Sunday, October 26, 2014

Motown Throwdown

As I sit and type I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new iPhone, me and a few million people. I'm an Apple junkie. I'm in the process of transition into a Microsoft and Android (cringe) free environment. My brother-in-law, the professional IT guy would touch a porcupine on fire before an iPhone. You can't pick family right? Fact is, there are seemingly mundane things that people are very passionate about, things that are very similar, and both quite good in their own right. But both will always have their supporters and detractors. My friend Joey and I have been having a similar discussion over the last week or so about something that is a perfect follow up to this weeks 'Blue Eyed Soul' review.

'Rock'  can describe any number of genres: Classic Rock, Hard Rock, Punk Rock, Pop Rock, the list goes on and on.  While the genres of Soul music aren't so distinct, there is in fact a distinction to be made. Any fan of classic R&B music will know the difference between Memphis,  Motown, and to a lesser extent Philly soul.

Most people think of Motown when they think of 60's era black music. Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Jackson Five all came through Hitsville along with many many others. Songs like 'Stop In The Name Of Love' and 'My Girl' have become part of American culture. But there are are just as many heroes from Stax. Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, the 'Queen Of Soul' Aretha Franklin. Throughout the 60's and 70's Memphis and Detroit pumped out hits like the factories in Detroit made cars. The process wasn't that different. At least not at Motown. And it showed in the final product.

Berry Gordy, the owner of Motown had creative control and the final say of every song that came through Motown. The label had a 'finishing school' that each act was required to attend until their act was flawless. Every song that was recorded went through a kind of 'quality control' and didn't get released until it passed.As a result, the Motown records have perfect instrumentation and vocals. The harmonies are spot on, and there is very little room for improvisation.

Memphis, however was different. They encouraged their singers to express themselves and simply looked to record good music. Improvisation was accepted and sometimes encouraged. The recording have a raw gritty edge to them. Songs like Aretha Franklin's 'Respect' and Otis' '(Sittin' on)Dock Of The Bay would be still be favorites 50 years later.

Joey and I have been friends for about 7 years now, and while we don't always see eye to eye (the Federation would so kick the Empire's butt), we always have a good time. But this one, hit a  little close to the belt. With the advent of Spotify and Social media, we're able to recommend music to each other. I've been listening to classic R&B all my life, so I figured I'd give my friend a crash course in said music. I split the music into two playlists, sent him both and let him decide for himself.  I just didn't know he'd decide wrong.

Before we go any further, I want to say, when it comes to soul music,
Blue eyed, Memphis, Motown. There's enough love in my heart for all of it, and I wouldn't say one is better than the other. I'd just say Motown is my favorite.

Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross all came through Motown. Michael Jackson has the best selling album of all time. Stevie Wonder is. Well, he's Stevie Wonder, what more can I say?

But, what do I know? I'm just the guy who writes the blog. I leave it to you, dear readers to pick your favorite. I figure if all five of you vote we can avoid a tie. The two fighters in today's bout represent an entirely different music style which do you prefer?

Otis Redding
'I've Got Dreams To Remember'

In this corner we have the champion Otis Redding. He's Memphis' golden boy, and they'd never send anyone but their best into the ring. Everyone's heard Otis sing About leaving Georgia, and a lot of people know how to spell thanks to him, even though they don't know it. (R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Look it up) Otis is going to be a tough challenger to beat. In this particular song, you can hear the heartbreak in his voice as he describes watching another man kiss his girl. Harsh. I can't help but picture the poor guy standing in the rain, watching the whole thing. That's what Otis Redding does. He sings with a passion that few have matched. The raw unrehearsed emotion is typical Otis Redding, typical Memphis soul.

Jimmy Ruffin
What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted

In Motown's corner we have underdog and one-hit-wonder Jimmy Ruffin with 'What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted' . Jimmy's brother David Ruffin was one of a few hundred Temptations, but he was the only one to sing lead on smash hits like 'My Girl' and 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg'. While 'Brokenhearted' isn't nearly as popular as either of those, it was a number one single when it was released, and I dare say one of Motown's finest. The title alone 'What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted' sounds poetic and introspective. With horns and strings, it feels more jazzy than bluesy. Instead of picturing a man on the street, a man on a stage with an orchestra. This is one I can't listen to without singing along.

So there it is folks, Memphis or Motown. Who's the winner?

No, I didn't forget Philly Soul. But they're kind of a third party candidate so, yeah. But, in the interest of fairness

Teddy Pendergrass
Love TKO

Most people know a few Phi soul songs and they don't even know it. Play the first few bars of the O'Jay's 'For The Love Of Money' and most Americans would know the first line. But if you ask me Teddy Pendergrass is THE voice of Philly soul, so enjoy. He'll never be as popular as Stevie Wonder or Otis Redding, but Teddy P. is a legend in his own right, in my mind at least.

Be sure to check out my new YouTube Channel. More great music.
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