Wednesday, September 17, 2008
RIP Norman Whitfield
You know, I look up in Wikipedia to find out what notable person passed away. Norman Whitfield was a producer/songwriter for Motown and he just passed away at the age of 65.
Now I was aware of Norman Whitfield. I knew he was the main songwriter for Motown after Smokey Robinson. But, man when I saw the list of his songs, I was blown away by the diversity of songs he wrote. I decided to collect videos of only some of the songs he wrote. Some are the most familiar songs of all time. He wrote soul songs during turbulant times. He gave the Tempatations an edgy, funky sound. His songs were covered by many white artists including some British new wave artist of the early 80's.
Check these out, man.
One of his first hits "Really Sayin' Something" became one of Bananarama's first British hits in 1982. I remember how weird I thought they looked when I first saw this on MTV. Catchy tune though. It was a cover song obviously but I don't know the original and I couldn't find it.
His first big hit was "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" for the Temptations. Here's the group followed by a cover version from the Rolling Stones.
He wrote the last Temptations hit with David Ruffin as lead singer, "I'm Losing You". It was edgy enough to be covered by the Rod Stewart led band, Faces in the early 70's.
If you had to pick his best known composition, it would be hard to argue against "I Heard It Through The Grapevine." It was a hit for three different groups. the most famous version would be Marvin Gaye's. Still, His version was preceded by Gladys Knight and the Pips version and followed by Creedance Clearwater Revival's. All are great.
Turmoil in America in the wake of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King gave inspiration to the appropriate titled "Ball of Confusion" that was done by the Temptations with their new lead singer Dennis Edwards. I couldn't find footage of the Temptations but found a home made video that is quite good.
War was raging in Vietnam, so Whitfield asked the simple question "War" by Edwin Starr, what is is good for? nothing.
Norman Whitfiled went a little more personal with the song "Smiling Faces" by a one hit wonder group the Undisputed Truth. Sounding as smooth as the Staples Singers. No video, but the song is good enough to listen to. I recommend putting it in your mp3 collection.
His next two hits and his last hits for the Temptations could not be more different. You have the very sweet "Just My Imagination" sung so beautifully by Eddie Kendricks. It was his last song sung for the Temptations. The other one is the epic "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" Probably the longest number one hit on the Motown label at 7 minutes plus. The video for "Just My Imagination" is from the excellent TV movie about the Temptations. "Papa Was A Rolling Stone's" clip is a shorter live version form that era.
One of his last hits was the soundtrack to the movie "Car Wash". It's a song that has been sampled by many rap bands.
His track record was incredible. I hoped he was able to get the residuals.