Thursday, September 18, 2008

It was the third of September, that day I'll always remember...

I just saw the news that Norman Whitfield died, y'all! What is it about 2008?

If you don't know who Norman Whitfield is, you probably do but you don't. Basically, dude revolutionized the Motown sound and brought them into the Funk age. He single-handedly transformed the Temptations and was responsible for "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," "Run Away Child," "Just My Imagination (Running Away From Me)," and one of my favorites, "Run Charlie Run."

In their heyday, Motown worked as a highly structured assembly line that matched in house producers with specific groups and artists. When the Temps first broke they worked with genius songwriter/singer/producer Smokey Robinson and recorded a string of hits, including "The Way You Do the Things You Do." But when the hits slowed up, Motown President Berry Gordy gave Whitfield a chance. Whitfield had been trying to get the Temps to sing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" for some time, but Berry wasn't convinced the song was up to par. However, when Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded the song and had a big hit, Gordy let the Temps try their hand at it and the record turned into a smash. After that, Whitfield pretty much owned the Tempts.

Now I should say that Whitfield is more than a little controversial. If you've ever seen the Temptations movie than you know what I'm talking about. He was a brilliant, but he was mad arrogant and could be extremely difficult to work with. And he also had an edge that came through in his production and his writing. Whether it was the turmoil and chaos of "Ball of Confusion" or the paranoid delusion of "Just My Imagination," nobody was better at taking soul and Funk to the edge, while still making jams.

Whitfield was a master and he will definitely be missed. Check out this clip of the Tempts on Soul Train performing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" if you have any doubts.


Anonymous said...

around 0:44 in that "rolling stone" video...what dance are those three people doing in the lower left hand corner?

maynechik said...

"papa was a rollin' stone...daggummit"

despite the censors, these guys bring the funk.

rip mr whitfield

Jackson Brown said...

yeah, when that bass line drops and those violins come in ... gets me everytime.