter how I’d been feeling when it came out. But in the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what’s more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. (My other big record of the day was White Light/White Heat.) It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison’s previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums by the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work.

I don’t really know how significant it might be that many others have reported variants on my initial encounter with Astral Weeks. I don’t think there’s anything guiding it to people enduring dark periods. It did come out at a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self-destructive undertow that always accompanied the great sixties party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in it’s maw and was pulling straight down. so, as timeless as it finally is, perhaps Astral Weeks was also the product of an era. Better think that than ask just what sort of Irish churchwebbed haints Van Morrison might be product of.

The music of 1968 was a product of the times, but in many ways the times became a product of the music.  Messages that couldn’t openly be talked about in “polite” company were often put to music where the messages were loud and clear but many deaf ears (i.e., anyone over 30) didn’t have the decoder.

After Nixon was elected, the country seemed to breath a collective sigh.  Not a sigh of relief, but one of giving up.  There would be no turning back, no return to innocence.  We were all in for a penny, in for a pound. 

1968 went out with a bang as one of the last bastions of early Rock & Roll, The King himself, was piped into our living rooms, LIVE and in living color, resplendid in black leather.  Slim, trim and really on his game, this was the last of Elvis’ truly great performances and in some odd synergy, he was a posterchild for the changes afoot.  Man, he was smokin’….

Elvis finished up the concert and the year with likely the most apt song for a country and a world that had been so wounded over the last year.  Like a microcosm of life, 1968 was filled with pain, trials and tribuations but there was a bastion of hope and promise that dreams of peace, happiness and prosperity could be realized.

  If I Can Dream, Elvis Presley

As for me, I received a Mrs. Beasley doll and an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas that year, so some of my anxiety was lessened by the excitement of the season, Santa Claus and family gatherings.  However, I really wouldn’t rest easy for a few more years when the draft was discontinued and we pulled troops out of Vietnam.  By the time I was in the 2nd grade, the riots and protests seemed to quell.  However, I do remember getting Christmas cards extolling “Peace on Earth” and thinking that it was such a pipe dream.  But it was an ideal…just like all of those ideals from 1968 that lived on and truly changed the world, both in song and in deed.

  

 

 

The Queen of Soul…One Girl’s Perspective

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Many a young girl (and old ones, as well) have belted out Aretha Franklin’s anthems like Chain of Fools, Never Loved a Man and House That Jack Built with fervor and passion, playacting at commanding an audience the way the Queen does.

One such mini-Ree is our own Shrew. This uber-fan of the Queen realized a dream and was able to attend Aretha’s concert in NYC, at Radio City Music Hall, no less.

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Image Courtesy of Shrew

Rather than me trying to inadequately relay the experience, here it is straight from the horse’s mouth:

Imagine yourself walking through the fabulous streets of New York City…not the gritty streets of the 70’s and 80’s , but the lush sparkling streets of midtown in the 60’s.
The lush New York of Holly Go-Lightly…

The sophisticated city of May and Nichols…

The controversial vibe of Dylan and Cafe Waa…

and one site you would likely see is

The Queen of Soul, the Empress of Music…sold out for a two night engagement at the world famous Radio City Music Hall. But, this is 2008, right?

Not so for this gal, for one night it was 1966 and I was seeing Aretha.
The energy was electric as we walked into the beautiful Radio City Music Hall.

I wasn’t sure if it was my excitement or the design of the interior, but everything I saw assumed this golden rose hue. If you have never been to Radio City Music Hall you must understand that no detail is without the grace and beauty of art deco influences.
From the etched “Rockettes Glass” overseeing the main lobby…

 to the grand mural along the master stairwell.

Even the bathroom looks like a set from a Fred and Ginger movie…

There are Rockettes even waiting to take you back to your seat…

So we made our way to the doors. As we approached the full glow of the stage radiated through the door into the hall.

And the doors opened….

The full splendor of Radio City can not be told through words and pictures. The grandure of the space is lost. I was pleased to see despite being in the second to last row on the third mezz. our view of the stage was terrific.
The place filled up rather quickly. The crowd was a melange of young packs of twenty-somethings to couples reliving there 1960’s memories. The atmosphere equaled a gospel revival…reverant and jublient all in the same breath.
The lights dimmed and the funky pulse of a tight ensamble pierced the air. Then the lights lifted…

The crowd bubbled with anticipation as the band limbered up…then THE moment.
A legend is announced~
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the EMPRESS OF MUSIC, AREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEETHA FRAAAAAAANKLIN.”


The music vamped for a while and from stage right she walked on, giving a few saucy side bobs of her head and then headed center stage.

And then…She sang. Those first few notes hit my ears and my heart lept. Vibrations of sound that she was making, left her throat and traveled through the air directly connecting with my ears. At first all I heard was emotion; pure energy and soul heaped out of one being and offered up to hundreds.
My eyes welled, was I really hearing the same woman as she sang that I danced to when I was four? That I grooved to when I was 15? That I made countless others listen to when I was 20? That I sang with at the top of my lungs while I drove to work the day before? Live, here, now, in front of me, sounding every bit the woman I have heard on record all my life.
Then in an instant: I was present hearing what Aretha was singing, “Your Love is Lifting Me Higher” as if an ode to each and everyone of us who continue to love her. Aretha shifted to a rendition of My Funny Valentine that was bluesy and introspective. Then she went back to one of my favorite songs…her number one hit cover of Don’t Play That Song.

Now, if you have come to read the set list I will disappoint you…I stink at getting them. I do know, she made Moody’s Mood For Love a worthy inclusion for the set, gliding effortlessly through each vocal obsticle slung her way.
And then before I knew what was happening…”bada-bang, bada-bang, bada-bang, bada-bang. HOO- What you want? Hoo-Baby I got it” Radio City errupted…all jumped to their feet enmass to groove. All, excpet for the guy sitting next to me. Dude? Really? You can sit through one of the most electric songs ever? I guess so because he just sat clapping together his finger tips in time like he was listening to a Bach concert. Weird no? All I could think is he MUST be bad in bed.
Ms. Franklin welcomed to the stage Ali-Ollie Woodson of Temptation fame to “take us to church” with some gospel. And we went to church. One word for Aretha and gospel…resplendent!

Halfway through the show, Aretha welcomed her seventeen year old son KeCalf, a christian hip-hop artist onto the stage. He did a yoeman’s job of performing while his mother rested. The two songs felt long and I was accutely aware of the crowd’s discomfort. As a treat, Ms. Franklin sang Chain of Fools upon return.

All in all the evening was all I wished…then the strains of Old Landmark began and Aretha and crew raised the roof. All concerned were out of our seats and boogying on down

“Shouting, shouting, shouting, shouting…Stay in the service of the Lord.”

and off she went…stage right.

Clapping… and many vamps of the band.

On she came…

The encore she chose was the seasonal, Berlin’s Easter Bonnet. As she sang, you could not help but feel this one song was more for her than for us. That fact did not deminish the enjoyment of the simple melody and wish.
Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Contemporary R&B, American Standard…why indeed…Empress of Music is accurate.

90 minutes…much much too short.

Fabulous.

 

 

 

Click here for video. Take that Beyonce’.

 

Never Can Say Goodbye

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So, it appears that the Jackson 5 — complete with Michael — will be coming to a city near you in 2008 on their “Reunion Tour”. Evidently, Michael’s vast empire has eroded to the point where he’s going to have to get back out on the road. Can’t say that I’m sorry as the J5, in their prime, were BOSS.

Color me crazy, but I would definitely pay to see Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and the Gloved One, once again. You see, in 1970, when I became musically aware, these guys were rivaled only by The Osmonds. Each had Saturday morning cartoons that I NEVER missed.

Of course, this was before Michael’s solo career and subsequent change from black to white.

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Scary, I know. But in the ’70s the J5 were the epitome of Pop Music Dynasty and Michael was the Prince (no pun intended).

While their body of work is not put up against the greats of the era like The Beatles or The Stones, The Jackson 5 were just as important to music during the same time frame. Their music was fun, endearing and exposed their extreme talent. Whatever happened to cause Michael’s foray into nutdom is unfortunate, but he was an integral part of a revolutionary band of brothers that produced some pretty phenomenal stuff….and dance!! OMG….

I Want You Back

I’ll Be There
Talent.

Let it Be
More talent.

Ben
I remember watching this in ’72 on the Sonny & Cher show. I was mesmerized.

Rockin’ Robin
One of my absolute favorite songs…2nd grade, on the swings…

Got to Be There
Hard to believe that this kid is like 12, singing this with such presence.

Pappa Was a Rollin’ Stone
Ah yes, 1977….when there was no such thing as political ko-RECK-ness.

J5 + 2 on Carol Burnett (Is it just me or is Michael way too comfortable playing Diana Ross?)

ETA:    The Love You Save — per brc

Blame it on The Boogie

Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)

No matter what zaniness the years has brought the Jacksons, it’s hard to ignore the obvious talent and dedication that this family had to performing music. It will be interesting to see if they can fill up the auditoriums and if anyone really cares anymore.

Never Can Say Goodbye

 
8 Comments

Posted by on November 28, 2007 in motown, oldies

 
 
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