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Ace Is Twistin’ the Night Away with Sam Cooke Tribute, Motown Rarities and More

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Black America Sings Sam CookeWhen it comes to rare soul, Ace Records never sleeps!  The label has recently released a compilation celebrating the career of Sam Cooke not as a singer but as a songwriter, along with collections dedicated to excavating the vaults of two great Detroit labels: Westbound Records, and of course, Motown!

Countless albums have anthologized the short but influential oeuvre of Sam Cooke, but Bring It on Home: Black America Sings Sam Cooke takes a different approach, featuring 24 versions of Cooke compositions recorded between 1959 and 1976, performed by some of the biggest African-American names in popular music.  Cooke (1931-1964) was a singer-songwriter before the term was in fashion, writing or co-writing 25 of his 35 R&B hits charted between 1957 and 1965 (not counting many of the B-sides which he also wrote).  Bring It on Home doubles as a “Who’s Who” of classic American soul, with artists from the Stax, Motown and Atlantic rosters among many others.

Many of Cooke’s most famous songs are here: the silky, chart-topping ballad “You Send Me” as performed by Percy Sledge in Muscle Shoals, “Shake” from Cooke disciple Otis Redding (who, like Cooke, died tragically young – but not before including renditions of Cooke songs on all but one of the studio albums released during his lifetime), “Cupid” from “Take a Letter, Maria” singer R.B. Greaves, “Wonderful World” from Johnny Nash of “I Can See Clearly Now,” and of course, “A Change is Gonna Come” from “Gimme Little Sign” vocalist Brenton Wood.  The title track, “Bring It On Home to Me,” is heard courtesy of Stax legend Eddie Floyd.  As a special treat, Ace has unearthed a previously unissued version of Theola Kilgore’s “answer song” to “Chain Gang” entitled “(Chain Gang) The Sound of My Man.”

A couple of tracks are drawn from the Motown stable including The Supremes ‘ ” (Ain’t That) Good News” from Diana, Mary and Flo’s 1965 We Remember Sam Cooke album, with Flo on a thunderous lead.  Smokey Robinson leads The Miracles on their 1964 version of “Dance What You Wanna.”  From the Stax Records family, Sam and Dave offer their first U.K. Pop hit, 1966’s “Sooth Me.”  A couple of tracks have been drawn from Sam Cooke’s own SAR label, too: Sam’s production of “Rome (Wasn’t Built in a Day)” by future Stax superstar Johnnie Taylor, and Johnnie Morisette’s “Meet Me at the Twistin’ Place,” also produced by Sam.  Mr. Cooke himself is heard on “That’s Heaven to Me” from his final session with The Soul Stirrers.  Other highlights include tracks from Lou Rawls (“Win Your Love”), Aretha Franklin (“Good Times”) and Little Anthony and the Imperials (“I’m Alright”), proving the breadth of Cooke’s versatility.  Tony Rounce has provided the track-by-track liner notes in the 16-page booklet, and Duncan Cowell has newly remastered all tracks.  Bring It on Home is a worthy addition to the series of Black America Sings, which also includes titles spotlighting the songs of Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Otis Redding, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

After the jump, we’re heading to Detroit! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 11, 2014 at 11:11

What’s Going On: “Motown 25″ Comes To DVD In New Box Set, Highlights DVDs

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Motown 25

On the evening of March 25, 1983, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium was alive with the sound of music – the Sound of Young America, to be more specific.  Motown Records was celebrating its 25th anniversary, and producer Suzanne de Passe wasn’t pulling any stops.  “Once in a lifetime” was as overused in 1983 as it is today, but the galaxy of stars assembled by de Passe couldn’t be described any other way: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Richie and the Commodores, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, Junior Walker, The Temptations, The Four Tops, and the Jackson 5 were all there.  And the moment Michael Jackson broke out of the shadow of his brothers, once and for all, to show America the moonwalk, the evening billed as Motown: Yesterday, Today, Forever entered into the annals of history.  With host Richard Pryor presiding over reunion performances ranging from the warm (The Miracles) to the seemingly contentious (The Supremes), a Temps/Tops “battle of the bands” and even tribute performances from visiting stars like Adam Ant and Linda Ronstadt, Motown 25 was an event the likes of which wouldn’t be seen again.  The program aired on NBC-TV on May 16, 1983, and was subsequently issued on MGM/UA Home Video in 1991, but DVD release had eluded it…until now.  On September 30, the Emmy Award-winning Motown 25 will arrive from Time Life/StarVista (in conjunction with de Passe Jones Entertainment and Berry Gordy’s West Grand Media) in a variety of formats echoing Time Life’s lavish treatment of The Midnight Special and other titles.

The crown jewel of this campaign is the 6-DVD box set, which – in Time Life/StarVista tradition – will be an online exclusive at MOTOWN25DVDS.COM. It’s available there now for pre-order.  The release features an extended version of the show, with over 20 additional minutes not seen on the original broadcast, as well as a brand-new 5.1 surround sound mix. The 6-DVD set also includes nine newly-produced featurettes and additional bonus features including:

  • “Signed, Sealed, Delivered – The Making of Motown 25,” which tells the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the program, and offers new insights into the rise of Motown and its roster of super stars
  • “What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye”
  • “Come and Get These Memories: Inside Hitsville”
  • “Dancing In The Street: History of Motown”
  • Rare footage of Marvin Gaye ad-libbing at the piano prior to a soulful version of “What’s Going On”
  • Stevie Wonder rehearsal footage
  • A two-part Motown 25 Performers Roundtable featuring Smokey Robinson and Duke Fakir (Four Tops), Otis Williams (The Temptations) and Executive Producer Suzanne de Passe, taped at the location of the original concert, the Pasadena Civic Auditorium
  • A “Yesterday-Today-Forever” Production Roundtable with de Passe, Director/Producer Don Mischer and others
  • Over 25 exclusive interviews with performers and crew, including Claudette Robinson (The Miracles), Martha Reeves (Martha and the Vandellas), Smokey Robinson, Nelson George, Gloria Jones, Adam Ant, Ashford and Simpson, Buz Kohan (Head Writer), David Goldberg (Executive in Charge of Production), Mickey Stevenson (Former Head of A&R/Songwriter), Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Songwriters/Producers) and many more.

The box set, pictured above, is packaged with an exclusive 48-page booklet packed with information about the show and artists, production materials and never-before-scene photos from the production, essays on Motown performers, a copy of the original Motown 25 program, and more.

Two versions – a 3-DVD set and a single-disc release – will arrive to retail on September 30.  The 3-DVD set features the concert and over six hours of extras including four featurettes, the Marvin Gaye rehearsal footage, the Performer and Production Roundtables and more.  The single DVD features the newly-remastered concert and over one hour of bonus features.

About the only thing missing from this comprehensive campaign is an audio component, such as a new reissue of the 1983 version of the Grammy-nominated The Motown Story audio documentary or a first-time-ever actual soundtrack of the evening’s performances.  After the jump, we’ll break down the contents of each release for you! Read the rest of this entry »

SoulMusic Goes “Loco” with Expanded Reissues From Dee Dee Warwick, The Four Tops

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Dee Dee Warwick - I Want To Be With YouDee Dee Warwick signed with Mercury Records’ Blue Rock imprint in 1964, the same year her sister Dionne solidified her place in the upper reaches of the charts with songs like “Walk on By,” “Reach Out for Me” and “You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart).”  Though Dee Dee never saw the same kind of commercial success as Dionne, she carved out a unique vocal identity with her dark, bluesy and intense tone.  At Mercury, Dee Dee recorded two albums and a number of singles.  In 2012, Soul Music Records brought 1969’s Foolish Fool to CD along with five non-LP bonus 45s, and now the label has delivered an expanded edition of 1967’s I Want to Be with You/I’m Gonna Make You Love Me to virtually complete Warwick’s Mercury discography.

Foolish Fool was assembled from sessions with producers as diverse as Ed Townsend, Johnny Franz, Jerry Ross, Lou Courtney and even the team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff; its predecessor was more unified, with all but three tracks produced by Townsend.  The remaining three were helmed by Ross.  Still, there’s a grab-bag quality to the LP, as it compiled songs recorded as far back as 1965.  I Want to Be with You is titled after Warwick’s deconstruction of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ ballad “I Want to Be with You” from their Broadway musical Golden Boy.  Singing only Adams’ title lyric, Warwick and Townsend used the original song as a springboard for almost two-and-a-half minutes of burning, ad-libbed passion.  Though Strouse’s ravishing melody is missed, the sensuality and depth of Warwick’s rendition can’t be discounted.  She also smoldered on Townsend’s “Do it with All Your Heart.”  First released in 1965 on 45, it sports a fine Teacho Wilshire arrangement graced by subtle strings.  Ballads being Warwick’s strongest suit, she also offered perhaps the definitive reading of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “Yours Until Tomorrow” as arranged by Jimmy “Wiz” Wisner and produced by Jerry Ross.

“Tomorrow” was the B-side of Warwick’s 1966 single “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” which provided the second half of the album’s title the following year.  Warwick, Wisner and Ross were at their finest on the seductive track, written by Ross with the up-and-coming team of Kenny Gamble and an uncredited Leon Huff.  Yet “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a Top 20 R&B hit for Dee Dee, didn’t get its due until The Supremes and The Temptations duetted on it in 1969.  That rendition adhered closely to Wisner’s original template, and was produced by one of the background singers on Dee Dee’s recording…none other than Nickolas Ashford!

Whereas Dionne developed a signature sound thanks to the singular style of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Dee Dee’s versatility may have hampered her chances at pop crossover success.  I Want to Be with You shows all these many colors.  She tore into Horace Ott’s joyous “We’re Doing Fine” with its shifting dynamics, brassy arrangement as well as his “Worth Every Tear I Cry” with its ebullient horns, strings and propulsive beat.  Warwick was equally comfortable with the call-and-response of “Happiness,” by Irwin Levine (“Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” “This Diamond Ring”) and Philip Springer (“Santa Baby”) and the elegance of the uptown soul ballad “Another Lonely Saturday (Baby I’m Yours)” by Eddie Snyder (“Strangers in the Night”) and Bob Elgin (“Killer Joe”).  The album even touched on pure pop with the Latin-flavored “House of Gold,” a Tijuana Brass-meets-“On Broadway” ditty by Mark Barkan (Toomorrow, “That’s the Way Boys Are”) and Terry Phillips.

What bonus material will you find on I’m Gonna Make You Love Me?  Plus: details on The Four Tops’ Indestructible – all after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 9, 2014 at 09:34

Motown Rarities Uncovered on Vinyl Box, Digital Outtakes Set

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Motown 7sMotown aficionados have a lot of fun stuff to dig through on a number of formats, with the recent release of a box set collecting 14 rare cuts on vinyl and a new, copyright law-busting compilation of 52 previously unavailable outtakes from some of the label’s biggest names.

Recently issued in the U.K., The Motown 7s Box: Rare and Unreleased Vinyl seems to take more of a tack about “tracks unreleased to vinyl” than “never-before-released tracks on vinyl.” Everything here has been made available in some way, shape or form, including rare studio cuts from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Four Tops and even David Ruffin, The Spinners and Kim Weston. But perhaps only one of them, Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do),” ever made it to vinyl before CD. (That original single is, in fact, one of the rarest in the world.) Producer Richard Searling offers track-by-track liner notes on the box, though no official mastering information is supplied.

Motown Unreleased 1963Meanwhile, digital retailers have started carrying Motown Unreleased 1963 another copyright-savvy compilation of Motown outtakes from five decades past. (Outside the U.S., copyright law governs that recordings not issued within 50 years lapse into public domain, prompting rights holders to quickly issue collections from Bob Dylan to, this week, The Beatles and The Beach Boys. A similar volume from Motown cropped up last year, too.)

While it’s open to interpretation as to what, if any, true finds exist on the set, many of Motown’s best are featured herein on recordings you’ve never heard before, from The Miracles, The Supremes (a cover of “Funny How Time Slips Away”!), Stevie Wonder (alternate and early takes of “Fingertips” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”), The Temptations and even lesser-known acts on the roster, including Labrenda Ben and The Contours.

After the jump, you’ll find order links and full specs on each of these unique sets.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

December 18, 2013 at 17:19

Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye): Final “The Complete Motown Singles” Volume Bows

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The Complete Motown Singles Volume 12BThey did it.

Nearly nine years after the first volume in Hip-O Select’s The Complete Motown Singles box set series was released, the 14th and final entry in the series, Volume 12B: 1972, will be released on December 10, just in time for the holidays.

The year 1972 marks, for many, the end of the “classic Motown” period. Label founder Berry Gordy moved label operations from Detroit to Los Angeles, and many of his most treasured acts were in periods of transition. Diana Ross was long a solo artist away from The Supremes, while Smokey Robinson would part ways with The Miracles in 1972 – the same year both The Four Tops and Gladys Knight & The Pips would break off from the label. At the same time, though, several of the label’s acts were coming in to their own, from The Temptations’ psychedelic soul styles, the increasing independence and experimentation of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and even the shine of the spotlight on solo members of The Jackson 5, namely frontmen Michael and Jermaine.

Included in the 100 tracks across five discs are some choice rarities, including Marvin Gaye’s beautiful (but long-lost) holiday single, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” b/w “Christmas in the City,” an unissued solo single from longtime label songwriter Valerie Simpson, a duet by G.C. Cameron and Willie Hutch that never made it to an album with Hutch’s vocal, and even rare sides by several pop acts who made their name away from the Motown roster, including Lesley Gore, Bobby Darin and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons.

Packed, as always, with a bonus replica 7″ single (The Temptations’ classic “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”), The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 12B is loaded with notes and essays from Abdul “Duke” Fakir of The Four Tops, Susan Whitall of The Detroit News, journalist Bill Dahl and compilation producers Keith Hughes and Harry Weinger, who “contribute series postscripts that offer back stories of the Motown tape vault, session logs and tape cards.”

The Second Disc has, of course, spent most of its existence lightly prodding Harry, UMe’s vice-president of A&R, for information on the TCMS series; when we set up shop in 2010, the series had seemingly stalled at Vol. 11 the year before. Vols. 12A and 12B would not materialize until this year, though I certainly speak for both Joe and myself (not to mention countless readers and fans around the world) that the work has been well worth the wait.

On December 10, that wait is finally over. After the jump, you can pre-order your own copy of the set.

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Personality Crisis: “Lipstick, Powder and Paint” Reveals New York Dolls’ Inspirations

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Lipstick Powder and Paint“While I was layin’ in a hospital bed/A rock ‘n’ roll nurse went to my head/She says, ‘Hold out your arm, stick out yo’ tongue/I got some pills, boy, I’m ‘a give you one!”  It was no surprise that The New York Dolls – crown princes of debauchery, seventies-style – would include a cover of Bo Diddley’s oddly jaunty 1961 single “Pills” on their 1973 debut album.  While The Dolls – lead vocalist David Johansen, rhythm guitarist Sylvain Sylvain, bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane, lead guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan (who replaced the late Billy Murcia) – might have emerged as a response to the studied musicianship of so-called progressive rock and the bright, sanitized sounds of bubblegum pop, their primal, savage and uninhibited style was descended from any number of influences.  Motown, Blues, doo wop, soul, rockabilly, and especially Brill Building-era girl groups all figured into the Dolls’ heady, deliciously trashy rock-and-roll punk brew.  On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of that seismic debut New York Dolls, Ace has anthologized the music that inspired the flamboyant band with Lipstick, Powder and Paint!  The New York Dolls Heard Them Here First.

The 24-track anthology compiled by Ian Johnston and Mick Patrick brings together the original versions of songs covered by the Dolls and the solo Johansen and Thunders.  These range from expected choices such as “Pills” or The Jayhawks’ “Stranded in the Jungle,” to tracks that might surprise a casual fan like Erma Franklin’s “Piece of My Heart” or Gary U.S. Bonds’ “Seven Day Weekend.”  The latter, recorded by The Dolls on a 1973 demo released in 1992, has the raucous, hedonistic spirit that The Dolls so admired.  Bonds’ throaty vocal brings grit to the infectious Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman tune with its doo-wop backing vocals and honking saxophone solo.  It’s far from the only track here from that early rock-and-roll era.  The Coasters, those supreme R&B jokesters, are heard with 1963’s “Bad Detective,” recorded in primitive style by Johansen and co. on 1974’s Too Much Too Soon.  It has the bop-shoo-bops, boogedy-boogedy-shoos and rama-lama-ding-dongs lampooned in the musical Grease, and it’s at least a spiritual cousin in comedy to another song also covered for that same album, The Jayhawks’ goofy, spoken/sung “Stranded in the Jungle” (1956).

The blues is a less obvious inspiration on debut New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon, the second and final album by the original iteration of the group.  But in addition to Bo Diddley’s “Pills,” the group also demoed Otis Redding’s Stax burner “Don’t Mess with Cupid” and Muddy Waters’ immortal “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man.”  Similarly, one might not think to draw a line between The New York Dolls and the smooth Philadelphia soul from the team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, but Ace does just that by selecting Archie Bell and the Drells’ “(There’s Gonna Be a) Showdown” and Wilson Pickett’s Memphis-by-way-of-Philly “International Playboy.”  The Dolls brought a slow, menacing feel to the former on Too Much Too Soon, while David Johansen’s lounge-singin’, novelty-slingin’ alter ego Buster Poindexter recorded the rough-hewn (by Philly standards, at least!) “Playboy” for 1989’s Buster Goes Berzerk.

There’s much more after the jump, including the complete track listing with discographical annotation, and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 9, 2013 at 10:39

Review: The Four Tops/Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, “50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection” – Part 2: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas

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Martha and The Vandellas Singles CollectionWere there a time capsule emblazoned with the word “MOTOWN,” meant to convey the sound and style of the once-and-always Sound of Young America to future generations, its central artifact just might be Gordy single G-7033, from 1964.  Sure, The Supremes might have had more success, and The Temptations and The Four Tops might have had more endurance.  But the ultimate Motor City anthem could very well be “Dancing in the Streets,” performed by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.  And that’s just one of the 82 tracks present on 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection: 1962-1972.  This new 3-CD box set from Motown Select/UMe (B0017485-02, 2013) captures a decade of Motown magic from Martha Reeves and the girls via the group’s complete singles discography (in their original mono presentations), a smattering of alternates and foreign language singles, and most enticingly, an entire disc of previously unheard Vandellas gold.  This disc alone sets Martha and the Vandellas’ volume apart from the other 50th Anniversary Singles Collections recently issued for Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations and The Four Tops.

William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye’s song “Dancing in the Street” became more than just a hit single; in the ensuing years, it’s become a cultural touchstone, forever associated with the civil rights movement.  Yet, as revealed in the liner notes, Gaye originally pitched the song to Martha Reeves as a sensual ballad: “Marvin was singing it as if he was singing it to a girl,” Reeves recalled, “so romantic and in a mellow tone.”  Reeves’ instincts were to take the song to a more urgent, forceful place, and her final vocal was informed by an undercurrent of anger when she found that her original recording wasn’t captured on tape.  Yet such is the stuff that legends are made of.

“Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?  Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street!”  Thunderous drums and iconic, exultant horns set the stage for Reeves’ performance of a lyric that’s direct as can be, yet imbued with a subtext that may or may not have been known to its authors.  The song could have been just another party-time ode – “All we need is music/Sweet music/There’ll be music everywhere/There’ll be swingin’, swayin’, and records playin’, dancing in the street!” et cetera.  But – much as Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s “Love Train” would years later – “Dancing in the Street” played up its universality.  This dance craze wasn’t just limited to Detroit.  Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans – all were name-checked in the song.  “It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there/So come on, every guy grab a girl, everywhere around the world/There’ll be dancin’ in the street!”  At a time when divisiveness at the forefront of the news, Reeves was extending an invitation to all, no strings attached, and with a casual air: “It’s just an invitation across the nation/A chance for folks to meet.”  It’s “just” an invitation – black/white, male/female, young/old – such was the ethos at Motown, being shared by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in a peaceful, exuberant way on the world’s stage.  A Top 10 hit on both the Pop and R&B surveys, “Dancing in the Street” was a message of empowerment being delivered by a young African-American woman (and future Detroit councilwoman) as a message of pride and joy to all in just 2-1/2 minutes, contained on a little slab of black vinyl.

Of course, that’s just one of the songs here.  Hit the jump to dig deep into many more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 24, 2013 at 11:25

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