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