Posts Tagged ‘Marvin Gaye’

In The Light Of A Rainy Day

March 25, 2012

Originally posted March 23, 2009

As I look out the window this morning, I’m consoled by the thought that it could be worse: The temperature could be fifteen degrees cooler and it could be snowing.

As it is, the rain is expected to hang around here all day. That makes the view from the study window distinctly unappealing. Luckily, I have no need to go out into the rain, save for a quick trip across the street to the mailbox sometime this afternoon. And as I sit here pondering the rain, I’m struck for some reason by the contrast between the brightly lighted interior and the gloom – bare black oaks against a gray sky – I see outside.

It puts me in mind of rainy days in elementary school, days when the fluorescent ceiling lights were reflected in the large window that lined one wall of our classroom at Lincoln School. The splash and streak of raindrops on the outside window would grip my attention more firmly than could arithmetic or social studies, and I’d get lost in the ever-changing pattern on the glass.

In the cloakroom, yellow slickers and black boots would shed water all morning, leaving puddles on the brown tile floor. On some very wet or bitterly cold days, I’d eat lunch at school, but most days, just before noon, I’d head home for lunch, walking in the winter and riding my Schwinn Typhoon in the autumn and the spring, even on days of light rain. Somewhere there is a picture of an eight-year old whiteray in his yellow slicker with the matching cap, about to head off to school. I wore that slicker – or another one like it – for several years, making my way to and from school amid the drizzle and the drops.

I don’t recall if I ever heard music playing from the radio in the kitchen at lunch time. I would have been far more interested in eating my Campbell’s Scotch Broth or my Chef Boy-Ar-Dee ravioli and then heading back out in the damp for another few hours of school.

If there had been music during lunch, I would at best have heard two, maybe three, of the following songs:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 23, 1963)
“South Street” by the Orlons, Cameo 243 (No. 7)
“Walk Right In” by the Rooftop Singers, Vanguard 35017 (No. 22)
“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, Columbia 42674 (No. 31)
“Hitch Hike” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54075 (No. 54)
“Mecca” by Gene Pitney, Musicor 1028 (No. 81)
“Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’” by Ferrante & Teicher, United Artists 563 (No. 88)

The Orlons don’t seem to be much remembered these days, and I’m not sure why. The Philadelphia quartet managed five Top 40 singles between June 1962 and October 1963, which is a pretty good run. Three of those hit the Top Ten: “The Wah Watusi” (No. 2), “Don’t Hang Up” (No 4), and ‘South Street,” which peaked at No. 3. If any of those get any airplay on oldies stations these days, it’s “The Wah Watusi,” which is probably third-best of the three Top Ten hits.

The Rooftop Singers’ version of “Walk Right In” was on its way back down the chart in March 1963, having spent two weeks at No. 1 as January turned into February. The song has a long history, having first been recorded by Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1929. According to the Billboard Book of Number One Hits, banjo player Erik Darling – who’d been a member of the Weavers, a legendary folk group – heard the Gus Cannon recording of the song, changed a line or two (the book says, for example, “a two way woman” became “a new way of walking”) and found a couple of friends to record the song with him. The hit “was a windfall” for Cannon, “who was living in a little house by the railroad tracks in Memphis.” Cannon had hocked his banjo for $20 worth of coal to keep from freezing the previous winter; after “Walk Right In” was a hit, Cannon not only earned royalties but gained a recording contract with Stax Records.

“Can’t Get Used To Losing You” went to No. 2 in the spring of 1963, Andy William’s seventh Top Ten hit. He would wait another eight years for his eighth and last Top Ten single, “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” which went to No. 9 in early 1971. “Losing You” is sweet but, I think, insignificant. More appealing is the flipside, “The Days of Wine And Roses,” which also charted, making it to No. 26. That single, of course, was the theme song from the film that starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Williams did well with movie themes; he also charted in late 1964 with “Dear Heart” and in the spring of 1972 with “Love Theme from ‘The Godfather’ (Speak Softly Love).”

“Hitch Hike” is a nice slice of early 1960s R&B, drawing a little bit, I think, from Ray Charles. My blogging colleague, Any Major Dude, will appreciate the flute break that starts 1:15 into the song (with the flute recurring at moments after that). The single, which went to No. 30, is notable as Gaye’s first Top 40 hit. As nifty a single as “Hitch Hike” is, one wonders if anyone around Gaye could see the brilliance waiting to take wing.

“Mecca” is an odd single, with its Arabian/North African opening riff, its tale of seemingly forbidden love and its chorus of “Mecca (Mecca, Mecca).” I doubt if the song would get released these days, as the cultural uproar – valid or not – wouldn’t be worth the trouble. The single peaked at No. 12.

I’ve thrown singles by Ferrante & Teicher on the logpile a couple of times. The duo’s twin-piano sound was, to me, one of the defining sounds of the early 1960s. Ferrante & Teicher had only five Top 40 hits, but four of them – all from movies or musicals – came in 1960 and 1961, and I know heard them somewhere, and fairly frequently at that. (Their fifth hit, another movie theme, was “Midnight Cowboy” in late 1969 and early 1970.) The single offered here, “Theme from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’,” bounced around in the lower reaches of the Hot 100 for twelve weeks, never getting any higher than No. 84.

(The songs that would have gotten airplay on any station we listened to on Kilian Boulevard? The Andy Williams, the Ferrante & Teicher, and maybe the Rooftop Singers.)

Now, By Request, ‘Born Free’

February 1, 2012

Originally posted February 25, 2009

It might have been for her birthday, or it might have been for Christmas, but sometime around 1963 or 64, when she was in her early teens, my sister got a transistor radio. It was, I think, a Zenith, Dreamsicle orange with a silver speaker, tucked inside a black leather carrying case.

I don’t think she used it much. Somehow, it ended up on my father’s nightstand, and there it stayed for as long as I can remember, turned on only in the late minutes of every evening, as we prepared to retire for the night.

There were, as I’ve mentioned, two radio stations in St. Cloud at the time. Well, two on the AM band. There was an FM station that played what was termed “beautiful music,” lot of Mantovani and Leroy Anderson, and that might have suited Dad. He might also have liked to tune the radio to WVAL out of Sauk Rapids, the small town on the northeast edge of St. Cloud, but WVAL’s signal – and its traditional country music – went off the air at sunset. And the transistor radio only got the AM band, so that left Dad with two choices for evening listening: WJON and KFAM.

I’ve written about WJON several times here. It was the station located in a small building just down the block and across the railroad tracks from our house. KFAM was across town on the south side, in another small building that was home to its studios and those of its FM sister station, the home of the beautiful music. Both stations offered the usual mid-1960s mix of community service radio chatter and – for most of the broadcast day – traditional pop. In the evenings, the two stations switched to Top 40 for a couple of hours. At nine o’clock, KFAM went back to its standards. (WJON did so, too, for a while, but then in the late 1960s began to explore rock more deeply in the later hours, which was pretty adventurous for St. Cloud.)

Anyway, as things closed down for the evening at our home on Kilian Boulevard, Dad would flip on the radio and then pick up his book or his magazine and read for a few minutes. If it were a few minutes before nine, he’d have to put up with some Top 40 for a while before KFAM rejoined the adult world at nine o’clock. And in the mid-1960s, nine o’clock during the school year meant lights out for my sister and me. That might stretch some in the summertime, during vacations and on weekends, but something had to be pretty special for a school night exception.

One of those came sometime in 1966. I can’t say that it happened in February, but I know it was in 1966, not long after the film Born Free was released. Being a soundtrack fan, I was thrilled when I learned that the film’s score was by John Barry, who also scored the early James Bond films (and many other films as well, in a long and lustrous career). And two or three times, as we prepared to retire, I heard the vocal version of “Born Free” – by British singer Matt Monro – come from the radio on Dad’s nightstand. I wanted, however, to hear the instrumental version.

So one evening, I called KFAM and asked the DJ there to play “Born Free” for me. He said he would, but it would have to wait until after nine o’clock. “We’re playing rock ’n’ roll right now,” he said. “But as soon as we’re done with that,” he promised.

And I sat on my bed in my pajamas, the transistor radio in my hands. Mom and Dad and my sister gathered round, and at nine, after the top of the hour station identification, I heard John Barry’s instrumental version of “Born Free,” my first radio request.

As I said, I don’t know that this happened in February. It seems in memory that it was cold outside, and it also seems in memory that the “Born Free” evening took place while I was in seventh grade, during the 1965-66 school year. So it very well might have been February.

A Six-Pack From the Charts (Billboard Hot 100, February 26, 1966

“The Cheater” by Bob Kuban and the In-Men, Musicland 20,001 (No. 20)
“Lies” by the Knickerbockers, Challenge 59321 (No. 34)
“Baby Scratch My Back” by Slim Harpo, Excello 2273 (No. 41)
“One More Heartache” by Marvin Gaye, Tamla 54129 (No. 69)
“Moulty” by the Barbarians, Laurie 3326 (No. 100)
“A Public Execution” by Mouse, Fraternity 956 (No. 132)

Bonus Track
“Born Free (Main Title)” by John Barry from the Born Free soundtrack (1966)

I was still a few years away from listening to Top 40, but for those who were fans, early 1966 was a pretty rich time. Flip the switch on your transistor and tune in your local Top 40 station, and you were likely to hear something you liked pretty quickly.

Here’s the Top 15 for the last week in February 1966:

“These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra
“Lightnin’ Strikes” by Lou Christie
“The Ballad of the Green Berets” by S/Sgt. Barry Sadler
“Up Tight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder
“My World Is Empty Without You” by the Supremes
“My Love” by Petula Clark
“Don’t Mess With Bill” by the Marvellettes
“California Dreamin’” by the Mamas & the Papas
“Elusive Butterfly” by Bob Lind
“Working My Way Back To You” by the Four Seasons
“Zorba the Greek” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
“Crying Time” by Ray Charles (with the Raeletts)
“Listen People” by Herman’s Hermits
“I Fought the Law” by the Bobby Fuller Four
“Barbara Ann” by the Beach Boys

That’s a pretty good hour or so of radio: Some Motown, including some girl group sounds along with one British single, some folk-rock, some traditional pop, a patriotic ballad and an instrumental. I could do without the Bob Lind, and “Barbara Ann” has always struck me as more of a joke than a single, but still, that would be a good chunk of listening.

Further down the list we find our six selections. “The Cheater” is a nice piece of brassy pop from a band based in St. Louis, Missouri. The odd thing about the song – which peaked at No. 12 – is its “life imitates art” denouement, as chronicled by writer Dave Marsh: In 1983, Walter Scott, the In-Men’s lead singer, disappeared. His body was found in 1987; he’d been murdered by his wife and her boyfriend (who’d also evidently killed his own wife in 1983). Investigation revealed that Scott’s wife had been cheating on him for a year or so before he was murdered. “Look out for the cheater!” indeed.

Even forty-three years down the road, I still think the Knickerbockers’ “Lies” is the all-time best Beatles sound-alike. But the guys weren’t even from England. The four Knickerbockers hailed from Bergen, New Jersey. “Lies,” the group’s only Top 40 hit, peaked at No. 20.

Blues tunes popped up every once in a while in the charts, but rarely were they as slinky and sly as Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back.” The record was Harpo’s second Top 40 hit, following “Rainin’ In My Heart,” which went to No. 34 in 1961. “Baby Scratch My Back” went to No. 16, and it also spent two weeks at No. 2 on the R&B chart. It’s been covered a fair number of times; the best of those might be by swamp rocker Tony Joe White on his 1969 album, Black & White.

“One More Heartache” was the thirteenth in the long line of forty-one Top 40 hits by Marvin Gaye. A Smokey Robinson production, the single went to No. 29. Writing in the late 1980s, when Gaye’s death was still fresh, Dave Marsh heard something under the surface: “You wanna think this is just a love song, that’s just fine with [Gaye]. But listen deeper and you’ll know better,” Marsh wrote in The Heart of Rock & Soul, where he ranked the single at No. 186 of all time. “It’s a spiritual suicide note from a man who, in a merely halfway sane world, would have had everything to live for and known it.”

Like many listeners, no doubt, I first came across the last two songs in today’s Six-Pack via Nuggets, the 1972 anthology of garage rock and psychedelia from the mid-1960s lovingly put together by Lenny Kaye. Since then, multitudes of albums and CD box sets have replicated and expanded the idea, but the original package – from the sleeve through the liner notes to the music – is one of the best anthologies ever put together. The full title was Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968, and current versions include the music from that double LP set as the first CD of a four-disc set. Other sets using the Nuggets title and art style have followed, but – as is true in many disciplines – they’d be hard-pressed to be as good as the original.

As to “Moulty” by the Barbarians, Kaye writes in the Nuggets liner notes: “Regulars on Shindig, stars of the T.A.M.I. Show, the Barbarians came out of New England with “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl” in the fall of 1965. Moulty was their drummer, and the story of how he lost his hand is the story of this record, which only goes to prove the old adage about truth being stranger than fiction. Though I don’t want to start things, there does exist a rumor that Levon and the Hawks (also known as the Band) are backing Mr. M on this cut. At this late date, however, I don’t suppose anybody’s talking.” The single was in the Hot 100 for four weeks, peaking at No. 90, before falling into the obscurity from which Mr. Kaye rescued it.

Even more obscure was “A Public Execution” by Mouse. This time, Kaye writes: “There are some who say that this early 1966 masterpiece does Dylan’s Highway 61 period better than the master himself, and while I wouldn’t want to go that far, it can be admitted that Ronny Weiss, who was Mouse, certainly didn’t miss a trick. From Austin, Texas, he would also lead a group called Mouse and the Traps, that had several singles on Fraternity as well as Bell Records before dissolving away. Recently, Weiss has shown up with fellow Trap Dave Stanley in a lovely soft-country band on RCA named Rio Grande.” “A Public Execution” spent four weeks bubbling under the Hot 100, peaking at No. 121.

Saturday Single No. 114

January 4, 2012

Originally posted February 14, 2009

It being Valentine’s Day today, Blogworld is filled with love songs.

And that’s okay. If there’s one thing that should be celebrated more often, it’s love. And I can’t think of a more appropriate day to do so than today.

But what is there to say that hasn’t been said already, here and in a thousand thousand other places? Well, I think we can say that love – like the songs we write about it – is really about hope, promises, fear, joy, sorrow, yearning, bliss, despair, isolation, companionship, contentment and finally, peace.

I’ve heard it said – heck, I may have said so myself at one time or another, as many times as I’ve taken a climb on this Matterhorn of a topic – that we don’t really choose who we love. We just love, and we recognize the objects of our love when they enter our lives. The choices we make then are: first, whether to acknowledge the love, and second, how to express it. Those choices determine which of the feelings in the above list – hope, promises and so on – will embrace the two lovers.

Sometimes we choose badly. Most of the time, we hope, we don’t. And when one chooses well, when one acknowledges and expresses love in ways that nurture both souls, then the worst things on that list – isolation and despair – can be minimized, if not entirely avoided. What about fear and sorrow? Well, no person who loves another can avoid them. That’s not cynicism talking, that’s – to quote Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield by way of Marvin Gaye – the way love is. Fear and sorrow are the B-Side of hope and joy, and souls who love each other fear the inevitable parting and the resulting sorrow that comes even to those who have loved well and long.

I’d almost presume to say that if we do not grieve at a loved one’s leave-taking, we have not loved.

So, am I some kind of expert on love, to be throwing epigrams and lists of words around this morning? No, I’m just another pilgrim, one who has at times loved less than wisely and now – I believe – has learned to love well. These words are a description of my life, not a prescription for others. The only advice I would have for others on this day when we celebrate love is something someone told me long ago: Embrace love, wherever you find it.

Beyond that, all we need is a song. So here, for all lovers everywhere and especially for my Texas Gal, are Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell with today’s Saturday Single.

“You’re All I Need To Get By” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Tamla 54169 [1968]

(Readers should, by the way, head on over to Any Major Dude With Half A Heart and read – and listen to – the Dude’s series of posts on love songs.)

RIP, Rick Wright & Norman Whitfield

August 15, 2011

Originally posted September 18, 2008

Pillars continue to fall.

Monday saw the death from cancer of Rick Wright, keyboard player and one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. He crossed over at his home in England at the age of sixty-five.

Wright appeared on every Pink Floyd but one from 1967’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn onward. (The single exception was The Final Cut in 1983.) Along the way, he wrote some of the most cherished songs in the group’s long history, including two songs – “Us and Them” and “The Great Gig in the Sky” – for the group’s 1973 masterpiece, Dark Side of the Moon.

Also leaving us this week was Norman Whitfield, soul and R&B songwriter and producer, most notably for Motown in the 1960s and 1970s. Whitfield, who was sixty-seven, died from complications of diabetes. He was one of the most prolific songwriters and producers in any genre; the list of recordings of songs he wrote – generally with Barrett Strong – stretches for thirty pages at All-Music Guide covering soul, R&B, funk and many other genres and subgenres of music.

While it’s always risky to distill such a broad-based career down to two or three songs, there were three records I thought of immediately when I heard the news: Marvin Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Edwin Starr’s “War,” and the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

Given the news of the two deaths, I went digging at YouTube, as I generally do on Thursdays, and found some interesting things.

Here’s Pink Floyd on its 1994 Pulse tour performing Wright’s “Us and Them,” with some good close-ups of Wright singing and playing keys.

From the same tour, here’s Wright’s “Great Gig in the Sky,” again with a few good looks at Wright.

As for Whitfield, his writing and productions were his performances, so first, here’s the late Marvin Gaye singing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” during a television performance that’s dated 1968.

Then, here’s a live performance by the Temptations – from Soul Train, I think – of the Whitfield and Strong’s “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”

And here’s the late Edwin Starr with a performance of Whitfield & Strong’s “War,” evidently from a New Year’s celebration – if I’m wrong, someone please say so – hosted by British musician Jools Holland, who hosts Later . . . With Jools Holland.

Finally, stop by Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas for a moving meditation on the passing of folks whose art matters to us.

Afternote
The Temptations’ performance on Soul Train took place in 1972. The Starr performance was in fact from a show hosted by Holland on December 31, 2001, and was titled Jools Holland’s 9th New Year’s Eve Hootenanny. Four of the five videos – all except the Pink Floyd performance of “The Great Gig In The Sky” – have been re-embedded during posting in the archive although I believe they are the same videos as were originally embedded in 2008. Note added August 15, 2011.