Motown Spotlight, September 2020

Sound Of R&B Hits

It was in October 1981, after an eighteen-year association with EMI Records, that Motown switched to RCA/BMG Records. Released last week was the remarkable news that Motown Records is returning to EMI, with managing director Rob Pascoe at the helm, and Afryea Henry-Fontaine, the marketing director.  These are the first appointments made by Rebecca Allen who became president of EMI Records last month.  In a press statement she said – "The music of Motown has long influenced British culture and continues to provide the ultimate creative inspiration for generations of artists and fans."  She added that Motown is a culture-defining label and the intention is to build an energising and inspiring new modern day roster for the widest possible audience.  "Having already worked closely with the Motown team in the US, I have no doubt that their energy and ambition will lead this label into a very exciting new chapter in its history." 

According to Motown president Ethiopia Habtemariam, the timing is perfect following a five year period of tremendous global growth – "Through artist development that's central to our company's 60-year history and via entrepreneurial partnerships that have greatly expanded our reach."  Signing and developing new British talent is also planned following the critically acclaimed London-based Tiana Major 9's EP "At Sixes And Sevens".  While it's a nice warm feeling having Motown return to our capital, it's the company's history I'm interested in and the music that helped shape it through three dynamic decades, with preference to the sixties. So, I'm therefore thinking that compilations like the couple I'm about to mention will still be licensed to third parties like SoulMusic and Kent (although these seem a rarity of late) or from the Universal office in New York or wherever, and not from Motown UK.

I'm delighted to say Ace Records have a compilation due this month.  Titled "The Sound Of The R&B Hits", it takes the title and some of the tracks from the original release on Stateside during May 1964. Now doubled in length, it tracks the company's evolution over here via tracks from artists who would become household names.  I won't list all the tracks, so here's a handful.  "Shop Around", "Bye Bye Baby", "You Beat Me To The Punch" and "Two Lovers" from Mary Wells;  a handful from Marvin Gaye including "Can I Get A Witness", "Pride And Joy" and "Hitch Hike"; a selection from The Marvelettes like "Way Over There", "Dream Baby" and "The One Who Really Loves You".  Other featured acts include Martha and the Vandellas, The Valadiers, The Miracles and The Contours.  All tracks are familiar and probably already part of collections, but, hey, mucho credit to Ace for getting this together.  Priced around £12.

It's a decade since the last release but Paul Nixon has delivered again.  "A Cellarful Of Motown! Volume 5" is here, released this time via Caroline Records.  The 2-CD package is an absolute joy.  As Paul mentions in the booklet's opening paragraphs, he's followed the same premise as before, bringing to fans "some of those tracks that have been circulating for years in one form or another with some additional tracks that are destined to surprise."  May I pass on my favourites?  Marvin Gaye/Kim Weston's "That'll Be The Day", 'lost' for fifty years until digitally available, but to have it on a physical disc does it for me. "Just Too Much To Hope For" is another from the duo, originally recorded by The Majestics, then Tammi Terrell.  According to Paul's notes, she added her voice to the track between February and April 1966, but Marvin and Kim snuck in there in March to record their version.   Berry Gordy's composition "When Someone's Good To You" by Oma Page was banished to the vault when Carolyn Crawford recorded her version.  How can you not love The Lewis Sisters and here their take on "Whisper You Love Me Boy" has finally been liberated after fifty-five years.  Another digitally downloaded track makes CD – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "Don't Let Me Lose This Dream", while Chris Clark's "I Don't Want You Anymore" , recorded in New York, was finally first released during 2015 fifty years after being recorded.  There's a nod of appreciation to Northern Soul with Sammy Turner's "All I Have Left Are Memories", Barbara McNair's "A World Without You" and Brenda Holloway's "Without Love You Lose A Good Feelin'", a remixed version of which was featured on "Spellbound".  With further tracks from The Temptations, Jimmy Ruffin, R Dean Taylor, Edwin Starr and others, this release is another positive step into Motown's history, the defining, progressive years where the young, raw artists had no idea they were laying the musical foundation for the most influential black-owned record company of all time. A huge thank you to Paul for his dedication, patience (and I reckon there were times when he felt like pulling his hair out) and wherewithal to finally get the green light to release this much-awaited Volume 5. 

Kiki Dee

 

Let's move on now to spend time with a treasured British soloist. I've several albums/CDs in my collection from Kiki Dee because over the years I've followed her career pre-and-post Motown.  Among those are several extended releases, compilations ("The Rocket Years" and "Gold" spring to mind)  and so on which was why I was surprised to see a 3-CD box set "The Fontana And Motown Years" scheduled for 16 October release.  I'm not knocking this at all; any excuse to re-package Kiki's music is fine with me.  She's one of our best female singers whose work crossed the music bridges of mainstream, to soul and Motown, through to Northern Soul, with little diversions in between.   Scanning the track listing, I focused on "Great Expectations", her August 1970 neglected release which itself has been re-promoted and extended on Spectrum's 2005 release under the title "Love Makes The World Go Round: The Motown Years".  It's always the way, but I  can't find the darn thing in my collection now, but as I recall it was the first time "Great Expectations" was available on CD and included a quartet of unreleased tracks.  However, what I did unearth was her "Loving And Free", a magical, stylish release from start to finish: Ms Dee at the finest.  Anyway, "The Fontana And Motown Years", released by Edel, features the Motown album and nine bonus tracks plus, the blurb indicates, an unreleased mix. The first five hundred copies include a signed print, with a price tag of £30 or thereabouts.

Just a quick mention for a couple of tracks that have cropped up on Ace Records' new album "Bob Stanley Presents 76 In The Shade". Alongside items from the likes of Blue Mink, Gilbert O'Sullivan and 10CC, I spotted Smokey Robinson's "Get Out Of Town" (from "Smokey's Family Robinson" album) and David Ruffin's single "Discover Me" ("Everything's Coming Up Love").  If you're old enough to remember, the summer of 1976 was a total scorcher and as I lived in a smallish apartment in London at the time, the relentless heat was more intense than that in the countryside or along the coast. As Bob Stanley succinctly wrote in the blurb – "All (the tracks) suggest bright yellow sunshine, hot plastic car seats, cats lolloping on the lawn.  A few tracks (like Smokey Robinson) act as necessary splashes of cooling water."  I'll leave you to paddle…..

 

The Temptations

This month's box set is quite sensational as I'm sure Temptations' fans will agree.  "Emperors Of Soul" is a 5-CD package in purple and black, released in September 1994.  The music is accompanied by an eighty-page sumptuous booklet covering the growth of the group through the decades, with an abundance of visuals. Track recording dates, origins and releases are detailed, likewise a full discography with chart placings, and the group's family tree including full membership details. In fact, I'd have thought most things you needed to know about the music is noted.   So, what of the music itself?  What can I say…109 tracks, all their top ten R&B hits and top forty crossover titles featured in their original mixes where possible. With The Andantes providing support vocals, the very first track "Come On" recorded by Otis Williams and The Distants, the puerile sound of The Temptations slowly gathers momentum as they find their feet with "The Way You Do The Things You Do".  Did those feet walk?  Did they hell – they ran through the hits. Ballad and dance;  nothing fazed these guys.  Psychedelic overdrives replaced the succulent melodies, and we were hit between the eyes with the epic sounding beat of "Law Of The Land", "Cloud Nine" and "Ball Of Confusion" with sweet ballads slipped in like "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)".  It's fair to say, The Temptations went off track for a time; slipped the groove, lost sight of their music.  They left and returned to Motown where they grabbed "Power" with all hands, which led to a working relationship with Rick James ("Standing On The Top") and the magic returned.  Phew!  Of the new tracks included on this box set, two stand out "Givin' U The Best" and "Error Of Our Ways": the other two are "Elevator Eyes" and "Blueprint For Love".   While typing this I've played disc two – "(I Know) I'm Losing You", "Sorry Is A Sorry Word", "You're My Everything", "Just One Look".  It doesn't get much better than this my friends.  I just love it!  The downside though,  "Emperors Of Soul" will cost you between £30 - £60 today. 

Following on from last month's news that Detroit A-Go-Go in October has been cancelled, here's some update from organiser Phil Dick. As this has obviously disappointed so many, he's arranging for a live, virtual concert to be streamed from The Marble Bar, Holden Street, Detroit on Friday, 12 October between 10pm-11pm.

Acts taking part are Carolyn Crawford, Pat Lewis, Spyder Turner, The Contours and Jr Walker's All Star Band.  Tickets are $15 each, so if anyone is interested in joining in the fun – virtually naturally! – do check out the Detroit A-Go-Go Facebook page.

While on this subject, and in case you're interested but missed it, the event has a new date: 30 July -1 August 2021 and will, for one year only, join the Cleethorpes Weekender at the Beachcomber Holiday Park, 208 North Sea Lane, Cleethorpes.

All artists booked for this year will be performing. Phil said,"We are thrilled that the much loved Detroit A-Go-Go will be united with Cleethorpes, the longest running soul weekender in the UK.  The only suitable dates in 2021 at LeedsUniversity would have meant either a clash with other Northern Soul events or waiting until November.  Therefore moving it to Cleethorpes is the perfect solution."  All tickets purchased for this year's event will be valid but as the capacity at Cleethorpes is lower, only five hundred or so tickets are currently available for the new date. Regrettably, I won't be able to attend but do thank the hard-working Phil for securing a new venue so quickly.  Any queries contact info@detroitagogo.com.

A mention for a coffee table book that arrived last week – "Ready Steady Go! The Weekend Starts Here" by Andy Neill, which won't mean a whole lot to our younger readers, but those of a certain age (and I'm one) will instantly remember the Friday night show that introduced and popularised a revolutionary music and fashion culture.  Spanning three and a half years from 1963, it was essential viewing for teenagers wanting to be part of the musical uprising that was sweeping the country. British acts shared the television studio with American artists like James Brown, Bo Diddley, The Ronettes, Dionne Warwick and, of course, a huge Motown contingent.  Hand-picked audiences wore the latest Mod gear and risked limb and life avoiding the oversized cameras that roamed the studio floor.  Who cared – it was the place to be and be seen. I've written about "RSG!" several times previously, particularly "The Sound Of Motown", which is featured on six pages, so all I will say is, this extraordinary book is magnificent in content;  scorching full colour visuals go hand in hand with black/white shots that include studio pictures, all manner of memorabilia, listings of all the programmes and a whole host of memories from those associated with them.  Dusty Springfield is regularly featured because "RSG!" was practically her second home when The Springfields disbanded, and, you may remember, she co-hosted for a week. Give the girl credit, she was game for anything.  Like one New Year's Eve party when during her performance multi-coloured streamers were thrown over her by members of the audience, covering her from hair to feet, while balloons dropped on her from the ceiling. As she said to me during a nineties interview – "It was absolute chaos….everyone was blotto, and (artists) were constantly being pulled off stands and down stairs…..The mikes (were) all in the wrong place.  They (were) everywhere, so pick up every little sound whether or not it's made by (us) or the audience….It was compulsive viewing to see the artists of course, but also to see what went wrong.  It was brilliantly funny trying to actually do the show…it had an immediacy other shows didn't have."  Beautifully presented, Andy's book is for those wanting to hop a time machine to the Swinging Sixties.  Price around £27.

 

Georgia Dobbs
         Georgia Dobbins-Davis

It's been a dreadfully sad month.  We lost a beautiful guy who I've known since living in London and whose hospitality I enjoyed many a time as he steered packed night club audiences with his unique brand of dance music at venues like Bolts, Bangs and Global Village. He was also the perfect host when we arranged promotional appearances for visiting Motown artists – Mmmm,  I'm salivating thinking about those knock-out cocktails!  I'm talking of course about Norman Scott who passed on 1 September.  Rest in peace now my friend; you were an absolute gent, and will be greatly missed.  Then came the wretched news that we lost three ladies one after the other.  First, the Honeycone's leading light Edna Wright, sister of Darlene Love, and a group who brought us such timeless singles like "Want Ads", "Stick Up" and my all-time personal love "While You're Out Looking For Sugar".  Then came the news that The Emotions' Pamela Hutchinson had passed.  The ladies' music was far reaching with classics like "Best Of My Love", "You're The Best" and with Earth, Wind & Fire "Boogie Wonderland".  As a trio, The Emotions joined Motown in 1985 to release their "If I Only Knew" album from which a pair of singles were lifted – "Miss You Love" and "If I Only Knew Then (What I Know Now)".  And thirdly, The Marvelettes' founder and co-author of "Please Mr Postman", Georgia Dobbins-Davis died on 18th of this month.  Motown folks will know, she didn't actually stay with the group, and I'll talk about this next month.  It goes without saying, of course, that our love and prayers go to all their families, friends and fans during his heartbreaking time.

Life is still challenging us, but if we take care of ourselves to protect others, we'll make it through together.

Sharon Davis

 

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