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Posts tagged ‘Marvin Gaye’

Fifty Year Friday: May 1971

Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On

Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On was released on May 21, 1971, but prior to that, around the end of February 1971, the calmest, most relaxed single of the 1970s yet ever heard by my ears on top 40 AM radio, started receiving airplay displacing the previous smoothest single of the earliest part of that year, “Black Magic Woman”. Now firmly only a fan of FM, my only exposure to AM radio was on the school bus — about a 25 minute ride into school and about a 35 minute ride on the late bus back home. By the middle of March of 1970, Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was likely to be played once, and sometimes twice: once in the morning and once in the afternoon during my daily travel on the bus. With annoying songs like The Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple”, Dawn’s “Knock Three Times”, and other mediocre bubblegum or pop tunes, the inclusion of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, far removed from the commercial template of most of the songs in the Top 40 of that time, into the AM playlist was like being given access to water in a scorching desert.

How appropriate that this gem leads off Marvin Gaye’s must heralded album, proving both the name and the essence for the entire album, almost by itself asserting the concept of the entire album, which rightfully and fittingly lines up perfectly and unconditionally with the ethos and character of that first track creating a concept album addressing peace, love, ecologic responsibilities, justice and injustice, and the rights and preciousness of all, adults and children.

Zawinul: Zawinul

Recorded in August through October of 1970, and released in 1971, Joe Zawinul’s fifth studio album (as a leader) continues the musical trailblazing of Miles Davis’s masterpiece, In a Silent Way. There is in fact, an amazing version of this Zawinul composition on the album, glimmering with a full rainbow of beauty, the pairing of Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul on keyboards and the lyrically lucid and spiritual melodic leadership by trumpet-great Woody Shaw.

The entire album provides a musical retreat, unfolding with the beauty of an uncompromised, unexplored nature reserve. Graced by so many fine musicians, and some creative engineering including some tape manipulation, editing, and praiseworthy aural balancing, the album provides all that is necessary for an immersive musical outing fully contained within the short span of about thirty-six minutes.

Weather Report: Weather Report

A few months after finishing recording his eponymous fifth album, Joe Zawinul teamed up with Wayne Shorter, Miroslav Vitouš, and multiple percussionists for the first Weather Report album released on May 12, 1971. The album embraces much of the creative forces present in Silent Way and Bitches Brew, but moves into new territory also with rhythmically propulsive tracks like “Umbrellas” and “Seventh Arrow” as well as the atmospheric track “Orange Lady” which provides a leisurely, reflective weave from a spectrum of beautiful coordinated musical musings and the shimmering “Waterfall.”

Paul and Linda McCartney: Ram

While my sister was accompanying my maternal grandmother on an ocean cruise for the summer of 1971, I journeyed from Southern California up to Salem, Oregon accompanying my paternal grandparents on a nearly twenty-four Trailways bus trip to spend a couple of weeks with my cousins, aunt and uncle, fishing, introducing my older cousin to the classic Chicago II album, taping drum and bugle practices on a cheap, bottom-of-the barrel cassette recorder and generally having the time of my life.

When driven to the newly open Lancaster shopping mall by my older cousin and her friends, I stumbled into what may be commonplace today, but was a novelty at that time, a record store in a indoor shopping mall — the indoor shopping mall being also a relatively new concept, with the Lancaster mall (now the Willamette Town Center) opened shortly before my arrival.

A moment or two after entering the record store, the store manager changed records, putting the newly arrived second McCartney album, Ram (released a few weeks earlier on May 17, 1971) on the store turntable. The first track, “Too Many People” was immediately recognizable as it was getting airplay on both FM and AM. While my cousin and friends wended their way through the multiple other retailers in the mall, I camped out in the record store, listening to the entire first side including the previously familiar “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, pulled away by them for a few minutes, and then eventually returning to finish up side two and, to my delight, an unexpected replay of the entire album, or at least side one, as I was eventually whisked away by my cousin and friends to somewhere else. Later on my return to the mall, perhaps a week later, I got to hear most of side two, including the final track, “The Back Seat of My Car.”

Upon my return to Southern California, my good friend, fellow cross-country runner, co-worker at the school cafeteria, and next door neighbor, the one that had introduced my to Chicago, had already purchased Ram, and I promptly recorded it on to my reel-to-reel. I was already in love with the album, and played it several times before eventually tiring of it and moving on to something else. It’s a pleasure to listen to it again after all these years, and even though back in 1971 my cousin may have thought the music to be somewhat silly and certainly not in the same league as Chicago’s second album, I still love the simple, engaging, and buoyantly upbeat music that permeates this album.

The Carpenters: Carpenters

On May 14, 1971, The Carpenters released their third album with meticulous soft-pop arrangements by Richard Carpenter and Karen Carpenter’s trademark vocals. It is not as special as an album as their previous Close To You album, but their performances are beyond reproach even if not all the selected material matches that of Close To You. As the Carpenters moved to Downey, California a few months before my parents moved our family to Orange County, I honor my hometown connection to them and that adds to the fondness I have for their music. Add to this that my Oregon older cousin liked them, even when she dismissed McCartney’s second solo album, and that my spouse, the love of my life, is a big Karen Carpenters fan, I think I will always enjoy listening to their music with an ongoing emotional connection that is in addition to my appreciation of their musical merits.

John Entwistle: Smash your head against the wall; Graham Nash: Songs for Beginners; Rod Stewart: Every Picture Tells a Story

Like George Harrison, John Entwistle did not have an abundance of support to get his bandmates to include his compositions on their albums, so his first solo album, Smash you head against the wall, released during May of 1971, contains many of these “rejected” compositions. One recurring trait in Entwistle’s works is the use of chromatic passages as famously represented in years earlier in “Boris the Spider” and his darkly-tinged humor as represented in the opening track of this debut album, “My Size.”

Graham Nash is one of the most underappreciated songwriters of the sixties and seventies, so its always a joy to listen to his songs whether on Hollies albums, CSN and CSNY albums or his solo albums. This is a wonderful album brimming with catchy melodies including songs like “Military Madness” and “Chicago.”

Though I don’t think of myself as much of a Rod Stewart fan, I took an immediately liking to “Every Picture Tells a Story”, Rod Stewart’s third solo album, released on May 28, 1971. There is an authenticity to his delivery throughout this album and the strongest tracks are certainly among Rod’s best efforts.

Fifty Year Friday: Roland Kirk, Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye

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Roland Kirk: left & right

Recorded in  June 1968, left & right, is a work of passion with Roland Kirk embedding both heart and soul into this effort.  Though the title appears to be a reference to left and right political positions, it could very well reflect the impact of the one-two punch: Kirk comes at you from the left with more progressive and radical jazz and from the right with an underlying solid foundation firmly rooted in traditional jazz and blues.  If this music doesn’t knock you out, it will at least knock you off balance — not quite as personal or impressive as Kirk’s previous album, The Inflated Tear, this subsequent album holds its own, filled with moments and passages of almost startling excellence, from the string introduction of the first track, to the lengthy second track that fills up almost twenty minutes of side one, through each and every track on side two, each arranged brilliantly with their own tonal pallet and character.

The second track, “Expansions” is a near masterpiece.  It seems only marred, not so much by the inclusion of McCartney’s “Yesterday” and that haunting opening melody of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”/”Le Sacre du Printemps”, but by how these two references inadvertently call attention to themselves since they are so well known. If one had never heard either of these, it’s likely they would fit into the composition and not draw a disproportionate amount of attention, and the performance would provide an interrupted, unified experience.  The historical importance of “Yesterday” and “Rite of Spring” also make me wonder a little whether these works in the context of “Expansion” and the overall left & right album are traditional, conservative, on-the-right material — or are they radical elements, particularly considering the riot during the premiere of “Rite of Spring” or the paradox of the supposedly discordant, loud and noisy rock and roll British Invaders providing “Yesterday”, one of the most beautifully, poignant ballads of the twentieth century.

The answer seems to be that left and right are at their best when they work in partnership to create something that is as special as this 1968 Roland Kirk album!

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All compositions by Roland Kirk except as indicated.
  1. “Black Mystery Has Been Revealed” – 1:17
  2. “Expansions: Kirkquest/Kingus Mingus/Celestialness/A Dream of Beauty Reincarnated/Frisco Vibrations/Classical Jazzical/El Kirk” – 19:37
  3. “Lady’s Blues” – 3:46
  4. “IX Love” (Charles Mingus) – 3:40
  5. “Hot Cha” (Willie Woods) – 3:23
  6. “Quintessence” (Quincy Jones) – 4:11
  7. “I Waited for You” (Gil FullerDizzy Gillespie) – 2:54
  8. “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” (Billy Strayhorn) – 3:55
  • Recorded in NYC on June 17 & 18, 1968

Personnel

 

Fleetwood Mac: Mr. Wonderful

On August 23, 1968 Fleetwood Mac released their second blues-based album.  Based on authentic, contemporary blues, yet not overly derivative, it’s surprising how listenable this album is.  Boosted by passionate playing and added saxophones, this album is much better than the two-star rating it gets on allmusic.com.  Yes, one’s time is probably better spent listening to the many classic blues albums and singles of the fifties, which offer much sharper musicianship than this British Blues rock band, but this is still a musically rewarding album.

Fleetwood Mac

Additional personnel

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Marvin Gaye: in the Groove (I Heard It Through the Grapevine)

Whereas Fleetwood Mac continue to look back in time with their second album,   Marvin Gaye and team creates modern music moving forward the continuing development of contemporary pop.  Revisiting this music after so many intervening years provides some nostalgic indulgence but that is overshadowed by the musical artistry of Marvin Gaye and the quality of the arrangements and general production.  “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” is the Motown equivalent of an operatic aria with Marvin Gaye at his expressive best, providing a timeless interpretation of this fairly straightforward Strong and Whitfield classic.

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Track listing [from Wikipedia]

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. You Jeffrey Bowen, Jack Coga, Ivy Jo Hunter 2:25
2. “Tear It on Down” Nickolas AshfordValerie Simpson 2:35
3. Chained Frank Wilson 2:38
4. I Heard It Through the Grapevine Barrett StrongNorman Whitfield 3:14
5. “At Last (I Found a Love)” Marvin Gaye, Anna Gordy GayeElgie Stover 2:37
6. Some Kind of Wonderful Gerry GoffinCarole King 2:19
7. Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever Ivy Jo HunterStevie Wonder 2:43
8. “Change What You Can” Marvin Gaye, Anna Gordy Gaye, Elgie Stover 2:37
9. “It’s Love I Need” Stephen Bowden, Ivy Jo Hunter 2:54
10. “Every Now And Then” Eddie Holland, Frank Wilson 3:06
11. “You’re What’s Happening (In The World Today)” George Gordy, Robert Gordy, Allen Story 2:19
12. There Goes My Baby Benjamin Nelson, Lover Patterson, George Treadwell 2:24

Personnel

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell: You’re All I Need

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell released their album “You’re All I Need” around the same time as the release of Marvin Gaye’s in the Groove.  Not as strong as in the Groove, it does contain the wonderful “You’re All I Need to Get By“, and the combination of the two vocalists throughout the album, even on lesser material, is something special.  Recorded shortly after Tammi Terrell had her first of several surgeries to treat an unyielding brain tumor, this album effectively captures her vocal excellence as she so tragically approaches the end of her career and her irreplaceable, beautiful life.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

  1. Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” (Nickolas Ashford, Valerie Simpson)
  2. Keep On Lovin’ Me Honey” (Ashford, Simpson)
  3. You’re All I Need to Get By” (Ashford, Simpson)
  4. “Baby Don’t Cha Worry” (Johnny Bristol, Jackie Beavers)
  5. “You Ain’t Livin’ ‘Til You’re Lovin'” (Ashford, Simpson)
  6. “Give In, You Just Can’t Win” (Harvey Fuqua, Bristol)

Side two

  1. “When Love Comes Knocking At My Heart” (Fuqua, Bristol, Gladys Knight, Vernon Bullock)
  2. “Come On and See Me” (Fuqua, Bristol)
  3. “I Can’t Help But Love You” (Robert Gordy, Thomas Kemp, Marvin Gaye)
  4. “That’s How It Is (Since You’ve Been Gone)” (Fuqua, Bristol, Bullock)
  5. “I’ll Never Stop Loving You Baby” (Fuqua, Bristol, Beatrice Verdi)
  6. “Memory Chest” (Fuqua, Bristol)

Personnel

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