Over the years I've heard a lot of people refer to the music they like as "my music". People will stroll into a bar and come up to the DJ booth and say something like "I'm so glad you're playing MY music tonight!" Music, unlike any other art form, has a unique power to reach over enormous chasms to reach into our hearts and let us know that we're not alone in our emotional experiences and life struggles. I think that's why people feel so deeply connected to the music they love. It becomes so personal to the point that even if we didn't create it ourselves, it feels as if it belongs to us.
With that in mind, I'd like to send BIG birthday wishes to Gladys Knight whose voice guided me through the loneliness and confusion of my younger years. Gladys Knight for so many years was MY music.
I've had today's selection of the day in my head a lot lately as I've watched the recent turmoil that feels as though it's tearing people apart while at the same time binding us together in ways we haven't seen in decades. Though on the surface this song may not seem like a message song, here we find Gladys Knight reminding us that when humanity has trouble finding common ground, it's important to remember that one thing we all have in common is the need for LOVE. It's undeniable and has been heavy on my mind as of late - There needs to be a lot more LOVE, COMPASSION & CONNECTEDNESS going around in the world today.
Sondra "Blinky" Williams, who was born on this day in 1944 in Oakland, is probably best known for her duets with Edwin Starr and for being the female voice in the theme for the TV show Good Times. But to me she is best known for her killer funky-blues version of "Money" which proved to be quite popular on the Sugar Town dance floor in the depths of the Great Recession. Of course, with the wealth gap widening, the middle class disappearing, and the influx of wealthy people migrating to Portland and pushing out those less fortunate, I have a feeling this record will ring true to the struggling population of Portland for a long time to come. CRANK IT UP and so that the people in the shiny new condos can hear it.
Motown psychedelic soul artist Edwin Starr was born on this day in 1942 in Nashville. He grew up in Ohio and migrated to Detroit during the 1960s becoming one of the signature voices on the Ric Tic label scoring hits with "SOS (Stop Her On Sight), "Agent Double 0 Soul" and "Backstreet" all of which have become classics at the soul dance parties of today. He also wrote "Oh How Happy" which was a HUGE record for The Shades of Blue.
In the mid-1960s Motown swallowed up the recording contracts of the Ric Tic label and Starr transitioned into a new identity. In the label's efforts to reach the growing hippie market Starr was paired with psych-soul producer Norman Whitfield. Together they created some of the most effective message records of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Obviously 1970's "War" is still being used as a protest cry in present times.
The song I've selected to feature today is from the Starr/Whitfield era. I turned to this record a lot during the GW Bush years, as it was a time when so many people just wanted to escape this place on a daily basis. The song is one with dual meanings alternating back and forth between seemingly addressing a relationship and confronting the oppressive powers that be in the U.S:
Take me clear from here
I don't want this life you want me to live right now
Take me clear from here
I don't want this life your trying to give to me
And if i do not go away
I know you know,
I'll be old and gray before my time
Well, it would take a while, it would take a while before i can forget
Oh, the different ways you try and break my mind
Starr's performance on this song is very convincing, probably because he was truly thinking of getting the hell out of the U.S. He ended up moving to the UK in 1973.
Yesterday the world lost the man who gave us "What's Become of the Broken Hearted," one of the definitive soul records of the 1960s. I lost a childhood friend. It was in the mid-80s that I discovered my love for Motown. It was everywhere in pop culture at the time and I began soaking it up. It was an incredible organic alternative to the synthesized sounds emitting from top 40 radio at that time. In comparison, Motown with it's big beat and even bigger voices sounded so much more real to me. The evidence was staring me right in the ears. Stevie Wonder of 1985 was very different from Stevie Wonder of 1965.
So one day I decided to dig through my father's record collection in the off chance he would have SOMETHING remotely resembling this music I loved so deeply. Strangely, there was. Amongst the Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand easy listening LPs there was one solitary collection of Motown "Monster Hits 2". I don't know how it got there, but it was waiting just for me. These weren't your typical Motown hits. This was on Pickwick, so they were lesser known hits and b-sides.
The song on this collection that captured my affection the most was called "(When I See Her) Gonna Give Her All the Love I Got" by Jimmy Ruffin. I was hooked after the first bar of James Jamerson's bass, beating like a restless heart. It's followed by a xylophone with the six most beautiful notes I had heard in my then 11 years of life. After that Jimmy chimes in to tell his compelling story about going to see the girl he left behind before being sent to prison. The anticipatory heartbeat is echoed again later in the song in the drums. It's your typical Motown masterpiece tied up nicely with a little bow. Later I would learn about Motown producers and musicians, but at the time it was all about me and my love affair with the voice of Jimmy Ruffin. There was no internet at the time and so it was years before I even knew what Jimmy Ruffin looked like. All I knew was that incredible voice that cut through the darkness all the way to my tiny heart.
When my other little friends were singing in front of the mirror to Madonna and Wham, I was singing in the shower and in front of the mirror to Jimmy Ruffin (and admittedly Madonna and Wham as well). The other 11 year-olds thought I was weird for liking all this "old music". It was then that I realized I wasn't like other kids. I was out of step with my times. I can't say that it deterred me for even one nanosecond from pursuing my new found passion. I was firmly footed on a path that would lead to decades dedicated to trying to convert other people to my musical religion.
I listened to that record over and over until I knew all of the words, every note, every celebratory sweeping of the strings, every drum beat, every back up vocal. All of it. Backwards and forwards. And so this morning after hearing the news of Jimmy's passing I had no problem recalling all of it for one more solo performance during my morning shower. That one was dedicated to Jimmy. Thank you my old friend. And thank you Pickwick for not wanting to pay for the rights of the best known Motown hits.
As far as I'm concerned, the melding of soul with calliopes or calliope-inspired music is the greatest thing that ever happened. Sadly, it did not happen often. I found this record while searching for carnival-themed tunes for the recent Sugar Town Dance Carnival. I have chosen to share it with you because today Marv Johnson would have turned 76.
He was the first star of Motown, though his biggest records weren't released on any of the actual Motown labels. When Marv launched his recording career, Motown wasn't the distribution powerhouse it would become so Marv's sides were released on UA.
Like most of Marv's early records, this was produced and co-written by Berry Gordy. Berry doesn't get a lot of recognition as a producer, which is kind of a shame because I find myself loving a lot of his records. And on this one, what's not to love? Calliope + playful strings + gorgeous vocals + a clever song concept. It shoulda been a bigger hit! Eddie Holland also did a version of this song in 1959, but it kind of falls flat for me. Interestingly, both were produced by Berry. I guess he had polished his concept the second time around. Marv Johnson's version paints a vibrant picture and really pulls out all the stops in bringing this song to life!
DJ Action Slacks
I'm excited to highlight some of my favorite records in a variety of genres (soul, R&B, classic country, rockabilly, oldies, garage rock, etc). These won't all necessarily be "dance" records per se. They will all be records that I believe deserve a special listen. I simply love good music, rare or not. Hopefully you will spend some time here and love music right along with me! Lets give this a shot!