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Sunday, September 28, 2008

THE TEMPTATIONS : Papa Was A Rolling Stone (1972)

R.I.P. Norman Whitfield (1940 - 2008)

The producer for the Temptations and the writer of such hits as 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine' had long struggled with diabetes and other ailments.

Norman Whitfield, the Grammy-winning songwriter and forward-thinking producer who helped shape the direction of R&B and soul music at Motown Records in the 1960s and '70s, died Tuesday, September 16. He was 67. Whitfield, the co-writer of dozens of Motown hits, including Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and producer of most of the Temptations' recordings, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, reportedly of complications from his long struggle with diabetes. He also had a history of heart and kidney ailments.

"Norman Whitfield was one of the most prolific songwriters and record producers of our time," fellow Motown veteran Smokey Robinson said in a statement Wednesday. "He will live forever through his great music."Whitfield wrote, usually with Barrett Strong, and produced such era-defining hits as "Grapevine," “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” The latter earned Whitfield one of his two Grammy Awards as a songwriter and composer.His ambitious production work helped move Motown from the catchy love songs that typified the label's output in the early and mid-'60s into social commentary reflecting volatile issues that were at the heart of the civil rights movement.
"Of all the brilliant writer-producers that Motown has given to the world, I believe none was more brilliant than Norman Whitfield," the Temptations' longtime manager, Shelly Berger, said in a statement Wednesday.
Here's the Wiki blurb about the song:

Beginning with an extended instrumental introduction, each of the song's three verses is separated by extended musical passages, in which Whitfield brings various instrumental textures in and out of the mix. A solo plucked bass guitar part, backed by hi-hat, establishes the musical theme, a simple three-note figure; the bass is gradually joined by other instruments, including a blues guitar, wah-wah guitar, Wurlitzer Electric Piano notes, handclaps, horns, and strings; all are tied together by the ever-present bass guitar line and repeating hi-hat rhythm. A very unusual thing about this song is that it uses only one chord throughout the entire song -- B-flat minor.

Vocal duties are performed in a true ensemble style: Temptations singers Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Richard Street, and Damon Harris alternate vocal lines, taking the role of siblings questioning their mother about their now-deceased father; their increasingly-pointed questions, and the mother's repeated response ("Papa was a rollin' stone/wherever he laid his hat was his home/and when he died, all he left us was alone") paint a somber picture for the children who have never seen their father and have "heard nothing but bad things about him."

Friction arose during the recording of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" for a number of reasons. The Temptations didn't like the fact that Whitfield's instrumentation had been getting more emphasis than their vocals on their songs at the time, and that they had to press Whitfield to get him to produce ballads for the group. In addition, Dennis Edwards was angered by the song's first verse: "It was the 3rd of September/That day I'll always remember/'cause that was the day/that my daddy died". Edwards' father had died on that date, and although the song wasn't originally written for the Temptations, Edwards was convinced that Whitfield assigning him the line was intentional. Although Whitfield denied the accusation, he used it to his advantage: he made Edwards record the disputed line over and over again until Whitfield finally got the angered, bitter grumble he desired out of the usually fiery-toned Edwards (it was, however, one of the reasons Whitfield was eventually fired as the group's producer).

Here are both versions of the hit song "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" by The Temptations; the single version and the full-length version. I don't know how much it helps, because the single alone is 7 minutes long! A great example of funky music that builds with each passing verse, allows plenty of breathing room for the groove, has a serious message, and even a well-placed string section!

Song : "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" (written by Norman Whitfield)
From the LP "ALL DIRECTIONS" (Motown) Jul. 27, 1972
Single version released Sep. 28, 1972 (36 years ago today!)

Dennis Edwards : vocals
Melvin Franklin : vocals
Richard Street : vocals
Damon Harris : vocals
Otis Williams : vocals

Get it here : Papa Was A Rollin' Stone (single edit)
Get it here :
Papa Was A Rollin' Stone (full-length version)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

RICHARD WRIGHT : Holiday (1978)

R.I.P. 1943 - 2008

Pink Floyd founding member and keyboardist Richard Wright died on Monday (Sep. 15) following "a short struggle with cancer" at the age of 65, according to a note posted on the official Pink Floyd website.
"I really don't know what to say other than that he was such a lovely, gentle, genuine man and will be missed terribly by so many who loved him," read a note posted on the blog of bandmate David Gilmour, who joined Pink Floyd in 1968. "And that's a lot of people. Did he not get the loudest, longest round of applause at the end of every show (during his tour with Gilmour) in 2006?"
The self-taught pianist and keyboardist will be missed. Listen below to four Pink Floyd songs featuring his work: "Astronomy Domine," with lead vocals by Wright; "Us and Them" and "The Great Gig in the Sky," both written by Wright; and "Fearless" from the album Meddle, believed to feature his compositional skills.

This track is from his first solo album, recorded when Pink Floyd was on hiatus (and of course Roger Waters was busy writing "The Wall", basically by himself). The song exemplifies the textures that Wright had brought to the band, and showcases his mellow voice (which sounds surprisingly like bandmate David Gilmour's).

Song : "Holiday"
From the LP "WET DREAM" (Harvest) Sep. 15, 1978

Richard Wright : Piano, keyboards, electric piano, Hammond organ, Oberheim Synthesizer, vocals
Snowy White : Guitars
Larry Steele : Bass guitar
Reg Isadore : Drums, percussion
Mel Collins : Saxophone, horns, flute
Hipgnosis : Album cover design and photography

Get it here : Holiday

Saturday, September 13, 2008

NEU! : Isi (1975)

R.I.P. Klaus Dinger (1946 - 2008)
One of the founders of the Kraut-rock band Neu! died of heart failure on Mar. 21, 2008.
Here's some of the obit:
In the Seventies heyday of German experimental rock – a once-maligned genre dubbed "Krautrock" – the musician Klaus Dinger pioneered a hypnotic, robotic style of drumming which became known as the "motorik" beat.
Dinger drummed on Kraftwerk's eponymous début album in 1970 before co-founding the group Neu! with the guitarist Michael Rother, who had briefly been a member of Kraftwerk. Dinger also played guitar and keyboards and formed La Düsseldorf in the mid-Seventies. The recordings of Neu! and La Düsseldorf inspired the soundscapes of Low, Heroes and Lodger, the trilogy of albums recorded by David Bowie in the late Seventies with Brian Eno, who said: "There were three great beats in the 1970s: Fela Kuti's Afrobeat, James Brown's funk and Klaus Dinger's Neu! beat."

This track shows the pulsing 'motorik' beat that Dinger was known for. The song is more 'easy-on-the-ears' compared to some of the group's other sonic experiments, but the sound seems almost modern even by today's standards.

Song : "Isi"
From the LP "NEU! '75" (Brain) Feb. 1975

Klaus Dinger : Japanese banjo, drums, guitar, voice
Michael Rother : guitar, deh-guitar, bass, double bass

Get it here : Isi

Sunday, September 07, 2008

JOHN'S CHILDREN : Desdemona (1967)

R.I.P. Chris Townson (1947 - 2008)
Chris Townson was the drummer for Marc Bolan's (T.Rex) first band, John's Children. He later did stints in glam-rock/proto-punk groups Jook, Jet, and Radio Stars (in that order). He died on Feb. 10 2008 from cancer.

Here's a snippet of the Times Online obit:
Drummer, artist, illustrator and social worker Chris Townson’s musical career began in the 1960s with so-called “sonic terrorists” John’s Children, who also featured a nascent Marc Bolan on guitar. Townson’s subsequent career included replacing Keith Moon on a Who tour, jamming with Jimi Hendrix, becoming a sought- after illustrator and, later in life, a highly thought-of and much-loved social worker.
“A ghastly racket” was how Townson later referred to John’s Children, but they made their mark thanks to their outrageous stage performances which involved chains, fake blood and feathers. Their provocative recordings — their single Desdemona was banned in 1967 by the BBC for its risqué lyric — and their ambiguous image, often being photographed naked with their fundamental parts covered by garlands of flowers, also contributed to the band’s status. Their manager at that time, Simon Napier-Bell, honing his skills for his later protégés Wham and George Michael, procured them a support slot on The Who’s 1967 German tour, but they were ejected mid-tour for being “too loud and violent”, in Townshend’s words (presumably he was being ironic). He nonetheless requested Townson as a replacement for Keith Moon on a UK tour later that year when Moon proved “unavailable”. Signed to Who manager Kit Lambert’s label Track Records, Townson had inevitable encounters with label-mate Jimi Hendrix, with whom he performed at the notorious London rock hangout the Speakeasy.
Following the departure of Marc Bolan to calmer pastures in 1968, John’s Children called it a day. Townson’s aggressive drumming led him to join faux-skinhead band Jook in 1972; they were demobilised in 1974 when half of them were seconded to oddball Californian teen-combo Sparks. Townson joined forces with Martin Gordon in the glam super-group Jet, which featured a variety of rock luminaries of the day.
He returned to drumming for pleasure in the 1990s — a reformed John’s Children performed in the US and Europe and Townson would make an annual trip to Berlin to perform on former bandmate Gordon’s albums.

This track was the A-side of Marc Bolan's only single with the group. You can hear his warbly vocals quite clearly. This is also a good showcase of Townson's creative drumming, instilling dynamics in an otherwise simply-arranged song. This was an underground psychedelic classic of the times. Bolan left the group within months to start Tyrannosaurus Rex...

Here's the wiki blurb:
"Desdemona" is a song by the British cult band John's Children. It was released in 1967 and failed to chart in Britain, possibly due to the fact it was banned by the BBC for a "controversial" lyric (lift up your skirt and fly). However, the song was a minor hit in Europe. The song was composed by Marc Bolan, at the time a member of John's Children, and is considered to be one of the greatest songs the group recorded, or indeed, one of the greatest early Bolan songs.

Song: "Desdemona"

Single A-side (Track records) May 1967

Andy Ellison : vocals
John Hewlett : bass
Marc Bolan : guitar, vocals
Chris Townson : drums
Get it here : Desdemona