Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Classic albums: Paul McCartney and Wings - Band On The Run

1) Background
2) The band members
3) The studio
4) The songs 
5) Track listing & lyrics
6) Links

Paul McCartney is not my favourite musician. I think he is a decent tune smith who has individually (both solo though mainly with the Beatles) written a handful of really great songs - I Saw Her Standing There, Drive My Car, Helter Skelter, and Maybe I'm Amazed (solo) being among those. Other songs for which he is generally acclaimed are Penny Lane, Let It Be, Eleanor Rigby, and  Hey Jude  - with his most acclaimed being Yesterday. He also wrote a series of blistering songs with John Lennon in the early days of the Beatles, such as I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and She Loves You -  the last of which was Day Tripper, But while he could write a good rocker, and a delicate ballad, he was not one for writing edgy, envelope pushing songs, unless, such as with Helter Skelter, it was in response to criticism of his bland song-writing. He also had a tendency to pull the Beatles toward mediocrity and triviality with songs such as When I'm Eighty Four and Yellow Submarine. So his reputation is somewhat mixed, and his image tends to be somewhat negative.

When he left the Beatles the series of solo albums he released (there is no important difference to the albums released under his own name or the Wings name), while popular, are fairly widely acknowledged as poor stuff. Apart from Band On The Run.  While some critics may like this album or that, putting forward their reasons for doing so, it is Band On The Run that is universally seen as his best work, and the one on which his entire solo career rests. It contains most of his best post-Beatles songs, and is a unified work with the sum being greater than the parts - generally the mark of a great album.

I have long liked Band On The Run. I liked it at the time of its release, and have continued to like it since. It has never diminished in appeal for me. Indeed, if anything the appeal has grown. While looking into McCartney's entire output for this blog post, my view that the album is his best has deepened. And while I respect the man's determination to carry on through harsh criticism (almost ridicule at times), and have been impressed by both his song-writing ability and his musicianship, I haven't really been knocked out by the majority of his output, nor been moved or awed by his instrument playing. The best instrument playing I feel he has done is the lead guitar work on Band On The Run - sharp, edgy, exciting, sort of vengeful. It's guitar playing that says - listen to this, take this, see what I can do. Stuff that in your face and eat it. And such an attitude is the result of the background to the recording of the album in which he was let down by both drummer and lead guitar player at the last moment. McCartney has himself said he went on to record the album while being somewhat angry at the situation, and with an "I'll show you" attitude.

1) Background
Blamed for breaking up the Beatles, seen as the lessor of the song-writing partnership of Lennon & McCartney, critically dismissed for his solo output since leaving the Beatles, McCartney was not in a good place in 1973. His solo albums and singles were all over the place, showing a lack of focus and direction. In 1972 he had tried to return to the freedom and excitement of the early days of the Beatles by packing his band Wings into a van and taking them on a secret tour of the UK, something he had wanted to do in the later days of the Beatles. This was followed by a European tour  in a red London bus, and then a more conventional tour of the UK in the summer of 1973. The band, consisting of McCartney and his wife Linda, ex-Moody Blues member Denny LaineHenry McCullough on lead guitar, and Denny Seiwell on drums,  then started rehearsals for a new album. McCartney wanted to record somewhere different to the Abbey Road studios he had always used, and selected a studio in Lagos, Nigeria, from a list of EMI studios. Just before the band flew out to Africa, McCullough and Seiwell left the band, leaving McCartney no time to find replacements. He decided to continue with his plan of recording in Lagos, playing drums and lead guitar himself.

2) The band members

Because two members of the band quit before recording started, the band consisted of only three members:

McCartney playing drums in the studio at Lagos

  • Paul McCartney – vocals; acoustic, electric and bass guitars; piano and keyboards; drums and percussion

Laine and McCartney

  • Denny Laine – vocals; acoustic, electric and bass guitars; keyboards; percussion

Born in Birmingham as Brian Hines, Denny Laine had a grammar school education before becoming a part-time professional musician, working in a department store by day and playing at night. He changed his name to Johnny Dean and formed a band Johnny Dean and the Dominators, then changed his name to Denny Laine to form Denny Laine and the Diplomats. The Diplomats supported the Beatles in 1963, and twice went into the recording studio, though no singles were released. Denny left the band in 1964, Jim Onslow replacing him. It was this version of the band that appeared on ATV’s “For Teenagers Only” singing Put You Down.  Denny joined Birmingham band The Krew Cats who changed their name to the M&B5 after the local Mitchells & Butlers Brewery, before taking the name Moody Blues. Denny wrote and sang on their first successful single, "Go Now" in 1964. By October 1966 the band had not repeated that success so Denny left, to be replaced by Justin Hayward and John Lodge who would lead the band into their most creative and successful phase. Denny formed the Electric String Band who recorded a few unsuccessful singles, such as Why Did You Come,  before Denny went solo, releasing an unsuccessful version of his song, Say You Don't Mind, which later became a hit for Colin Blunstone. Laine joined with other Birmingham musicians in 1969 to form Balls, which released the one single, Fight For My Country in 1971. During this period he also played in Ginger Baker's Air Force, which released two albums, which included one Laine composition, You Wouldn't Believe It.He joined with McCartney in 1971 to tour and record under the name Wings. They recorded two albums together before making Band On The Run.

3) The studio

The Lagos mixing desk. Preserved at Grove Studios in England.

5) Track listing and lyrics

"Band On The Run"
Stuck inside these four walls, sent inside forever,
Never seeing no one nice again like you, Mama you, Mama you.
If I ever get out of here, thought of giving it all away to a registered charity.
All I need is a pint a day, if I ever get out of here, if we ever get out of here.

Well, the rain exploded with a mighty crash as we fell into the sun,
And the first one said to the second one there i hope you're having fun.
Band on the run, band on the run.
And the jailer man and sailor Sam were searching every one

For the band on the run, band on the run, band on the run, band on the run
Well, the undertaker drew a heavy sigh seeing no one else had come,
And a bell was ringing in the village square for the rabbits on the run.
Band on the run, band on the run.
And the jailer man and sailor Sam, were searching every one

For the band on the run, band on the run, there's a band on the run, band on the run
Well, the night was falling as the desert world began to settle down.
In the town they're searching for us every where, but we never will be found.
Band on the run, band on the run

And the county judge, who held a grudge, will search for evermore
For the band on the run, band on the run, band on the run, band on the run

Jet! I can almost remember their funny faces
That time you told me that you were going to be marrying soon.
And Jet, I thought the only lonely place was on the moon.
Jet! Jet!
Jet! was your father as bold as a sergeant major?
How come he told you that you were hardly old enough yet?
And Jet, I thought the major was a lady suffragette.
Jet! Jet!

Ah, mater, want jet to always love me?
Ah, mater, want jet to always love me?
Ah, mater, much later.

Jet! with the wind in your hair of a thousand laces.
Climb on the back and we'll go for a ride in the sky.
And Jet, I thought the major was a real lady suffragette.
Jet! Jet!

Late at night when the wind is still I'll come flying through your door,
And you'll know what love is for. 

I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird
I'm a bluebird, l'm a bluebird, yeah ,yeah ,yeah.

I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Touch your lips with a magic kiss and you'll be a bluebird too,
And you'll know what love can do.

I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird, I'm a bluebird, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bluebird ah ha, bluebird ah ha, bluebird.
Fly away through the midnight air
As we head across the sea, and at last we will be free.

You're a bluebird, you're a bluebird, you're a bluebird, you're a bluebird
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
You're a bluebird, you're a bluebird, you're a bluebird
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Bluebird ah ha, bluebird ah ha, bluebird.
All alone on a desert island we're living in the trees,
And we're flying in the breeze.

We're the bluebirds, we're the bluebirds, we're the bluebirds, we're the bluebirds
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

We're the bluebirds, we're the bluebirds, we're the bluebirds
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bluebird ah ha, bluebird ah ha, bluebird.

"Mrs. Vanderbilt"

Down in the jungle living in a tent you don't use money you don't pay rent
You don't ever know the time but you don't mind
Ho hey ho, ho hey ho, ho hey ho

When your light is on the blink you never think of worrying
What's the use of worrying?
When your bus has left the stop you'd better drop your hurrying
What's the use of hurrying?
Leave me alone Mrs Vanderbilt I've got plenty of time of my own
What's the use of worrying? What's the use of hurrying?
What's the use of anything?

Ho hey ho, ho hey ho, ho hey ho
What's the use of worrying? What's the use of hurrying?
What's the use of anything?

Ho hey ho, ho hey ho, ho hey ho
When your pile is on the wane you don't complain of robbery
Run away don't bother me
What's the use of worrying?
(no use!) What's the use of anything?
Leave me alone Mrs Washington, I've done plenty of time on my own

What's the use of worrying?
What's the use of hurrying? (no use!) What's the use of anything?

Ho hey ho...
"Let Me Roll It"

You gave me something, I understand,
You gave me loving in the palm of my hand
I can't tell you how I feel, my heart is like a wheel
Let me roll it, let me roll it to you
Let me roll it, let me roll it to you

I want to tell you, and now's the time
I want to tell you that you're going to be mine

I can't tell you how I feel, my heart is like a wheel.
Let me roll it, let me roll it to you
Let me roll it, let me roll it to you


Mamunia mamunia mamunia, oh oh oh....
The rain comes falling from the sky to fill the stream that fills the sea
And that's where life began for you and me

So next time you see rain it ain't bad,
Don't complain it rains for you,
The next time you see LA. rainclouds,
Don't complain it rains for you and me

Mamunia mamunia mamunia, oh oh oh....
It might have been a bright blue day but rain clouds had to come this way
They're watering everything that they can see.

A seed is waiting in the earth for rain to come and give him free,
So the next time you see LA. rainclouds
Don't complain, it rains for you.

So lay down your umbrellas
Strip off your plastic macs.
You've never felt the rain my friend, till you've felt it running down your back

So the next time you see rain, it ain't bad
Don't complain, it rains for you.
The next time you see LA rainclouds
Don't complain it rains for you and me.

Mamunia mamunia mamunia, oh oh oh....
"No Words"

You want to give your love away, and end up giving nothing
I'm not surprised, that your black eyes are gazing.
You say that love is everything
And what we need the most of
I wish you knew, that's just how true my love was.

No words for my love
You're burning love, sweet burning love
It's deep inside, you mustn't hide, your burning love
Sweet burning love, your burning love.

You want to turn your head away, and someone's thinking of you
I wish you'd see, it's only me, I love you.

No words for my love

 "Helen Wheels" (included on USA releases) 

Said farewell to my last hotel it never was much kind of abode
Glasgow town never brought me down when I was heading out on the road
Carlisle city never looked so pretty, and the Kendal freeway is fast
Slow down driver, wanna stay alive, I wanna make this journey last

Helen (Helen) hell on wheels
Ain't nobody else gonna know the way she feels
Helen (Helen) hell on wheels
And they never gonna take her away

M6 south down Liverpool, where they play the West Coast sound
Sailor Sam, he came from Birmingham, but he never will be found
Doin' fine when a London sign, greets me like a long lost friend
Mister motor won't you check her out, she's gotta take me back again

Helen (Helen) hell on wheels
Ain't nobody else gonna know the way she feels
Helen (Helen) hell on wheels
And they never gonna take her away

Got no time for a rum and lime, I wanna get my right foot down;
Shake some dust off of this old bus, i gotta get her out of town
Spend the day upon the motorway, where the carburettors blast;
Slow down driver, wanna stay alive, I wanna make this journey last

Helen (Helen) hell on wheels
Ain't nobody else gonna know the way she feels
Helen (Helen) hell on wheels
And they never gonna take her away

Say bye-bye.....
"Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me)"
The grand old painter died last night
His paintings on the wall
Before he went he bade us well
And said goodnight to us all.
Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can't drink any more
Drink to me, drink to my health
You know I can't drink any more

3 o'clock in the morning
I'm getting ready for bed
It came without a warning
But I'll be waiting for you baby
I'll be waiting for you there

So drink to me drink to my health
You know I can't drink any more
Drink to me drink to my health
You know I can't drink any more

"Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five"
Ah no one ever left alive in 1985, will ever do
She may be right she may be fine
She may get love but she won't get mine
'Cos I got you, oh I oh I
Well I just can't enough of that sweet stuff
My little lady gets behind
Shake it - shake it don't break it

Oh my mama said the time would come
When I would find myself in love with you
I didn't think I never dreamed
That I would be around to see it all come true
Woh I oh I
Well I just can't get enough of that sweet stuff
My little lady gets behind

"Country Dreamer" (Bonus track)
I'd like to walk in a field with you,
take my hat and my boots off too.
I'd like to lie in a field with you.
Would you like to do it too, may?
Would you like to do it too?
I'd like to stand in a stream with you,
roll my trousers up and not feel blue.
I'd like to wash in a stream with you.
Would you like to do it too?

You and I, country dreamer,
when there's nothing else to do;
Me oh my, country dreamer,
make a country dream come true.

I'd like to climb up a hill with you,
stand on top and admire the view.
I'd like to roll down a hill with you.
Would you like to do it too, may?
Would you like to do it too?

I'd like to climb up a hill with you,
take my hat and my boots off too.
I'd like to lie in a field with you.
Would you like to do it too, may?
Would you like to do it too?

6) Links

Rolling Stone
Acclaimed Music
Dermot O'Leary documentary
Graham Calkin's Beatles Pages
Ottawa Beatles Site
Beatles Bible 

6) Discography
Kitchen Table Music Blog

Friday, 20 June 2014

Curtis Mayfield album by album

Needs finishing...... March 2019

Hugely influential singer, songwriter and guitarist. I was aware of him from Superfly and Move On Up, but nothing much other than that. On looking into Marvin Gaye, and the reason for the acclaim given to the man and his What's Going On album, I became aware of Mayfield as a significant influence on Gaye, and when comparing the two, found Mayfield much more interesting, so wanted to learn more. I have been surprised to discover just how influential Mayfield has been through his career, and - even though successful and acclaimed - that he remains largely in the shadows.

Jerry Butler & the Impressions - For Your Precious Love (1958)
He Will Break Your Heart - Jerry Butler (1960)

The Impressions (1963)
An impressive debut; ten of the 12 songs are written by Mayfield. Includes the 1961 hit single, Gypsy Woman, which was the first release for the reformed band after Butler's departure, and the 1963 hit It's All Right. These singles, along with the bulk of the album, reveal Mayfield's distinctive vocal style, and his subtle but telling guitar work that was an influence on a number of guitarists, including Jimi Hendrix.  Other good songs on the album: Twist and Limbo, Sad, Sad Girl and Boy, and I'm The One Who Loves You. Rating: 5

The Never Ending Impressions (1964) 
Written and recorded a few months after the debut, this is not as strong as the first album. I'm So Proud is the best track. Rating: 3

Keep On Pushing (1964)
This was the band's most successful album, and had a huge impact on other musicians, including Bob Dylan and Bob Marley. Rating: 5

People Get Ready (1965)
Continues the same trend as the previous albums, though this feels more balanced and secure. There are fewer weak tracks, and Mayfield's voice is sublime and the music arrangements are confident and engaging. The title track, "People Get Ready",  is one of the greatest songs ever recorded. Musically it is perfect and transcends the ordinary. Though there is nothing explicitly political about it, it is firmly in the gospel and Negro spiritual tradition which while praising God also subversively encourages dissent and political freedom  - it is that subtle subversive dissent that made it work so well for the civil rights movement. Rating: 6

One By One (1965)
Mostly a covers album, with just three Mayfield songs. Lead vocals are shared with the other two singers, creating a disjointed and uneven feel. The standards are pleasant enough, but this is not an album to waste time on. The Mayfield song, "Falling In Love With You" is the stand out track in Mayfield's inimitable style, but it's not worth listening to the rest of the album just for this. Rating: 2

Ridin' High (1966)

A pleasant album of confident and easy sounding songs. Nothing really outstanding, but nothing really bad or boring either. Best tracks are "Need To Belong", which has a "People Get Ready" feel, and "Man's Temptation", which is in an early Psychedelic soul groove. Rating: 4

The Fabulous Impressions (1967)
Below par. There's some OK tracks, like "I'm Still Waiting", but there's a loss of confidence and inspiration about this album. Rating: 3

We're A Winner (1968)
Another album which shows no development. Title track and "We're Rolling On, Pt. 1 & 2" are the best tracks, but even they feel second best. Rating: 3

This Is My Country (1968)
Though the opening track and the album cover gives the impression this is going to be a bold step forward, it is mostly more of the same, though leaning a little more on the Motown Sound than on previous albums. Best tracks are first and last, "They Don't Know" and  "This Is My Country" - more openly political statements than Mayfield had previously made, though if the directness makes the songs stronger or weaker is open to debate. For me, I prefer the oblique and more expansive approach as typified by People Get Ready. Rating: 3

The Young Mods' Forgotten Story (1969)
The formula is wearing thin now. There's the political songs (at this point lacking in subtly or ideas, and simply clich├ęd and/or straightforward complaints or lectures), which start and end the album, and in the middle the well worn and unimaginative love songs. As with previous albums the opening and closing political songs are the best, "The Young Mods' Forgotten Story" and "Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey)" which just about save the album, but are both a little lumpen and simplistic. The third political song on the album, "Choice of Colors", is regarded by some writers as the best song on the album, and is the only one usually selected for compilations. Rating: 3

Check Out Your Mind! (1970)
Despite being patchy and all over the place, this album is a significant leap forward; it's as if Mayfield had suddenly woken up and realised he'd been treading water for years. This feels fresh and modern. The music is more complex and adventurous, and has regained some of the confidence and enthusiasm of the early recordings. There's a big feel of Sly Stone, and some Isaac Hayes, and while there's less echoing of the Motown Sound, there's awareness of the work Whitfield was doing with the Temptations. However, while the album does feed off those others, it is distinctively Mayfield, and does pursue its own course - boldly letting people know that he was there first, and the others were actually copying from him. This is the start of Mayfield's classic period. Rating: 6

Curtis (1970)
Developing further the more blatant lyrics and muscular sound which was emerging around This Is My Country and The Young Mods Forgotten Story, this is Mayfield's first solo album. The opening 7:50 track was edited down into a 3:56 single, "(Don't Worry) If There's A Hell Below We're All Going To Go", which had a modest success in America. The 8:45 track "Move On Up" was edited into a single just for the UK market. My preference is for the album version of If There's a Hell, but the edited UK version of "Move On Up".

Regarded by some as his classic album, at times the lyrics feel leaden and obvious to me, and I miss the magic created in the spaces of his more oblique earlier protest songs. such as the classic "People Get Ready". However, the music does have a sublime power. The best track is "Move On Up" - the extended album version has a groove that is quite compelling. Rating: 6

Curtis/Live!  (1971)
Double live album with material from the Curtis album, the Impressions period, plus some new songs. While it was poorly received by Jon Landau in 1971, modern retrospective reviewers Wilson & Alroy and Allmusic have been almost deliriously enthusiastic. While there are weaknesses, this is a great album, and an almost perfect summary of Mayfield's talents and his weaknesses. If getting only one Mayfield album, this is the one to get.

Rating: 7

Roots (1971)
A subtle and varied album - very assured, with more upfront guitar playing than usual. A decent all round album, with a solid feel and sound of Mayfield throughout, but the lack of focus detracts from the impact, and gives a sense of lack of importance. Rating: 5

Super Fly (1972) 

Back to the World (1973) 
Got to Find a Way (1974) 
Sweet Exorcist (1974) 
There's No Place Like America Today (1975) 
Give, Get, Take and Have (1976) 
Sparkle (with Aretha Franklin) (1976) 
Never Say You Can't Survive (1977) 
Do It All Night (1978) 
Heartbeat (1979) 
Something to Believe In (1980) 
The Right Combination (with Linda Clifford) (1980) 
Love is the Place (1982) 
Honesty (1983) 
We Come in Peace with a Message of Love (1985) 
Take It to the Streets (1990) 
New World Order (1997)








Star quality

Emotional appeal


Wilson and Alroy
Best Ever Albums
*The Impressions
*Curtis Mayfield
Rolling Stone

Sleeve notes:

Mr Moo

Kitchen Table Music Blogs
Best Of The Best

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Marvin Gaye album by album

Album links need updating to Spotify.... March 2019

Marvin Gaye was a Motown recording artist who either solo or in duet with several female singers released some popular singles in the Sixties, such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", "How Sweet It Is To be Loved By You", "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing". In the Seventies, influenced by Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Norman Whitfield, he released the critically acclaimed What's Going On album, and - amongst some poorer quality albums, Let's Get It On, and in 1982 Midnight Love, his best selling album, which contained the track "Sexual Healing".
A somewhat shy and troubled individual who had a difficult relationship with his father; at the end of his life, plagued by huge tax debt and struggling to overcome drug dependence, he moved back in with his parents, and was shot dead by his father.

Gaye's reputation rests largely on the Let's Get It On and, in particular, the What's Going On albums. Though he derived the ideas and sounds for those albums from other artists, his commercial success made it seem as though the ideas were his, and so he is credited with introducing or promoting new soul sounds such as disco, funk and smooth soul, and for bringing social and sexual awareness to black music. Acclaim for his albums appears to be somewhat overstated, though his commercial appeal cannot be denied, and he did help promote the smooth soul sound and influence other artists in that genre. A dubious honour.

The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye (1961)

Debut album released June1961 as the second LP by Motown. Mostly consisting of standards, "My Funny Valentine", "Witchcraft", etc, the album is a little plain, but it indicates that the 21 year old had a pleasant voice and a good sense of modulation. Rating: 2

That Stubborn Kinda Fellow (1962)

Gaye's second album, released Dec 1962, is a significant step forward from the first. Six of the 10 songs were co-written by Gaye, including "Hitch Hike", his first top 30 hit, "Pride and Joy", his first top 10,  and "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)", a later hit for Paul Young. Rating: 3

When I'm Alone I Cry (1964)
After a live album, Gaye returned to his love of jazz standards. It wasn't successful, and while not awful, is not an album worth seeking out. Rating: 2

Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells Together (1964)
After a Greatest Hits release, also in 1964, Motown paired Gaye with Wells, who had already had a hit with "My Guy"; two top 20 singles were released, "Once Upon a Time" and "What's the Matter With You", and the album became Gaye's first to chart. It has the feel of a standard Motown album. Listenable, but not memorable. Rating: 2

Hello Broadway (1964)
The fourth Gaye album to be released in 1964 was another attempt at standards both smooth and jazzed up. This, apparently, is what Gaye himself wanted to do. The RnB and Soul material, such as that of A Stubborn Kinda Fellow, which he could do so well for himself and other people, was what Berry Gordy wanted him to do. But he preferred to concentrate on this schmaltz. Album includes "People", and "Walk On The Wild Side". It's competent enough, but never really lifts, and is far from original. Rating: 2

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You (1965)
In September 1964 Gaye had a hit with the Holland Dozier Holland song, "How Sweet It Is To be Loved By You"; in typical Motown style the single was followed by the cash in album - a bunch of competent but indifferent songs written by the Motown staffers, including one co-written by Gaye: "Need Your Lovin' (Want You Back)". The title song is great, but the album sadly isn't. Rating: 2

A Tribute to the Great Nat "King" Cole (1965)

Another attempt at being a singer of standards. This is a strong album of its type - Gaye is a competent singer, and handles these songs well. But there's nothing really distinctive here. If you like these songs, you'll find this a pleasant album, but you won't be excited or disturbed. Rating: 3

Moods of Marvin Gaye (1966)
Moving back to Motown songs, this album contains some songs by Smokey Robinson, including "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar", both of which were were top ten pop hits and number 1 RnB hits. Despite the hits, there is a feel here of simply going through the motions. Rating: 3

Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston Take Two (1966)

Another Motown cash in album. The single "It Takes Two", a duet with Kim Weston, was a top 20 hit in May 1966, so this album of songs by Motown staffers sung by the pair was released in August. Rating: 2

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell United (1967)

Motown liked teaming up their singers, and felt that Gaye worked well with a female partner. His previous two partners had both left the label, so Motown selected Tammi Terrell, who had some moderate success with the label, but no big hits. Their first single, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", was a hit, and though they initially recorded separately, the pair developed a good working relationship, especially in live performances, where Terrell's confidence and sex appeal helped the shy and awkward Gaye.

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell You're All I Need (1968)

After another Greatest Hits album, a second album with Tammi Terrell was released in August 1968 with top ten hits "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and "You're All I Need to Get By". With due respect to Gaye, Terrell was the dominant force and voice on all their recordings, and was an emerging star with a promising future; but she had a brain tumour, and stopped performing in early 1969 - she died in 1970 aged 24.

In The Groove (1968)
Later retitled I Heard It Through the Grapevine after the huge success of the "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" single taken from the album, this marks a watershed in Gaye's career. The single was a global success, and the album, which consisted of soul and RnB songs, sold well on the back of the single. Gaye was now confirmed as a soul singer rather than the jazz crooner he wanted to be. He had also been encouraged, against his will, by Norman Whitfield, to use the upper register of his voice. Grapevine is, of course, a classic song, and the album has some pleasant songs decently performed, but on the whole is not a special album. Rating: 4

M.P.G. (1969)
An indifferent album that didn't move Gaye forward, was moderately received by critics on release, and ignored ever since, though was Gaye's best selling album of the Sixties as it followed on from the success of Grapevine. Contains the singles "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby", and "That's The Way Love Is"; Norman Whitfield compositions, both with some resemblance to Grapevine. Rating: 3

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell Easy (1969)
The hit single was "Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By", which is a pleasant song in the style of Northern Soul. The album was recorded when Terrell was having treatment for her brain tumour, and she wasn't available to record at the same time as Gaye. There is some dispute over the vocals, with Gaye asserting that Valerie Simpson, who wrote the songs, and duetted with Gaye in the studio, is the voice heard on the album; while Simpson says that when Terrell was able to, she came into the studio and her voice was overdubbed for Simpson's. Certainly sounds like Terrell to me. But that's not to say the singing is high standard, nor are the songs. Rating: 3

That's the Way Love Is (1970)
Lots of Norman Whitfield songs, but sadly somewhat second rate, so nothing really stands out. The title track is an echo of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". Best tracks are "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" and "Abraham, Martin and John". Rating: 3

What's Going On (1971)

Critically and popularly acclaimed as one of the greatest albums of all time. Listed 5th on AcclaimedMusic; 11th on AllTimeTop100Albums; and 54th on BestEverAlbums. AllMusicGuide has an enthusiastic review.

The album is informed and influenced by Curtis Mayfield's Curtis album of 1970, Isaac Hayes' Hot Buttered Soul album of 1969, Sly Stone's Stand! album of 1969, and James Brown's Sex Machine album of 1970. The musical, lyrical, and social ideas of those exceptional albums were, either directly or indirectly via Gaye and/or his musicians, filtered into What's Going On via the Motown sensibility, and Gaye's own fondness for smooth jazz and the American Songbook. He was consciously or unconsciously making the ideas from those albums more accessible or appealing to a wider, largely white, audience. He was also influenced by writer and producer Norman Whitfield who had worked with Gaye, and whose ground-breaking work with The Temptations created a new sound called "psychedelic soul",  first explored in the Cloud Nine album of 1969, and brought to maturity on the Psychedelic Shack album in 1970.

The belief that What's Going On was "significantly different to anything that had gone before" is both inaccurate and misleading - the success of the album is that it distilled what had gone before and was still going on and presented it in an acceptable manner via the appealing persona of Marvin Gaye. It was not an album alone, but an album that was very much a part of what both black and white musicians were doing in the early Seventies, with social and political commentary from such as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and John Lennon being a part of the musical landscape of the time.

The album creates an attractive sound delicately balanced between lush commercial strings and some genuine funk and soul; the lyrics aim at capturing the social mood of the times, and to some extent, when heard in the context of the music, they work, albeit on a simple level - appealing to a wide cross-section of folks, and leaving little to the imagination, so there is nothing telling or exciting or personal here, just home-spun truths simply told. In some respects this is a crude and over-done album, but the sum is greater than the parts, and overall there is a feel that something is happening, and that the music is greater than it is. The title track works well both as an album piece and as a stand alone song. The other tracks work as part of the album as an entity, and continue the same mood and the same theme.

On the whole the album doesn't work for me. I find the strings and production just a little too slushy and glossy, and the lyrics too superficial and glib. There's nothing interesting or original being said here. There's nothing personal or interesting going on. The musical ideas are taken from others, so there's nothing new, original or exciting. The success of the album is that Gaye was already successful, and was putting before a white audience some ideas by Mayfield, Whitfield, Brown and Hayes that they hadn't heard before.  I understand the reason it was successful at the time. What I don't quite understand is why critics who should be aware of the musical background, and the album's roots,  still applaud it today. Rating: 5

Trouble Man (1972)
A soundtrack album just when Mayfield and Hayes were doing soundtrack albums. While Superfly and Shaft were stunning pieces of music that were highly regarded then and still now, Gaye's attempt was poorly received, and is today largely ignored. While it doesn't stand up to comparison with the other two films, it is in and of itself an attractive and accomplished album - cool and jazzy, and with more than a hint of Norman Whitfield. Rating: 4

Let's Get It On (1973)
Gaye works his influences well on this album, sugaring them sweetly with a smooth and highly commercial production full of strings and accomplished instrumentation. In addition to Hayes, Mayfield, et al, he's now adding Al Green to the mix.  It's well done; toe-tapping schmaltz that you can't help admire - but this is soul with dollar signs: attractive and professional though it is, it never reaches the heart or soul of the listener, and doesn't come close artistically to work like Let's Stay Together. However, the commercial success of this album set up a trend for over-produced commercial soul under names like "smooth soul" and "quiet storm". The sexuality in the album seems to be a part of what was going on at the time, as Issac Hayes's album Joy, released the same year, contained "I Love You That's All", with sounds of love-making in the background.

There's no escaping the seductiveness of the title track, but the commercial sound, lack of heart and soul, and lack of development in the album, means that the total is rather less than the sum of its influences. Writers who fulsomely praise the album (as apart from recognising its commercial appeal and subsequent influence) are not fully aware of what else was happening at the time; contemporary reviews are rather more lukewarm than retrospective ones. Rating: 5

Diana & Marvin (1973)
Contains "You're My Everything", otherwise mediocre. Rating: 3

I Want You (1976)
Fairly poor album. Rating: 2

Midnight Love (1982)
Other than "Sexual Healing", this is a dreadful album full of empty synth sounds and lacking ideas and commitment. However, very popular, partly due to the success of the "Sexual Healing" single as well as the overall smooth sound with a big and professional production quality. Pleasant and accomplished though "Sexual Healing" is, it can't really save the album. Rating: 1

Dream Of A Lifetime (1985)
An album constructed from unfinished or rejected tracks from both Motown and Columbia recordings by producer Gordon Banks, it's a little patchy, but surprisingly better sounding than expected, with some pleasant soulful moments. Rating: 3

Romantically Yours (1985)
Again constructed from unfinished tracks, this time solely from Motown recordings, with production by Harvey Fuqua. This doesn't have the range or depth of the previous album, and is somewhat limited being in the crooner style that Gaye had attempted and failed several times previously in his career. Rating: 2

Vulnerable (1997)
More crooning tracks abandoned by Gaye. Swooning strings dominate, though the album is not unlistenable, and it's somewhat surprising that it took so long for Motown to release this. Rating: 3

Pleasant, strong, soulful voice. Not especially distinctive.

Part of the Motown  Sound in the Sixties, so not especially individualised. Smooth, and well groomed, was very popular, which helped with his emergence as an independent artist in the Seventies. A little odd.

Effective. People, especially critics, like his political and sexual lyrics in the Seventies.

Smooth and pleasant. Took existing musical styles and helped make them popular, especially smooth soul.

As a well known and commercially successful Motown artist for him to assert creative control was seen as significant, and it is assumed he gave confidence to other artists, such as Stevie Wonder, to assert creative control.

His Sixties work belongs to Motown. His Seventies work has perhaps been over-stated.

Very popular. Some of his individual songs, such as Grapevine, retain their popularity.

Star quality

Emotional appeal
Has a good sound to his voice.

Will be remembered both for his Sixties work as part of the Motwon Sound, and for his political and sexual awakening during the Seventies.

Total: 58/100

Info sites

Hall of fame
* Rolling Stone
* Schmoop commentary on the title track of the What's Going On album.

 *Move On Up from the Curtis album (missed off the above YouTube recording). Curtis doing a version of his 1969 Impressions song "Mighty Mighty (Spade & Whitey)" on his live solo album released in the same month as What's Going On.

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