Thursday, September 18, 2008

"War! What is it Good For?" Answer: Only a Great Song: Norman Whitfield 1940-2008

Norman Whitfield (left) passed away on Tuesday September 16, 2008.  Along with his writing partner, Barrett Strong, were responsible for ushering in the "psychedelic soul" era at Motown. 

One of the greatest gifts my father gave me was impeccable musical taste. Motown's music was one of the main soundtracks of my youth (Stax/Volt, The Beatles and Jazz are the other soundtracks). Norman was a musical visionary. As a producer, he was the force that changed Motown's sound palette. Trippy, yet solid drums. Blast of colorful horns, wah wah guitars. Ya, this brotha was Right On! Can you dig it? Besides "War" for Edwin Starr, Check out this list of hits he wrote, co-wrote or produced:

1963: "Pride & Joy" - Marvin Gaye

1964: "Too Many Fish in the Sea" - The Marvelettes

1964: "Needle in a Haystack" - The Velvelettes

1964: "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" - The Velvelettes

1964: "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)" - The Temptations

1966: "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" - The Temptations

1966: "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" - The Temptations

1966: "(I Know) I'm Losing You" - The Temptations

1967: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" - Gladys Knight & the Pips, also recorded by Marvin Gaye and Creedence Clearwater Revival

1967: "You're My Everything" - The Temptations

1967: "I Wish It Would Rain" - The Temptations

1968: "I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)" - The Temptations

1968: "The End of Our Road" - Gladys Knight & The Pips

1968: "Cloud Nine" - The Temptations

1968: "Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone" Diana Ross & The Supremes

1969: "Friendship Train" - Gladys Knight & the Pips

1969: "Runaway Child, Running Wild" - The Temptations

1969: "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" - Marvin Gaye

1969: "I Can't Get Next to You" - The Temptations

1969: "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down" - The Temptations

1970: "You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)" - Gladys Knight & The Pips, also recorded by The Temptations

1970: "Psychedelic Shack" - The Temptations

1970: "Hum Along and Dance" - The Temptations (later covered by Rare Earth and The Jackson 5)

1970: "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" - The Temptations

1970: "War" - Edwin Starr

1971: "Smiling Faces Sometimes" - The Undisputed Truth, originally recorded by The Temptations

1971: "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" - The Temptations

1972: "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" - The Temptations

1973: "Masterpiece" - The Temptations

1973: "Let Your Hair Down" - The Temptations

1976: "Car Wash" - Rose Royce

1976: "I'm Going Down" - Rose Royce

1976: "I Wanna Get Next to You" - Rose Royce

1977: "Ooh Boy" - Rose Royce

1977: "Wishing on a Star" - Rose Royce

1978: "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" - Rose Royce

Some thoughts on the above lists:

1. Ain't Too Proud To Beg-This song has one of the greatest opening lines ever. Too bad most people don't know the rest of the lyrics. Eddie Murphy illustrated this talking about his pops in Raw.

2. I Wish It Would Rain-David Ruffin had one of the greatest soul voices ever. He could go from Otis Redding grit to Sam Cooke smoothe in an instant. Listen in the second verse, as he says, "cause cryin' eases the pain" as the rest of the Temptations cascade with their back vocals. Beautiful man, I tell ya.

3. I Can't Get Next To You-This song is so great. I love the lyric, "Unhappy am I, with all the powers I posses. Cause girl, your the key to my happiness." The vocal arrangement is great also.

4. Car Wash-One of the best movie themes ever.

5. I Wanna Get Next to You-This is not much more than a great chorus hook. Again, everyone knows the chorus and nobody knows the rest of the lyrics. Who cares? You know you sang this hook for someone you loved.

R.I.P Mr. Whitfield.