Can't Forget The Motor City: Our Favorite Motown Jams, Part 2
Rocks Off - sorry, He Said; we're still getting used to this whole identity-shift thing - is sure some of our readers think we do nothing except sit around and listen to the Drive-By Truckers all day. To which we say: Have you heard Bettye LaVette's The Scene of the Crime or Booker T's Potato Hole? That band has more soul than all of Majic 102's playlist put together. OK, maybe not Sade. Or Mary J. Our point is, we enjoy all types of music, but few more than classic '60s and '70s soul and R&B. So when we found out that today was the 25th anniversary of the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today & Forever TV special (hosted by Richard Pryor!), we could think of no better way to make our He Said debut than sinking our teeth into the Detroit - which we will always pronounce DEE-troit, like every good Texan - label's formidable catalog. He Said made out our list before we looked at She Said's - we didn't want to cheat - but we're sure she'll agree that "My Girl," "I Want You Back" and "Where Did Our Love Go?" are only the tip of Motown's iceberg. Return with us now to the days when "The Sound of Young America" grew up, grew out and grew deep.
Marvin Gaye, "Trouble Man": Smokey Robinson might give him a run for his money, but out of all the musical talent that walked in and out of Hitsville U.S.A., Marvin Gaye may have been the most complete. After hitting his post-'60s stride with What's Going On, and just before astronomically upping the birth rate with Let's Get It On, Gaye composed the score to 1972 blaxploitation flick Trouble Man; the title track combines that incredible falsetto, gritty lyrics and a hint of slinky after-hours jazz. The trailer alone has several choice lines like "Chalky's dead... now I'm coming to get your honky ass." Rick James, "Ghetto Life": Darkness! Yes, cocaine's a hell of a drug, but in addition to tying people to chairs and burning them with crack pipes, Rick James was an astutely talented singer, songwriter and bass player... just ask his ex-Mynah Birds bandmate, Neil Young. "Ghetto Life," from 1981's Street Songs - the same album that spawned "Super Freak" and "Give It to Me Baby" - is both street smart and supremely funky.
Temptations, "Silent Night": A Christmas song? Yes, a Christmas song. Motown always employed some of the best arrangers in the music business, and their talents are on full display here, turning an early 19th-century carol into something that would be a dead-sexy slow jam if it weren't so damn beautiful. The way the soloists - namely falsetto Glenn Leonard and Melvin Franklin's amazing basso profundo - separate from and resolve into the harmonies is pure butter. Worth listening to all year round.
Stevie Wonder, "Jesus Children of America": Like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder was (and is) the total package: Composer, arranger, singer, musician. Although the lyrics about transcendental meditation date this song a little, in its own way it's just as funky as the better-known "Higher Ground" from the same album, especially when it gets to that lights-out gospel chorus. Boyz II Men, "Under Pressure": Just like us, you probably slow-danced at your prom to "End of the Road" or "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," but the "Motownphilly" boys could get funky too. They certainly did on this song from debut Cooleyhighharmony, which sounds like a New Edition recording session got bum-rushed by Hank Shocklee and the rest of Public Enemy's Bomb Squad production crew. Love & Rockets, "Ball of Confusion": All right, we did eventually peek at She Said's list - hey, we had to in order to edit it - and since She mentioned both CCR's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and the Stones' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," we reluctantly took them off our list. She didn't mention this one, though, so it's fair game. Pasty white boys who love them some psychedelic soul? For some reason He Said can relate. Besides, this may be our favorite rock-band Motown cover anyway - the post-punk electro-beats and white-noise guitar fuzz add a sleek '80s dimension to the original without sacrificing any of the soul. We also can't get over how much guitarist Daniel Ash looks like Bono. Hey hey.
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