War – Edwin Starr

‘War! Huh! Yeah! What is it good for? Absolutely Nothin’!’

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When A Man Loves A Woman – Percy Sledge

Mr Sledge somewhat unwisely waved goodbye to a fortune by giving away songwriting credit for this all-time classic…

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Young Hearts Run Free – Candi Staton (Incorporating ‘You Got The Love’)


The song was semi-biographical…

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Gimme Some Lovin’ – Spencer Davis Group

Steve Winwood has always been a highly respected and much in demand musician…

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I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) – Aretha Franklin

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) – Aretha Franklin

Atlantic was the home of soul music in the middle 1960s, and Jerry Wexler, one of the company’s key figures, knew exactly what to do with Aretha. Les mer

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I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

“Mention that f***ing record again and you’re fired!”

I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

Tamla 54176 (USA) / Tamla Motown TMG 686 (UK)
Recorded at Hitsville USA, Detroit, February – April 1967
Released 30 October 1968
Writers Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong
Producer Norman Whitfield
USA #1 14/12/68 7 weeks UK #1 26/3/69 3 weeks

Berry Gordy was the man who made the decisions at Motown Records, a business he’d built up from an $800 loan in 1959 to one of the most successful black run corporations in America, selling out 29 years later in 1988 for a cool $61 million. Wisely, Gordy held on to the valuable Jobete song publishing catalogue containing most of the label’s hits, later selling it off in three stages to EMI between 1997 and 2004 for a whopping $321 million! Along the way he brought us such artists as the Supremes featuring Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Jackson 5 featuring 12-year old Michael, and Marvin Gaye. Born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. in Washington, D.C. in 1939, his influences were Ray Charles, Clyde McPhatter and Frank Sinatra – apparently he’d wanted to be a crooner from the age of 15. Apart from being a sensational vocalist, Gaye also played piano and drums, and it was as a backing musician for Smokey Robinson’s Miracles that he first worked for Motown, touring and playing drums. Gaye was studio drummer on a number of early Motown hits including the Marvelettes 1961 ‘Please Mr Postman’, the company’s first number one record, and a song later covered by the Beatles.

Becoming romantically involved with Berry Gordy’s sister Anna, Marvin quickly became an integral member of the Motown ‘family’ and was signed as a solo artist in 1961 having his first hit with his 4th single, ‘Stubborn Kind Of Fellow’, in 1962. From there on there was no looking back, and Gaye swiftly became one of Motown’s most successful artists scoring hits of his own in addition to a series of duet successes with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell and later, Diana Ross. Gaye also became an adept songwriter creating many of his hits together with Motown’s other writers, Holland, Dozier & Holland, Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield. Aside from his own hits, Gaye also had a hand in many others – he was for example a co-writer of Martha & The Vandellas’ classic ‘Dancing In The Street’. By 1967, the year Marvin recorded what was ultimately to become his biggest hit, he was one of Motown’s top stars, though the fact is his version of ‘Grapevine’ was very nearly not released at all.

As was often the case at Motown, several artists had made recordings of the song, written by songwriting team Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and Gaye hadn’t been the first. An initial recording was made by Smokey Robinson’s Miracles (recorded in August 1966, but deemed unsuitable for release), before the Isley Brothers allegedly tackled it, though their version, if one in fact exists, has never been released. As it became apparent that Berry Gordy disliked the song, Whitfield then tried a complete rearrangement with Marvin Gaye (recorded in 5 sessions between February and April 1967 with the Funk Brothers and members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra), which to both Whitfield and Gaye’s dismay Berry Gordy once again felt was not strong enough for release as a single.
Finally Whitfield tried again, this time striking gold with Gladys Knight whose interpretation (recorded in June 1967), in the spirit of Aretha Franklin’s contemporary hit ‘Respect’, went to #2 in America at the end of 1967. Thus, there seemed little point in releasing Gaye’s recording of ‘Grapevine’ just a few short months later, even though it was considerably different from the Gladys Knight success. In retrospect, of course, it’s very hard to see why Gordy didn’t recognise Gaye’s version as a solid gold Number One smash upon first hearing – perhaps at the time he first heard it (in April 1967) he considered it was just too distant from the standard Motown sound. It wouldn’t be until October 1968 that he reluctantly allowed Whitfield to release his first ‘psychedelic soul’ classic ‘Cloud Nine’ by the Temptations, a radical departure for Motown.
In the meantime it seems that Whitfield was the only person at Motown who was convinced Gaye’s version could still be a hit in its own right. The first time he’d presented it to Berry Gordy at the company’s regular Friday product meeting he had asserted, “This is a smash, a number one record and I know it. I got those chills I get when I know I got a hit! And you know my chills don’t lie!” But Gordy had turned down Whitfield’s recording on Marvin as his next single in favour of a Holland, Dozier, Holland song, ‘Your Unchanging Love’, which was not unlike their earlier ‘How Sweet It Is’, a hit in 1964. However, and despite the success that Gladys Knight had enjoyed with ‘Grapevine’, Whitfield wouldn’t give up and continued badgering Gordy about the Gaye version. According to co-writer Barrett Strong, “Norman believed in it so strongly he almost lost his job. Berry finally said, ‘Get out my face. Mention that f***ing record again and you’re fired.’” In fact Gaye’s recording of ‘Grapevine’ was shelved for a year and a half until Gordy reluctantly allowed Whitfield to place it on his August 1968 album ‘In The Groove’ (later re-titled after the massive hit it contained). Finally, the decision was taken out of Gordy’s hands when an American radio deejay began featuring Gaye’s album version of the song, and the ensuing public demand forced Motown to release it as a single.

‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, as sung by Marvin Gaye quickly became one of Motown’s biggest selling singles of all time, spending 7 weeks at #1 in America, and 3 in Britain, and securing its place as one of the all-time classics. It returned to the UK Top 10 in 1986 when a sound-alike copy featured in a highly successful Levi’s television campaign that also made second-time-around hits of ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’. (The Levis campaign, which began in 1986 with an ad featuring Nick Kamen, who stripped down to his boxers in a launderette to the strains of ‘Grapevine’, was a huge success – Levis UK sales allegedly increased by 800%. A further campaign in the early 1990s made Number 1’s of ‘The Joker’ and ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’)

Marvin Gaye lived a troubled life and went through a particularly acrimonious divorce that resulted in the 1979 double album, Here, My Dear, which was literally presented to his wife as part of their divorce settlement! This was followed by severe drug problems and a slight disagreement with the IRS over several million dollars of back taxes. Leaving Motown in 1981, Gaye also left the country and retreated to Ostend in Belgium of all places, where he managed to resurrect his career, obtain a new contract with CBS, and return to the world’s charts with the sensuous ‘Sexual Healing’ in 1982. Though his career fluctuated between soul perfection (as witnessed on the timeless 1971 collection What’s Going On) and wilful self-indulgence (Here, My Dear), there’s no doubt that Marvin Gaye possessed one of the finest voices in popular music. Sadly, his troubled life reached a bizarre conclusion when he was shot dead by his own father on April 1st 1984. (Norman Whitfield died in September 2008)

(To our non-English readers who may be somewhat mystified by the phrase ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, it refers to the informal spreading of gossip and rumour from person to person. There are probably numerous variations of this in different countries. In Australia, for example, one might substitute ‘grapevine’ for ‘bush telegraph’)

Copyright © 2008/2015 SongStories/Tony Burto

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Dancing In The Street – Martha & The Vandellas

Dancing In The Street – Martha & The Vandellas

‘Motown’s national anthem…’

Dancing In The Street – Martha & The Vandellas

Gordy 7033 (USA) / Stateside SS 345 (UK) / Tamla Motown TMG 684 (UK 1969)
Recorded at Hitsville USA, Detroit, 22nd May 1964.
Martha Reeves’ vocal recorded 29th June 1964
Released August 1964
Writers William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson, Marvin Gaye & Ivy Jo Hunter
Producer William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson
USA #2 10/64 UK #28 11/64 UK#4 2/69

Surely in the Top 5 all-time Motown classics, and the song from which Keith Richards claims he pinched the idea for his ‘Satisfaction’ riff, it’s now half a century since this gem was recorded at Motown’s aptly named ‘Hitsville USA’ studios in Detroit, Michigan, probably the most successful hit-making studio in the history of popular music? Martha Reeves and the Vandellas always played second fiddle to the Supremes in the corridors of Motown, but they still got a fair slice of the action with some classic songs from the pens of Messrs Holland, Dozier and Holland, among them ‘Heatwave’, ‘Nowhere To Run’ and ‘Jimmy Mack’. ‘Dancing In The Street’ – which featured car tyre chains slammed against a block of wood as a rather unusual and highly effective percussion instrument – was credited to the combined talents of William Stevenson, Marvin Gaye and Ivy Jo Hunter though most of the song was actually written by Hunter – Stevenson got credit because he was Hunter’s regular songwriting partner and Marvin Gaye’s main contribution was the title. Apparently he managed to negotiate himself a 25% royalty for this small but vital contribution.

This song is absolutely choc-a-bloc with great lines, almost a list of slogans, ‘Can’t forget the motor city’ (Detroit, home of Motown’), ‘All we need is music’, ‘This is an invitation across the nation’, ‘There’ll be swingin’, swayin’ and records playin’ and the classic title line, ‘Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street’ which we will in due course be coming back to. Though recorded in a time of racial tension across America and shortly after President Lyndon Johnson had introduced the controversial Civil Rights Act, ‘Dancing In The Street’ while seen by some as a veiled call to riot (which let’s face it, Motown boss Berry Gordy would never have endorsed), it was in fact simply an invitation to party as vocalist Martha Reeves has often insisted, though she actually had nothing to do with composition of the lyric. Terry Wilson, author of the Motown ‘bible’, Tamla Motown – The stories behind the UK singles (Cherry Red Books, 2009) states that ‘Dancing In The Street’ is referred to by Motown insiders and fans as “our national anthem.”

With a backing track recorded at Motown on May 22nd 1964, ‘Dancing’ was originally slated for Kim Weston who allegedly turned it down (!), and in fact it was Marvin Gaye who laid down the original vocal as well as playing piano, but Martha Reeves (who at the time was still working part time as a secretary for Motown) got lucky and recorded her vocal for what was supposed to be just the demo in a swift two takes on June 29th – there was no contest. This was the Motown sound at its very best, with the tambourine mixed so far up-front it cracked like a whip! Motown boss Berry Gordy reckoned, “My goal to hook people in the first 20 seconds was never accomplished better. The intro was a hit before Martha even opened her mouth”. Not a huge hit in Britain at the time, when the Motown sound really took off in the UK this was a major hit there in 1969 and a later UK #1 when it was covered by David Bowie and Mick Jagger for Live Aid in 1985.

Funnily enough it wasn’t just Keith Richards who’d borrowed from ‘Dancing In The Street’. Mick Jagger had also visited the song before, hijacking and re-writing the first verse of the song for his 1968 call to arms ‘Street Fighting Man’. ‘Dancing In The Street’ opens with, ‘Calling out around the world, Are you ready for a brand new beat? Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street.’ For ‘Street Fighting Man’ Jagger changed this to, ‘Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy, ‘Cause summer’s here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy.’ Perhaps even more amusing is the fact that Keith, as guest singles reviewer for Melody Maker in October 1964, called ‘Dancing In The Street’ ‘messy’ and said it wouldn’t be a hit!

Copyright © 2015 SongStories/Tony Burton
Dancing In The Street lyrics Copyright Stone Agate Music/Jobete Music Co, Inc
Street Fighting Man lyrics Copyright ABKCO Music
Published here under ‘Fair Use’ legislation

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Back Stabbers – The O’Jays

Back Stabbers – The O’Jays

‘What they doin’! Les mer

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