Archive for the ‘Tamla’ Category

The Flirtations

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

Listen: Nothing But A Heartache / The Flirtations

This is simply the greatest Motown single that was never on Motown. Even though the UK Deram label really didn’t specialize in releases for the soul or RnB market, ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ suddenly appeared in mid ’68. Re-released a few months later, with a different B side, the record started to get play in the US, eventually peaking on the Billboard charts at #34. It was overseen by Wayne Bickerton, who had produced the lavish, for it’s day, album by UK band, World Of Oz. Their single, ‘The Muffin Man’, was almost a hit, garnering pretty solid airplay in a lot of US markets during summer ’68, for about two weeks. Literally, every local chart I’ve ever seen it on was for a two week run. I guess the checks didn’t clear and onto the payola victim scrap heap that fantastic single went.

Years later, this Flirtations track became a Northern Soul success. Northern Soul records, in simple terms, are non hit, copy versions of the Tamla/Motown sound. Many were still being recorded into the early ’70′s, after that original era had long past. The clubs in the North of England were insatiable for anything resembling it and hence the tag Northern Soul.

Proof of the song’s validity comes in the fact that, despite being a UK act and UK made record, like most of the Motown singles from the 60′s, ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ was only a hit in America.

The Miracles

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

SHOP AROUND / The Miracles:

Side 1:

Listen: Shop Around / The Miracles

Listen: Who’s Loving You / The Miracles

Side 2:

Listen: Ain’t It Baby / The Miracles

Listen: The Only One I Love / The Miracles

This UK EP and the US hit single that sparked it, ‘Shop Around’, were released in 1961.

1961! Can you believe it?

Bill Robinson, lead voice and writer for The Miracles, known to the greater populous, we mere mortals, as Smokey Robinson…well it just seems impossible that he started that long ago. His songs and mainstream success with Smokey Robinson & The Miracles being so ubiquitous, seems like yesterday.

Pretty safe question to ask: “Has Smokey Robinson ever written a bad song?” Hmm, maybe not.

For all the great songwriters you or I might name check, this fellow has outdone each and every one when you stop to actually look at his output through the years.

Unquestionably a higher form of life.

The Contours

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Side 1:

Listen: Can You Jerk Like Me / The Contours

Listen: That Day When She Needed Me / The Contours

Side 2:

Listen: Can You Do It / The Contours

Listen: I’ll Stand By You / The Contours

Looking back, The Contours probably released more dance instruction songs than anybody, with a possible exception being Chubby Checker. ‘Can You Jerk Like Me’ was one of their earliest.

They were never an act to achieve much more than lower chart success in the US, and excepting the reissue of ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’, none in the UK. They mirror The Marvelettes in Motown’s history books. That being, there was always some other act getting the best songs from their in-house writing machines, and ultimately the push at radio.

And like The Marvelettes, for my two cents, that became a benefit. Not to take away from The Four Tops or The Temptations, clearly on the A list then, but the quick in/quick out studio policy meant The Contours’ records remained unpolished and messier in the best way.

So in Berry Gordy’s world, if The Marvelettes were to The Supremes as The Rolling Stones were to The Beatles, let’s take it a rung lower in the case of The Contours. They were to The Temptations what The Pretty Things were to The Beatles.

Hence I covet every single they ever recorded. And heavens knows, no price is too high for their only EP.

The Marvelettes

Friday, December 6th, 2013

THE MARVELETTES / The Marvelettes:

Side 1:

Listen: Too Many Fish In The Sea / The Marvelettes

Listen: He’s A Good Guy (Yes He Is) / The Marvelettes

Side 2:

Listen: You’re My Remedy / The Marvelettes

Listen: Little Girl Blue / The Marvelettes

If you believe all the accusations contained in the handful of detailed Motown history books on the market, The Marvelettes got the second tier of important songs coming off the in-house songwriting assembly line. The cream of the most obviously commercial works went to The Supremes. It had been deemed early on that they were the label’s female superstars, and so The Marvelettes had fewer home run hits, but in the end, came off more intellectual. One might even slot them in as Motown’s biggest cult group.

Mind you, The Supremes were great, I loved them. The world loved them. But The Marvelettes, they had the darker slant, minor key at times, thereby giving them edge, even a touch of danger.

Their patch of Smokey Robinson written and produced ’66 to ’68 singles rate amongst Motown’s highest calibre. ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By THe Game’ and ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician’ to name a few.

But this EP, with earlier songs from ’63 – ’64 and their accompanying Motown bounce, mark a time when all things were a bit more juvenile and created a bit more equal, and the first division songs went around to all.

In the end, my two cents maintains The Marvelettes were to The Supremes what The Rolling Stones were to The Beatles. And I just love that.

Vicki Wickham / Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

Listen: The Flick (Part I) / Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers

Listen: The Flick (Part II) / Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers

Of Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers’ six Soul/Motown single releases, ‘The Flick’ is one of the lesser known.

Sounding very much like the casual late night jam at 2648 West Grand Boulevard that it probably was, Motown’s house band, as they were, or The Funk Brothers, as they became known, got to record some instrumentals under the name Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers. These guys really didn’t like the commercial records they were required to make by day, preferring jazz instead. So not surprisingly, these dabbles sound not unlike the Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff soul jazz releases from the period, and make for great jukebox ambience.

Let me tell you, there’s nothing like a late Sunday afternoon spent digging through a few hundred Motown promos. Happened yesterday, so I can attest.

This all started at the Brooklyn Bowl 60′s Music & Memorabilia Show. One dealer displayed a Motown white label, and it set me off. To be honest, I’d been waiting a few years to start filing these, Vicki Wickham’s Motown singles, into my wall shelves. It suddenly felt like that moment had arrived.

Yes, Saint Vicki. This woman has performed many miracles in my world. As if giving me her record collection several years back wasn’t miracle enough, she out of the blue rang a few days before Thanksgiving 2010, announcing another multi-box discovery in storage. About a thousand singles from her READY STEADY GO days, completely forgotten about for decades.

“Might you want them?”

I nearly had to make the trip over to hers in an ambulance.

There they were, several white boxes, all stacked, labelled and waiting for me to collect. Plus perfectly separated out, a Vicki VIP section: two boxes of Oriole/Stateside/Tamla/Motown. All organized chronologically by label, then catalog number.

Now I have tripped out on these many times, even let a few friends have a look through, well Phil and Eric, and that’s about it. Duane wasn’t interested.

Yesterday began the process of folding these into the master collection. Playing many and nearly blacking out a few times.

No drug has ever gotten me this high. Not ever. Not any.

Brenda Holloway / Vivian Green

Monday, June 27th, 2011

brendahollowayuka, brenda holloway, tamla, motown, vivian green

Listen: Every Little Bit Hurts / Brenda Holloway
Every Little Bit Hurts / Brenda Holloway

Listen: Every Little Bit Hurts / Vivian Green
Every Little Bit Hurts / Vivian Green

Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Every Little Bit Hurts’ is nothing like his other massive hit, The Standells’ ‘Dirty Water’. With writing credits as diverse as The Chocolate Watch Band and Gloria Jones, it’s doubly impressive.

There was an HBO program several seasons back, AMERICAN DREAMS, all about Philadelphia in the 60′s. The daughter of the family it centered around was a dancer on AMERICAN BANDSTAND, so every episode featured a current artist kitted out as someone who had appeared on the show during that time period, and doing the same song originally performed. When they wanted Vivian Green, there weren’t many cover choices left as they’d already used material from Mary Wells and Tina Turner. The 60′s were an era of girl groups, but as Vivian was a solo artist, Motown acts like The Supremes or Martha & The Vandellas weren’t options. I suggested Brenda Holloway, never expecting them to go for it, but they did.

Doing the TV show was a two day affair. Day one, Vivian went in to record her vocal at Ocean Way Studios and on day two, she was dolled up in costume (looking exactly like Brenda Holloway to a T) and mimed the newly re-recorded version on a mock AMERICAN BANSTAND stage. It was a blast.

Vivian was completely prepared, plus being the flawless vocalist that she is, laid it down in one take. Everyone’s jaw dropped. The engineer said “You’re done” and her response was “I was only warming up. You mean I can’t sing it again?” Of course they let her, but also said if she wanted to bail and go shopping, they had what they needed. The above Vivian Green version is that first take.

Brenda Holloway actually called later that day, having heard the new version, to thank Vivian for a job well done.

Stevie Wonder

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Listen: High Heel Sneakers / Stevie Wonder
High Heel Sneakers / Stevie Wonder

Those early Little Stevie Wonder and then Stevie Wonder singles, from ’62 up through and including ‘High Heeled Sneakers’ in ’65, are like a different world to his later releases. ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’ immediately followed and arguably still had a live, one take feel, but there’s just something about the earlier ones. Yeah, they were not only way more spontaneous but about then, my guess is, the star making machine was switched on, and the de-ghettoizing process began.

It was a time when you really had to be capable of singing and playing to get a record deal, like really, really be able to sing. At least if you wanted to keep your deal I suppose. It was obvious he could do both better than most.

Yet still a teenager, his harmonica mastery was undeniable. I bet those live shows in bars and dare I assume, juke joints, had to have been loose and wild. Just add liquor and bang.

The Miracles

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

MiraclesHoldUKA, Miracles, Smokey Robinson, Tamla, Motown, Oriole, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones

Listen: You Really Got A Hold On Me / The Miracles
You Really Got A Hold On Me / The Miracles

I do think The Beatles cover version on a very early US album turned me on to ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’. Not one for The Beatles after about two minutes into The Rolling Stones ‘Not Fade Away’ in ’64, it must have been their second album at most. Long gone from my collection, I can’t verify. Never mind – it did the job.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, as time would eventually refer to them, indeed made many great singles – it’s virtually impossible to pick a favorite. But this I remember as one of those first times in life. I still feel the exact same wonderment with every listen. It has never gone away and there are very few records I can say that about.

Kim Weston

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Listen: Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While) / Kim Weston KimWestonTakeMe.mp3

Tell you what, I wish I owned the actual tambourine used on ‘Take Me In Your Arms’. It must have been metal, as opposed to a wooden version. I wonder where that item is this very moment. Seriously, where would something like that ultimately end up?

Basically, we will never ever know. Shame. Because other than the rolling riff /piano playoff in the chorus, it’s the most important instrument here, the lead component. One of the most famous tambourines in the world. As famous as the maracas on The Rolling Stones ‘Not Fade Away’ or the tonette in The Troggs ‘Wild Thing’ instrumental break.

Yes. ‘Take Me In Your Arms’ is Motown’s most unique, prominent and influential tambourine song, like, ever.

UK A label and EP, both courtesy the Vicki Wickham collection. Two beauties full stop.

Barbara Randolph

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Barbara Randolf / I Got A Feeling

Listen: I Got A Feeling / Barbara Randolph BarbaraFeeling.mp3

Back in the 70′s, when Howard was still in London, we had a pretty intense record exchange thing going on. This started in the early punk days of ’76. Great records were literally coming out weekly. We’d keep each other up on the latest from the UK and US respectively. Pretty quickly, we were exchanging more than punk though.

This Barbara Randolph record was one such example. Undeservedly, a non hit when originally released by US Motown in ’67, ‘I Got A Feeling’ eventually received exposure in the 70′s via the UK Northern Soul clubs and was reissued a few times as a result. One such time, in ’79, Howard thankfully sent a copy my way. I’d not heard it until then.

On Saturday night night, Vicki Wickham contributed her original A label (above) to my wall shelf. More on her singles to come.

Barbara Randolph was actually a member of The Platters and almost replaced Florence Ballard in The Supremes but word is Diana Ross nixed that. Probably a blessing. Maybe someone from the studio heard her audition and the result was this classic.

Little Stevie Wonder

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Listen: Workout Stevie, Workout / Little Stevie Wonder StevieWorkout.mp3

Saturday November 27, 2010. 5:30pm. Thought I’d be braving Christmas shopping gridlock mayhem but no…it was an easy sail across town and up to the west side building where Vicki Wickham and her doorman stood by, hand cart stacked with 150 count white 7″ boxes all neatly labeled. The top one: A – Ellison. Oh boy. Was it Andy or Lorraine?

I plotzed when the phone rang several weeks back, Vicki down the other end letting me know she’s found “a lot of 45′s in my storage space”. All forgotten about, for years now. Would I come get them?

“They’re mostly RnB or Soul, and from the 60′s. Oh and the labels all have those big red A’s on them that you like so much luv.”

God bless Vicki Wickham. Really, she is a saint. Forever looking out for me – and to think from her READY STEADY GO Redifussion office to my collection. That’s how these records have travelled. I mean, here are the very copies that resulted in so many bookings on the program. The real artifacts. Thank you Vicki.

This collection wasted no time. It opened a door I’d forgotten all about: early Stevie Wonder, before the voice changed, when he was still known as Little Stevie Wonder. “Workout Stevie, Workout’ was his fifth single, and third non-LP. Coming off ‘Fingertips’, which went to #1 pop, this fizzled at #33. Give a listen though, a pretty high position considering how spontaneous and raw the take is. Did this actually get radio play?

As with all his early releases, ‘Workout Stevie Workout’ was a very bluesy RnB, and sounded live, or pretended to be. Theoretically, the Motown sound began here, but these early singles could just as easily have been from New York’s countless imprints, such as Sue Records, or so many labels out of the south.

Listen: Monkey Talk / Little Stevie Wonder StevieMonkeyTalk.mp3

Even better, the B side. I would absolutely vote ‘Monkey Talk’ the winner of the two tracks. Check out his intro, pretty risqué. What a jam, don’t know what else to call this. Been playing it over and over all day.

One of the many great things about collecting records, you’re always finding something new to be insatiable over. But sometimes it can be right under your nose. Yeah, this UK pressing just entered my world, but the US copy has been in my library…since the later part of the 20th century.

Kim Weston

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Listen: It Should Have Been Me / Kim Weston KimWestonShouldHaveBeenMe.mp3

‘It Should Have Been Me’, not surprisingly, has been covered a bunch, including by Gladys Knight & The Pips and most successfully, Yvonne Fair (see that post elsewhere on this blog). Just to quickly recap, the latter is a proper church style reading, all the more convincing via her gruff delivery. A true classic.

Little did I realize, Kim Weston’s first Tamla single was indeed the original version. Really nice find in Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom record annex, you can imagine my eyes lighting up at the sight of it. There was a part of me that couldn’t get home fast enough to give this beauty a spin. Unfortunately, home at that moment was 460 miles east but luckily the shop’s customer turntable/headphone setup did just fine. What a surprise to hear Kim Weston sounding so unrefined, raspy, beautifully under produced, even shouty.

Word is she has a Detroit radio show. Good thing I didn’t know that when I was there. I’m a Kim Weston stalker.

The Contours

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

The Contours / Just a Little

ContoursLittleUKA, The Contours, Tamla

Listen: Just a Little Misunderstanding / The Contours 06 Just A Little Misunderstanding.mp3

Most times the really successful acts are great, but after they’re pounded into your brain relentlessly, you can go off them a bit. The Beach Boys come to mind and their biggest hits at that. I love ‘California Girls’ but never need to hear it again. Likewise ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’.

So yeah, we all loved The Supremes and The Four Tops too, but those lesser known Motown acts were just as great. Some had the occasional smash, Like Mary Wells or The Marvelettes, yet some just never got near their fair share. Like The Contours.

It’s in hindsight I’ve come to appreciated them. Northern Soul has given a lot of great singles an unexpected success story, if not in big sales at least in big appreciation. ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’ is one. I heard this on a few of those truly great Northern comps like THE IN CROWD – THE STORY OF NORTHERN SOUL and it’s accompanying must-read book.

Gladys Knight & The Pips

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Listen: Nitty Gritty / Gladys Knight & The Pips GladysNitty.mp3

What’s really proof of this record’s power: the most addicted to any other genre of music fan can’t resist instant curiosity when ‘The Nitty Gritty’ powers through a set of speakers. I had quite the time spinning singles at Brooklyn Bowl last Sunday with Lord Wardd, playing mostly 60′s – present, basically tomorrow’s sound today stuff – even the one’s from the 60′s and 70′s, when released, would have been considered that: The Small Faces, T. Rex, or X. So it’s really fun to watch a younger but musically informed crowd light up when some down and dirty funk or soul hits. Even better, a whole bunch of parents and their young kids, out bowling for a fun afternoon, suddenly doing an about face toward the DJ booth with that ‘Oh my God, I remember this’ look burned onto their face.

Gladys Knight could belt it out every time, when she was given the green light that is. Looking back on a few gems like ‘The Nitty Gritty’ need only one listen to show us why.

Some friends stuck with her from the Motown move to Buddah. Suddenly she was sounding a touch buffed around the edges for my tastes, but the pre ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ era, all that Tamla/Norman Whitfield stuff, there’s no topping it.

Marvin Gaye

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

MarvinStubborn, Marvin Gaye, Oriole, Tamla, Motown

Listen: Stubborn Kind Of Fellow / Marvin Gaye MarvinStubborn.mp3

Neck to neck, it’s a real tossup which guy epitomizes the early 60′s mod / soul sound: Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye. Funny enough, it’s as strong a debate as you might expect around The Beatles / The Rolling Stones challenge. At least at some of the pubs in North London, where the Tamla guys seem to be fixtures on a Sunday afternoon. I’d never thought about it actually. My barometer was always tuned to what The Rolling Stones were covering, so I’d lean towards Marvin.

Not sure why ‘Stubborn Kind Of Fellow’ never seems to show up on comp cd’s or anthologies, not any that I have, given it was his debut UK single and all. Besides, is there any other Motown based release that credits The Vandellas on the label?

MarvinWitness, Marvin Gaye, Oriole, Tamla, Motown

Listen: Can I Get A Witness / Marvin Gaye MarvinWitness.mp3

This original paced version took some getting used to on first listen way back when. I knew the faster ‘Can I Get A Witness’ from ENGLAND’S NEWEST HIT MAKERS. Don’t shoot me, I was far from the only kid in America that got my soul music from the UK bands instead of pop radio, early on that is. Now that faster Rolling Stones take just feels wrong, but hats off to them for introducing American middle class kids to their own culture.

It’s pretty dramatic the difference between early and later Marvin Gaye. Even more than Stevie Wonder, but way less than say, Underworld. I think they take the cake. Check out that first album.

As with both singles above, these mono vinyl pressings possess a sound absolutely no other format can enhance or replace.

Martha & The Vandellas

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

MarthaVandellasDancingUS, Martha & The Vandellas, Martha Reeves & The Vandells, Stateside, Gordy, Marvin Gaye

MarthaVandellasDancingUKA, Martha & The Vandellas, Martha Reeves & The Vandells, Stateside, Gordy, Marvin Gaye

MarthaDancingUKA2, Martha & The Vandellas, Martha Reeves & The Vandells, Stateside, Gordy, Marvin Gaye

Listen: Dancing In The Streets / Martha & The Vandellas MarthaVandellasDancingStreet.mp3

What in the world is a Vandella? I’ve always wanted to know.

Okay, so why the hell am I posting this record? Because these labels look so beautiful, and there’s NOTHING like this track in mono, exactly the way God meant it to be.

Kim Weston

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

KimWestonHelplessUKA, Kim Weston, Tamla, Motown, Holland-Dozier-Holland

Listen: Helpless / Kim Weston KimWestonHelpless.mp3

She made two of the greatest records ever. This and ‘It Takes Two’. Like Mary Wells, Tammi Terrell and Florence Ballard, she was, from time to time, my Motown Goddess. I can replay her performance of this on SHINDIG like it was yesterday. Even though the program was black and white, I remember it in color, I guess because I wanted to.

Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston

Monday, September 21st, 2009

marvinkim, Marvin Gaye, Kim Weston, Tamla, Motown

Listen: It Takes Two / Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston MarvinTammi.mp3

I don’t believe the general public hears this one enough. Seems to have slipped through the fingers of time. If I ever hear Marvin Gaye’s duets with Tammi Terrell (‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Ain’t Nothing Lie The Real Thing’) again on stale, tired US Oldies radio, I think I’ll puke. I’m betting Sirius gives this one a spin occasionally though. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Tammi Terrell, but I really love Kim Weston. She had swagger and I had the hots for her as a teenager, saw her on one of those Dick Clark ‘Caravan Of Stars’ tour packages.

‘It Takes Two’ is also an oddly hard single to find, considering it reached #14 Pop in ’67. Hard to find in good condition that is. I didn’t pick it up on release, and only found a fairly clean copy a year or so back. Now one of my jukebox staples, I spent the day just hanging around the house, filing stacks of singles I picked up during the past two weeks busing around the States with Matt & Kim, playing it incessantly, pressing B9 every time I passed my trusty Seeburg.

The Impressions

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Mighty Mighty Spade & Whitey / The Impressions

Listen: Mighty Mighty Spade & Whitey / The Impressions ImpressionsMighty.mp3

Was it by coincidence the album from which this, and it’s flip side ‘Choice Of Color’, came sported a title THE YOUNG MODS’ FORGOTTEN STORY? What fan of the under appreciated US Blues/RnB/Soul sound, so loved in the UK, would not embrace it whole heartedly? After all, the mods championed Tamla/Motown, James Brown, all things blues, ska and multi racial in the years prior to this 1969 release. Capturing the heroin chic of Harlem, glorified by endless blaxploitation films, ‘Mighty Mighty Spade & Whitey’ was the real theme of racial tensions in every inner city public school. If you lived it, you’d know. Relegated to a B side, it’s a bit of an undiscovered gem.

Impossible now not to respect, even worship, the mere sound of Curtis Mayfield’s fragile falsetto voice, his style was in extreme contrast to the sound of rollicking soul, then dominating the charts. It’s gratifying that he, along with Donny Hathaway, tended to define the mainstream almost overnight.