Tag Archives: Motown

Marvin Gaye – The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye
The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye
June 8, 1961

1. (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over // 2. My Funny Valentine // 3. Witchcraft // 4. Easy Living // 5. How Deep Is the Ocean (How High Is the Sky) // 6. Love For Sale // 7. Always// 8. How High the Moon // 9. Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide // 10. Never Let You Go (Sha Lu Bop) // 11. You Don’t Know What Love Is

It’s easy deduce without much prior knowledge from listening to the solemn standards album The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye that it is a compromise between its star and his label boss Berry Gordy following a rift about creative direction. One would however be hard pressed to believe that the carefully dosed emotions of the clean, sweet tenor heard covering familiar ground on this album belong to the same person who later on in his career passionately sang such classic original songs as Heard It Through the Grapevine and Let’s Get It On, employing a much more passionate gospel-inspired style with rougher edges. Around this time Marvin had a lot of developing to do as far as his artistic identity and signature sound were concerned, but such is the way of the world. It is after all Gaye’s debut and everyone has to start somewhere.

Not that it’s a bad record, mind you. This contains some expertly sang saloon jazz, with some rather pleasant arrangements. It also has a pleasant length of approximately half an hour, which may very well be the ideal length for any album as far as this reviewer is concerned. It’s just that it absolutely pales in comparison to Gaye’s career highlights including but not limited to the previously mentioned songs. It also makes the Miracles’ debut sound positively amped by comparison.

Gaye already had a fledgling career in music prior to introducing himself to Berry Gordy at a Motown christmas party in 1960. Following a stint in the US Airforce he had been a member of Chess Records vocal ensemble Harvey & the New Moonglows which racked up a few hits of their own and sang background for labelmates such as Chuck Berry and Etta James. After impressing Gordy he was transferred from Chess to Motown and would write history, but not right away. The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye tanked commercially. This brings us back to the before-mentioned creative argument between Gaye and Gordy: Gordy wanted his new artist to cater to the same R&B audiences Smokey Robinson & the Miracles catered to while Gaye wanted to sing jazz standards like Ray Charles and Nat King Cole did, because he considered jazz to be a more mature form of music than R&B. Gaye ultimately pretty much got his wish for what his debut album was to sound like and Gordy got proven right about the marketability of that type of music at that time.

There’s two songs which are new compositions, and they stand out like two sore thumbs on The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, but would’ve slipped seamlessly onto Hi… We’re the Miracles. Recording them was the concession Gaye made to Gordy. The former is the Who’s Lovin’ You-esque Gordy slow jam Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide and the second one is the Shop Around-reboot dance song Never Let You Go (Sha Lu Bop), written by Gordy’s sister who was Gaye’s at the time girlfriend. Both these songs also fail to give Gaye and identity of his own and make him sound like the Miracles in stead of Nat King Cole.

In conclusion The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye is an unimaginative but competently made lounge jazz album with some decent early Miracles-songs tacked on for good measure. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of that only people who find that description sound appealing, or people interested in Gaye’s artistically humble beginnings, need to bother with this one.

Best songs
Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
Never Let You Go (Sha Lu Bop)

This one is for lovers of jazz standards and Marvin Gaye fanatics/ biographers only.

The Miracles – Hi… We’re the Miracles

The Miracles
Hi… We’re the Miracles
June 16, 1961
1. Who’s Lovin’ You // 2. (You Can) Depend on Me // 3. Heart Like Mine // 4. Shop Around // 5. Won’t You Take Me Back// 6. Your Love // 7. After All // 8. Way Over There// 9. Money// 10. Don’t Leave Me

Once upon a time in the 1950s there was an African-American Detroit songwriter called Berry Gordy. Gordy had written and produced hit singles for contemporary R&B-artist Jackie Wilson such as the number one on the US R&B-chars Lovely Tears. He felt that he should make more money off the work he put in than he did and decided that the way to go was to produce more recordings of his writings, own the publishing rights of said recordings and start a record label of his own. This he did in the form of indie label Motown Records, named after a nickname of his home town Detroit.

The rest is history. Rather than cater to the niche market for African-American R&B music it would take the genre to the mainstream by putting out music that crossed racial barriers. Motown music consistently sold to white music audiences at a time when this was by no means something to be taken for granted by African-American artists. This was no accident. Gordy meticulously groomed his artists to cater to as wide an audience as they possibly could. It in the process Motown launched the careers of some of R&B’s most enduringly iconic names: Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson are the best remembered examples.

The first act to actually get a full album released however was vocal sextet (five gentlemen and one lady) the Miracles, previously named the Matadors (That last bit of trivia is reflected in the album’s cover art by the outfits worn.)

Most of the album’s lead vocals were performed by sweet-voiced tenor William “Smokey” Robinson, although Ronnie White and Claudette Robinson managed to get a few leads as well. Robinson and White, along with Gordy, also wrote most of the album. Marv Tauplin (not pictured on the cover) played the guitar and is the only instrumentalist to receive credit for doing anything in the liner notes. The remaining two members: Bobby Rogers and Warren “Pete” More for those asking, sang background. The rest instrumentation was provided by a collective called the Funk Brothers, a band which one effectively became a member by playing any instrument on any Motown Recording. Gordy oversaw this merry bunch as the album’s producer.

The album’s three singles Way Over ThereShop Around and Who’s Lovin’ You were each released about a year before the album dropped which goes to show that this album can be considered somewhat of an afterthought to the singles. Or maybe the success of the singles (Way Over There US #93, Shop Around/Who’s Lovin’ You US #2, US R&B#1) was necessary for Gordy to gain the confidence to record and release a full length LP on his label, a costly affair no doubt. It was after all the very first one. (For reasons unknown to this reviewer, the group’s first hit, the doo-wop classic Bad Girl was left off.)

This album isn’t for everyone. Many of today’s R&B listeners will find this too crude and elementary while simultaneously think of this as too sweet and tame. For grinding against a shawty at a house party this album is unfit. Such is the fate of R&B music from the doo-wop era compared to almost to that followed it. Early sixties-soul however gets no more accessible than this for modern music audiences. The instrumentals are comparatively rich and developed and the vocal performances by Smokey and his fellow Miracles are excellent, emotive and raw and almost devoid the melisma. Another reason to pick this up is that songs like Who’s Lovin’ You and Shop Around have been re-recorded so many times they have become standards. These are the original versions of these songs (That goes for every song on here except Money (I Need It), which was originally recorded by Barett Strong and was the Motown label’s very first single) and generally the best versions available.

Hi… We’re the Miracles is by today’s standards a pretty relaxed, meandering record. Even it’s relatively up-tempo songs such as its biggest hit Shop Around are midtempo at most. Its lo-fi quality gives it a certain warmth. If this album were much longer than it is it would probably overstay its welcome because of its backgroundish quality. Given that it clocks at thirty two minutes and spreads that time over twelve tracks and divides those over eleven songs neither the album nor any of its songs stick around for longer than necessary. We have the technological limitations of vinyl to thank for that.

This album is as notable for the classic songs contained within it as it is for the music it paved the way for. Despite its simplicity it doesn’t bore, in part because it sounds terrific, in part because the vinyl LP format didn’t allow any of these songs to last much longer than three minutes. In short Hi… We’re the Miracles is short and sweet.

Best songs
Shop Around
Who’s Lovin’ You

Pick this up.

Drake – So Far Gone EP

So Far Gone EP
October’s Very Own/ Young Money/ Cash Money Records/ Motown/ Universal Music Group
September 15, 2009

Hadn’t I reviewed this one already? Yes and no. You see: After Drake’s free So Far Gone mixtape had gotten shitloads of critical acclaim Drake’s new major label home: Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money decided that it deserved a  commercial re-release. However since Drake had borrowed liberally from a bunch of the songs on the mixtape, as is common practice with this type of project, releasing the motherfucker commercially would be a rather expensive affair, as clearing samples is costly. Also, who would pay for an album that was already available for free on the internet in the exact same form? So for the EP Let’s Call It Off, November 18, Ignant Shit, Little Bit, Unstoppable as well as some of the original recordings were cut and three new recording were added.

Off course what we have here is still a bit of a rerun of an album I didn’t like that much in the first place, so why review this? Well, l learnt to like couple of the songs off the original So Far Gone after accidentally landing it on my iPod, and no matter whether I’ll like this project I won’t take me long to cruise through as this is only seven tracks long.

Let’s check it out, shall we?

1. Houstatlantavegas
I thought this song sucked when I first listened to the album length mixtape version of So Far Gone, and I still do. Sorry Drizzy. Even though the beat is okay the lyrics are incoherent and nonsensical, dipped in some autotuned emo douchebag special sauce.

2. Succesful (feat. Trey Songz & Lil’ Wayne)
And why include Trey Songz on one of your songs when you yourself could in fact sing this bullshit hook in a nearly identical manner? Wouldn’t that save a paycheck? Also, if you’re going to insert a shitty Lil’ Wayne verse into your shitty song, do put in some more effort into hiding that it was added as an afterthought after Lil’ Weezy decided to show up at the studio after a weeklong sizzurp binge when everyone else had already left the studio.

3. Best I Ever Had
Or the reason I started giving a fuck about Aubrey. I used to dislike Best I Ever Had, but after repeated listens I realised why, to me, this comes off as insincere. This is Drake lying to every female on the planet that she individually is the absolute best thing to have ever happened to him, and getting away with it (He goes as far as to admit it on the intro). This is an admirable if immoral thing to pull off, but would mean jack shit if the flow and beats weren’t so tight. The lyrics are the superlative of corny but intentionally so. “And you don’t even have to ask twice, you can have my heart or we could share it like the last slice.” “Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make-up on. That’s when you’re the prettiest. I hope that you don’t take it wrong.” And the flow gets switched up along with the tone Drake uses on the fictitious female this song is aimed at, which is pretty nice. Boi 1da’s instrumental has just the right balance of melody and bombast. Credit where credit is due, kids.

4. Uptown (feat. Bun B & Lil’ Wayne)
Wasn’t bad when I first heard it and it still isn’t but Lil’ Weezy sounds more annoying this time around. Speaking of him. Why should that motherfucker appear on three out of this EP’s seven tracks? I’m not an opponent of Wayne per se but here he does nothing but detract from the songs over all enjoyability. Oh right. He was at the time the most popular rapper on the planet, as well as Drizzy’s label boss and this EP had to move units in order for Drake to get a shot at a full-length. And also who gives a fuck about marginally important shit like talent and quality control anymore?

5. I’m Going In* (feat. Lil’ Wayne & Young Jeezy)
“I’m going in and I’ma go hard.” Who gave Weezy more sizzurp before he got into the booth? It doesn’t help that this is the hook, so you’ll get to hear it a gazilion times after each verse. Jeezy sounds as enthousiastic but incompetent as ever and Drake ends up having the best verse of the track to nobody’s surprise.

6. The Calm*
This is the Drake I learnt to hate over the years. Some whiny “introspective” lyrics over a crappy unfinished ambient sounding Noah 40 Shebib instrumental. Also, this isn’t calm, at all. “I called this shit the Calm, but I’m the furthest thing from calm.” Clever, no?

7. Fear*
Well, well, well. Aubrey said some shit about no autotune at the beginning of this track but it certainly didn’t take him long to break that promise. Everything I said about the Calm is also true about this, but DJ Khalil’s beat is a lot better than what 40 brought to the table on the previous track. I still didn’t really enjoy this but I didn’t hate it either.

Best track
Best I Ever Had, Uptown, Fear

So yeah. This EP sucks. Plain and simple. Some of it has to do with the more interesting cuts from the original release being taken off, some of it has to do with Lil’ Wayne’s presence and some of it with Drake recording while on his period again. Still, Best I Ever Had is a classic that’ll help anyone’s hiphop collection get better.

Considering that So Far Gone was already available in a better incarnation you shouldn’t pay a dime for that song or the EP. You should rather track down the best songs off the mixtape version and, hell I’m in a good mood, Fear and call it a night.

*Not on the So Far Gone mixtape