2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life

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Jimmy Ruffin passed away last year. Another soul legend gone

I almost missed this one. I saw the obituary and put it to one side where it got mis-filed.

So better late than never. One of Motown‘s finest voices who will be remembered for his 1966 hit;  “What becomes of the brokenhearted”.

After that hit he never really followed up and blamed Motown for lack of promotion (it was 3 years before they released a follow-up and in the meantime he was still working on the car production lines). Mary Wells had secured him the audition but he had to fight to get the song released by him as it was originally written for the Detroit Spinners,

He left the label in 1970 after struggling to get first choice to record songs given to other artists in the Motown stable.

He was also overshadowed by his younger brother David who was the lead singer of the Temptations, a job he turned down recommending his brother instead.

He moved to Britain and lived here for 30 years recording with Heaven 17 and Paul Weller (a song called Soul Deep released under the name The Council Collective to raise money for the striking miners. He later denied he understood the political message).

After his brother’s death from a cocaine overdose he became a staunch anti-drugs campaigner. He returned to America where he died in November 2014 aged 78.


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Writing the perfect pop tune – revisited

Happy” by Pharrell Williams is the perfectly constructed pop tune and is the most downloaded song ever in the UK.

Williams had already collaborated with Daft Punk on a big hit in 2013 so he wasn’t exactly unknown. He also featured on the sound track of Despicable Me 2 which earned him an Oscar nomination and couldn’t but help him in terms of exposure when he performed it at the Oscar ceremony.

People say his influences range from Tamla Motown and Michael Jackson and include hip-hop to maximise cross-generational appeal.

According to psychologist Lauren Stewart (who researches ear worms – the phenomenon where you can’t get a tune out of your head) it ticks all the right boxes that make it addictive. Gospel choirs, kids clapping, workers breaking into song and dance. Handclaps are both a social and musical signal and as most live performers know getting people to clap along is one way to get the audience on your side.

It is also highly repetitive so it requires minimum listening effort with no chance you will forget the words and you know what’s coming next. if the music stopped you could fill in the gaps and carry on singing (and how often have you seen performers like Queen and Sting doing just that with an audience?)

A study of tunes, which listeners to Radio 6 described as their earworms, was carried out by the Music, Mind and Brain Group at Goldsmiths, University of London, which found that they shared certain characteristics. The notes were of relatively long duration with only small steps in the way the melody changed. (In Happy the changes are made by the gospel choir singing harmonies). It’s also been noted that several current hits have started with that 4-beat introduction.

So it might only have the lyrical and musical content of a jingle but that’s the secret of its success. It’s the only song since the 1950s to  reach the No 1 spot on three separate occasions.

Here it is.

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Another double value soul single

SCAN0052Another vinyl nugget from my attic and another single with two different artists. This looks like a promotion for the film Dirty Dancing although a similar combination was recorded as part of the Tamla Motown 50th Anniversary series.

SCAN0047On one side The Contours sing their classic “Do You Love Me” from 1962. This was much copied and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes had a tepid cover version which went to No 1 in the UK. The song lyrics reflect all the dance fads of the day and I wonder how many you remember?

The story goes that Berry Gordy wrote the song for the Temptations but for some reason they didn’t show up at the studio. He found the Contours hanging about desperate for a hit record after a couple of flops. They recorded it and the rest is history (although they never had a big hit again).

SCAN0048On the other side is another R&B/soul classic “Money” by Barrett Strong. It was Tamla Motown’s first hit record in 1960.





Double value soul single

SCAN0051Another piece of vinyl from my attic – this time a 45 with two different artists on it.

This was a special promotion relating to the film Good Morning Vietnam and was released in 1988.

SCAN0049On one side w’eve got the James Brown 1965 classic and his highest charting single (and favourite opening number of the Uptown Band) “I feel good”.



And on the other side Martha & the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run” also from 1965 which was the follow-up single to “Dancing in the Street”



Top 20 Motown Records

So what were the nation’s favourite Motown records?

According to the ITV programme last night here are the results of the voting, from a sample of UK fans, in reverse order:

20. Jimmy Mack – Martha & The Vandellas – 1967

19. Uptight (Everything’s Alright) – Stevie Wonder – 1966

18. Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – The Temptations – 1972

17. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye -1971

16. My Cherie Amour – Stevie Wonder -1969

15. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) – The Four Tops – 1965

14. My Guy – Mary Wells – 1964

13. The Tracks Of My Tears – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – 1969

12. Reach Out I’ll Be There – The Four Tops – 1966

11. I Want You Back – The Jackson 5 – 1970

10. Stop! In The Name Of Love – The Supremes – 1965

9. War – Edwin Starr – 1970

8. Baby Love – The Supremes – 1964

7. I’ll Be There – The Jackson 5 – 1970

6. The Tears Of A Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – 1970

5. My Girl – The Temptations – 1964

4. Dancing In The Street – Martha & The Vandellas – 1964

3. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross – 1970

2. What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted – Jimmy Ruffin – 1966

Winner: 1. I Heard It Through The Grapevine – Marvin Gaye – 1969

Can’t disagree with many of these although I was never a Jackson 5 fan. Pleased to say that between us Barrie and I have performed several of these in the past including “Stop in the Name of Love”, “Reach out I’ll be there”, “My Girl”, and “Dancing in the Street”

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The Best R & B records ever?

old_instruments_pc_1600_wht_1310I was browsing through the magazine section in my local supermarket and spotted a magazine called “Vintage Rock“. Can’t say I’ve noticed it before but one of the articles caught my eye. Jeremy Isaacs listing the 40 Best R ‘n B records.

I’m always suspicious when I see anything labelled R & B as most of the modern stuff is urban music with no connection to the Blues. The article quotes Fats Domino from an interview in the 1950s when he said “What you call Rock ‘N’ Roll now is Rhythm & Blues. I’ve been playing it for 15 years in New Orleans“. I enjoyed the magazine and decided to subscribe to it.

As for they article on the best R & B records, I didn’t agree with all the author’s choices but there were enough to make me think, “those were the days!”  If you want to read the full list of 40 buy the magazine!

Here are the ones I agree with (by year of release)

  • Ain’t that a shame – Fats Domino (1955)
  • Youngblood – The Coasters (1957)
  • Memphis Tennessee – Chuck Berry (1959
  • Chain Gang – Sam Cooke (1960)
  • I just want to make love to you – Etta James (1961)
  • Stand by Me – Ben E King (1961)
  • Green Onions – Booker T & the MGs (1962)
  • Dancing in the Street – Martha & The Vandellas (1964)
  • Time is on my Side – Irma Thomas (1964)

From the rest of the list I like these performers but not the song Isaac has chosen.

  • Ray Charles- Mess Around (1953)
  • Little Richard – Tutti Frutti (1955)
  • Bo Diddley – Who do you Love? (1957)
  • James Brown – Try Me, I need you (1958)
  • The Drifters – There goes my Baby (1959)
  • Lee Dorsey – Ya Ya (1961)
  • Marvin Gaye – Hitch Hike (1962)

And Arthur Alexander doesn’t even get a mention!

You probably have your own list; it’s all down to personal choice in the end.

sc00058e25As a footnote on the question of what is R & B I have an album released on Stateside in 1963 called “the ‘sound’ of the R & B hits”. It’s actually a Tamla Motown production with the following tracks, some of which like “Do You Love Me” and “Money” were staples of R & B groups:

Side 1

  • Shop Around – Mary Wells
  • Way over there – The Marvelettes
  • Everybody’s gotta pay some dues – The Miracles
  • Mockingbird – Martha & The Vandellas
  • Bye Bye baby – Mary Wells
  • I’ll try something new – The Miracles
  • Dream baby (how long must I dream) – The Marvelettes

Side 2

  • Money – Barrett Strong
  • What’s so good about goodbye -The Miracles
  • Let me go the right way – The Supremes
  • Don’t want to take a chance – Mary Wells
  • Broken Hearted – The Miracles
  • The one who really loves you – The Marvelettes
  • Do you love me – The Miracles

The sleeve notes said “This very special package from Tamla Motown records showcases the particular style of rhythm and blues that the company has successfully produced and it is sure to appeal to its ever-growing legion of supporters