Tag Archives: Motown

Song: “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”

Smokey Robinson recorded this song first, but it wasn't released. Then Gladys Knight took it to number 2. But Marvin Gaye's recording is the one we'll always remember. Uploaded by fromgirltogirl.com.

Quick: Who sang “I Heard it Through the Grapevine?” Chances are, your first answer was Marvin Gaye (Great American Things, April 2, 2009) . He had the biggest hit with it, but his 1968 release wasn’t the first version to make it to the charts. It was Gladys Knight and the Pips whose 1967 recording made it to number one on the R&B chart, and number 2 on the pop chart – Motown’s biggest hit to that point.

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But even this wasn’t the first recording of the song. That was done by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. But Berry Gordy didn’t care for it, and didn’t allow its release. Marvin Gaye’s version was recorded next, but held while Gladys Knight’s recording soared. Then Gaye’s came out, and reached number one on the pop and R&B charts.

“I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, two of Motown’s many creative giants. Rolling Stone named their song number 80 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And Billboard, in its 50th anniversary of the Top 100 chart, ranked this its number 65 hit.

Song: “What’s Going On”


When Marvin Gaye presented the finished track to Motown, the label refused to release it. Berry Gordy thought it was too jazzy, and that people didn't want to hear socially relevant music. Fortunately for us all, he relented. Uploaded by 45cat.com.

When we listen to the early Motown songs released by Marvin Gaye (Great American Things, April 2, 2009) and his duets with Tammi Terrell, we hear a pop singer at the top of his game. But with the release of “What’s Going On,” we hear something more – an artist who doesn’t follow the popular style, but who leads the way to a new approach.

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Gaye looked at the crucible that was the 60s (which didn’t end until the fall of Saigon) and felt compelled to produce music that addressed the pressing problems of the day. “What’s Going On” is the title song of a concept album that dealt with drug abuse, poverty, the environment, and the Vietnam War. Gaye recorded the song with some of his friends talking, giving it a live, party feel. And he included the distinctive saxophone riff that Eli Fontaine had played while “just goofing around.”

Motown executives, especially Berry Gordy, hated the song and refused to release it. Gaye said he wouldn’t record for Motown again unless Gordy changed his mind. The label eventually relented, and realized that their singer knew what he was doing. “What’s Going On” made it to number 2 in the Billboard Hot 100, and was a number 1 hit on the Soul Singles chart. Rolling Stone ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time.

Singer: Stevie Wonder

What an incredible career. Thirty top 10 songs. Two albums of the year. Oscar for Best Song. Two halls of fame. Pretty good for a blind kid from Saginaw. Uploaded by melbomusic.wordpress.com.

Who has won more Grammy Awards than any other male solo artist? Why, that’s right, it’s Stevie Wonder. It’s amazing that you knew that! What gave it away?

Stevland Morris recently celebrated his 60th birthday. He began recording for Motown at the age of 11. During that 49-year (so far) career, he’s had more than 30 top ten hits (pop/R&B charts), and won 22 Grammys. That’s pretty good for the third child of Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway, born blind in Saginaw, Michigan.

He was dubbed “Little Stevie Wonder” by Motown impresario Berry Gordy, Jr. when he signed his first contract at age 11. He had his first hit, “Fingertips, Part 2” (recorded live) the following year. Before he turned 16 he’d co-written a chart smash (“The Tears of a Clown”) with Smokey Robinson, and he was skilled not just at harmonica, but also on piano, organ, and drums.

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Stevie Wonder’s career has featured one hit single after another, one powerful album after another. Two of his albums, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life received the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. He’s won an Academy Award for Song of the Year. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and he has a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Here are the Stevie Wonder songs that reached the top 10 on the pop chart:

1963: “Fingertips, Part 2” • 1966: “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Place in the Sun” • 1967: “I Was Made to Love Her” • 1968: “For Once in My Life”, “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” • 1969: “My Cherie Amour”, “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” • 1970: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, “Heaven Help Us All” • 1971: “If You Really Love Me” • 1972: “Superstition” • 1973: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, “Higher Ground”, “Living for the City” • 1974: “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”, “Boogie On, Reggae Woman” • 1977: “I Wish”, “Sir Duke” • 1979: “Send One Your Love” • 1980: “Master Blaster” • 1981: “Happy Birthday”, “That Girl” • 1982: “Do I Do”, “Ebony and Ivory” • 1984: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” • 1985 “Part-time Lover” • 1986: “Go Home”

Singers: The Temptations

Whether the lead singer was Eddie Kendricks or David Ruffin, the great songs, distinctive choreography, and outstanding production made The Temptations the cream of the Motown crop. Uploaded by gentlebear.wordpress.com.

Close your eyes, and you can see The Temptations performing in your mind. One lead singer, four (usually) dancing and singing along. Flashy suits. Excellent choreography. And yet it wasn’t the visual that’s most distinctive about these Motown sensations. It was always the music.

The Temptations got off to a slow start. In fact, their first seven singles failed to make the Billboard Top 100. Finally, in 1964, Eddie Kendricks took the lead on “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” and the Temptations had their first Top 20 hit. At the end of that year, they finally had their first number one song, this time with David Ruffin singing lead. It remains their signature song to this day — “My Girl.”

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From 1965 to 1973, the group had 16 more Top 20 hits, all but two of which made it at least to number 8. These hits were (with highest chart position): “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (13), “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” (3), “I’m Losing You” (8), “All I Need” (8), “You’re My Everything” (6), “I Wish it Would Rain” (4), “I Could Never Love Another” (13), “Cloud Nine” (6), “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (with the Supremes) (2), “Runaway Child, Running Wild” (6), “I Can’t Get Next to You” (1), “Psychedelic Shack” (7), “Ball of Confusion” (3), “Just My Imagination” (1), “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1), and “Masterpiece” (7).

David Ruffin left in 1968, Eddie Kendricks departed in 1971. The group continued to record and tour, and still tours to this day, though Otis Williams is the only original member still with the group.

Lots of other groups, both within Motown and without, have copied The Temptations formula of harmony and choreography. None has come close to matching the charisma and staying power of Motown’s most successful male group…

Singer: Marvin Gaye

Flickr photo by CoincidenceUNO.

He would have turned 70 today. Hard to comprehend. But he never made it, and we can only guess how depleted our musical heritage is as a result.

He signed with Motown in 1961, and actually started there as a session drummer. He went on to record thirty-nine Top 40 songs, from dance hits like “Hitch Hike” to memorable melodies like “How Sweet It Is (To be Loved by You)”. He had hits with three different duet partners: Mary Wells, Kim Weston, and Tammi Terrell. Just listen closely to where Marvin and Tammi took “You’re All I Need to Get By”, and you’ll agree it’s just as amazing now as when first recorded. His “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” is often considered the pinnacle of Motown music.

Marvin’s music got more political during the latter part of his music career, leading to fights with Berry Gordy, who initially refused to release Marvin’s first “relevant” soul album. But American music is so much richer because he did. Even now, Marvin is What’s Going On.

Right on, baby. Right on, right on.