Archive for the ‘Stevie Wonder’ Category

Little Stevie Wonder

Thursday, December 19th, 2013


Side 1:

Listen: I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues (Part 1) /Little Stevie Wonder

Listen: I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues (Part 2) /Little Stevie Wonder

Side 2:

Listen: Workout Stevie Workout / Little Stevie Wonder

Listen: Monkey Talk / Little Stevie Wonder

When it comes to hitting puberty and it’s accompanying voice change for males, I often wish Little Stevie Wonder had never grown up to be Stevie Wonder. Michael Jackson’s keepers allegedly had the good sense to castrate the fellow in order to avoid losing that money printing vocal ability.

So when speaking of voice alone, I prefer the early days as exemplified on this EP, hand’s down.

Although ‘I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues’ may be one of the best song titles ever, it pales as rather standard early Motown next to ‘Workout Stevie Workout’ and ‘Monkey Talk’.

Now these two songs have the imaginary ability to transport me outside the window ledge at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, looking in. The songs are like a soul steam bath, possibly amongst the greatest examples of the assembly line sweat shop known to produce the Motown sound and all their wonderfully tambourine heavy swinging singles.

And then, there’s Little Stevie Wonder toiling away his publishing and performances in the middle of it all. Nowadays that might be considered a child labor offense. I never did follow the blow by blows of the label’s financial abuse accusations towards their artists, but he has stayed with the company for his entire career, so go figure.

It’s not hard to see why all those English soul nuts clamored over this initial UK EP release, with it’s aforementioned musical content and period piece primitive artwork.

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.

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.

Roberta Flack

Monday, January 4th, 2010

RobertaFirstTimeUS, Roberta Flack, Atlantic, Donny Hathaway

RobertaFirstTimeUKA, Roberta Flack, Atlantic, Donny Hathaway

Listen: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face / Roberta Flack RobertaFirst.mp3

One of the first signs of major label desperation started to reveal itself around ’04. I worked A&R at Columbia, and it was obvious many young, debut acts were being file shared, as opposed to purchased on CD. So the making of new recordings by classic artists became the MO. Bob Dylan and Barbra Streisand were having #1 albums, after struggling to get any real sales blips for years. So Don Ienner, our chairman, suggested we find classic acts who were still relevant – even though most people had forgotten they were….still relevant. Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, Bette Midler, Burt Bacharach and umm, Wilson Phillips.

I wanted to sign Roberta Flack.

Coincidentally, I had seen her a few weeks prior at B.B. King’s, and she was jawdropping. Voice 100% intact, beautiful and get this – hysterical. Her between song banter was a riot, more like Millie Jackson than the Roberta Flack I expected. We all blushed more than once. First rule: if she plays anywhere near you – GO. You will be knocked out.

I’m convinced I have a great idea and mention this to Vicki Wickham, figuring she may have a contact for Roberta. Sure enough she instructed me to leave it with her. A few days later, I get buzzed “Roberta Flack is on line one”. Holy shit. I pick up meagerly and she says “Kevin, this is Roberta Flack”. I apologetically put her on hold quickly, literally screamed, then went back calmly to proceed with the conversation. What a lovely lady. We talked for ages about making an album, even getting the songs Stevie Wonder had written for her and Donny Hathaway out of storage. She offered to call him, thereby inviting his voice on the potential duets now that Donny was gone. Sounded amazing.

Well Donnie Ienner passed. His gut wasn’t feeling it I suppose.

The major label world is a funny one. When you’re hot, you’re hot. Or when the boss is feeling good about you, your ideas are exciting, if not – there’s no winning. Yet the next guy down the hall can have the same idea and it flies. Who can say where Roberta and I fit in to that time line.

Gilbert O’ Sullivan

Monday, September 14th, 2009

gilbertgetdown, MAM, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Decca, Gordon Mills

Listen: Get Down / Gilbert O’ Sullivan GilbertGetDown.mp3

One of the enthralling things about the music business: your luck can change on a dime. That of course can be good and bad. But hey, life’s a crap shoot so may as well drive in the fast lane.

Type cast as a ballad/soft pop staple, Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s luck changed when he took a chance and basically rock and rolled out. I remember this one getting rock radio play. Suddenly he was cool. Well, after all, he was on MAM, London’s imprint famous for Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile. So by my standards, he already had an out of jail free card. The electric piano made for a nice groove, almost Stevie Wonder-ish. Years later, Ben Folds Five could pull this out and make it work.

One of life’s guilty pleasures.

Louis Jordan

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

Hardhead / Louis Jordan

Listen: Hardhead / Louis Jordan LouisJordanHardhead.mp3

I didn’t know much about Louis Jordan until John Anthony gave me a Best Of cd as a present one night. He’d been round with Howard for an evening of food and records, and it was a thank you thought. Little did he know I’d begin yet another quest to complete a 45 library on the guy as a result. Risque sexual themes often featured strongly in his work, notably the saucy ‘Show Me How To Milk The Cow’ for example. And I do love sleeze.

Ray Charles signed Louis Jordan to his Tangerine label in the 60’s – it was his last deal actually. ‘Hardhead’ is a terrific single from that period. There are many things to appreciate about the guy – go and Wikipedia him. Known as ‘King Of The Jukebox’, he still maintains the most weeks at #1 for any black performer: 113 (Stevie Wonder lags behind with 70, making him #2).

Clearly he kicked the door open for Little Richard, Screaming Jay Hawkins – so many.