Ain’t No Mountain High Enough 45 by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

October 9, 2012

Marvin Gaye sang duets with the likes of Diana Ross, Mary Wells, and Kim Weston but none could hold a candle to his work with Tammi Terrell. She remains one of the great “what might have beens” of soul music. She and Gaye placed 11 songs on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart but in 1970, at the age of 24, she passed away from brain cancer.

Their version of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enopugh” was far differewnt than the one Diana Ross took to number one. Gaye and Terrell were able to prod and coax each other as they brought passion to the lyrics and music.

Released during the early spring of 1967, it peaked at number 19 on the Pop Chart during its 12 week stay. Any compilation album of their material is worth owning.

What’s Going On 45 by Marvin Gaye

May 9, 2012

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” may have been the best single release of all time, or very clsoe to it. “What’s Going On,” released just over a year later, was almost as good.

It was a smoother performance than usual for Marvin Gaye as he began to fuse black and white music. The message was one of poverty and war but with an underlying message of hope.

It was a huge hit on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. It first reached the chart during Feb. of 1971 and eventually spent three weeks in the number two position.

Very few vocal performances have ever sounded as relaxed as this one.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine 45 by Marvin Gaye

April 24, 2012

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” is one of the classic songs in American music history and one of the best singles ever to reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

In just over three minutes there are horns, female backing voices, some strings, and a bass/drum foundation which all suppot Gaye’s, gritty at times and silky at others, vocals.

The lyrics are a painful journey in the search for personal truth and Marvin Gaye’s vocal provides just the right emotion.

It first reached the BILLBOARD Chart, November 23, 1968, and ultimately would spend seven weeks in the number one position. It was the number two song of the year, (Hey Jude by The Beatles was number one), but ranked as the number six biggest hit of the decade.

An essential listening experience.

Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius by Stevie Wonder

June 15, 2011

Stevie Wonder is now recognized as an American music icon. He has won 22 Grammy Awards, an Oscar, 10 of his singles have topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart, and his albums have sold tens of millions of copies.

Blind since just after his birth, he signed a contract with the Motown label at the age of 11. By the time he was 13, he was a star.

Originally Motown did not quite know what to do with him, however. His two 1962 albums, The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie and Tribute To Uncle Ray, received little attention or commercial success. It was then his label decided to record his concert act and release it as a live album.

The tape machines were rolling in June of 1962 at the Royal Theater in Chicago. Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius was released in May of the following year, ultimately topping Billboard Magazine’s Pop and Rhythm & Blues Album Charts.

The nearly seven-minute “Fingertips” was the lead track and captured the raw energy of the album overall. He was still known as Little Stevie Wonder and his vocals reflect his young age. As he matured so too did his voice, becoming a formidable instrument. Here it is somewhat of an acquired taste as he is more of a wailer than a singer. Originally a jazz-type instrumental from his first album, a few lyrics were added, which made it a call-and-response song. The highlights are the harmonica and bongos played by Wonder. Released as a single, the “Part 2” B-side became the hit, and like its parent album, topped both the Billboard Pop and R&B Charts. The drummer on the track is future Motown superstar Marvin Gaye.

“Soul Bongo,” co-written by Gaye, and “La La La La La,” are both short bursts of soulful energy.

The bulk of the concert is of three Ray Charles covers, which had appeared in studio form on the tribute album to Wonder’s idol the year before. “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over,” “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” and “Drown In My Own Tears” are chaotic and fresh, but Little Stevie does not quite have the voice to pull them off at this stage in his career.

Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius catches Wonder at the start of his career. When you consider the quality of the material that would follow, it remains more of a historical piece than an essential listen. Still, it is an interesting look into the beginning of the career of a future superstar.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Recorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius on Blogcritics.

What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

February 9, 2011

Marvin Gaye was a superstar from 1962 until his premature death in 1984 at the age of 44. He was a member of The Moonglows, 1958-1962, but it was his career as a solo artist and the singing partner of Tammi Terrell, that would bring him his fame and fortune. He would place 56 singles on the Billboard Magazine Pop Chart, including “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which would top the singles charts for seven weeks. His albums would sell tens of millions of copies. Rolling Stone Magazine named him the 6th Greatest Singer and 18th Greatest Artist Of All Time. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.

The late 1960s were not a good time for Marvin Gaye. His duet partner, Tammi Terrell, was suffering from the brain cancer that would take her life during 1970. His marriage was falling apart and the country was in the midst of political and social upheaval. Looming over everything was The Vietnam War. He responded by creating one of the best and most significant albums of all time.

What’s Going On was not the type of album The Motown label was used to creating. He had to fight the label every step of the way. The music was contemporary, biting, socially relevant, and far removed from the lightweight songs the label had been issuing with good commercial results. Gaye won the argument and What’s Going On with its themes of poverty, taxes, drugs, and war would go on to sell over two million copies and produce three top ten singles. Rolling Stone Magazine would name it The Album Of The Year for 1971. They would also honor the title track as the fourth greatest song of all time.

The title song was a number two hit single and lament about what was happening in our country at the time. It was a song of despair that centered on a series of questions. It caught the psyche of the country just right and reverberated across the musical landscape. It brought him legions of new fans from various protest movements.

“Save The Children” is almost a sermon with Marvin Gaye serving as the preacher. It was a plea to keep our children safe.

“Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” was a number four pop hit that was an early call to environmental accountability. Mercury, ground radiation, oil, and the ocean were all dealt with by a vocal so smooth that it made the message all the more relevant.

“Inner City Blues” was third top ten hit single, which looked at the bleakness of the inner city. It was a time of little hope for many people and Gaye’s song echoed that despair.

“What’s Happening Brother” evolved from his brother returning from Vietnam to find a far different country.

What’s Going On is one of those rare albums that spoke to a generation, and not only impacted American music but society as well. It remains Marvin Gaye’s grand statement and is essential to understanding the world and its music during the early 1970s.

Article first published on Blogcritics as

Live At The London Palladium by Marvin Gaye

July 11, 2009

Marvin Gaye was different from many of his Motown label contemporaries. His songs did not have the slickness of such artists as The Supremes, The Temptations, or The Four Tops. Rather, he brought a grittiness, realism, and street sense to his songs, which was rare for that label.

Marvin Gaye also resisted having the label control his career. He refused to have his sound prepackaged, which may have hurt him commercially for a time, but it ultimately allowed him to retain artistic integrity and finally gain mass commercial acceptance.

Live At The London Palladium finds Gaye at the height of his career. It remains not only his best live document but one of the superior concert releases of the era. It gives a good indication of just how charismatic and vocally talented Marvin Gaye was at this point in his life.

His series of performances at the London Palladium provide a good retrospective of his career. The interaction with the audience and his reflections upon the songs were left intact and serve to create an intimate experience for the listener.

The two back-to-back songs on side one of the original release, “Come Get To This” and “Let’s Get It On,” are some of the best nine minutes of live material available. “Come Get To This” was originally an up-tempo do-wop type number, but here Gaye takes it in more of a slow blues direction. “Let’s Get It On” is a sexually explicit song and was a huge hit for him. Some artists would sing about sex, but Marvin Gaye exuded sex appeal and this song and performance help to make him an icon.

Three long medleys, varying in length from nine to eleven minutes, dominate sides two and three of the release.

“Medley I” consists of ten songs. It’s nice to here him perform so many of his early hits, but I would have enjoyed more than just a taste. “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was one of the best single releases of all time and I want more than just a minute of it.

“Medley II” is better in that it consists of only four songs. Tracks such as “Inner City Blues” and “What’s Goin’ On” are filled out and still leave room for some improvisation.

“Medley III” finds him sharing the stage with Florence Lyles as he presents five of his most famous duets. His best known partner, Tammi Terrell, died of a brain cancer in 1970, and it was years before he would perform their songs again. This is a different Marvin Gaye, and it finds him relating to a partner on stage.

The original release was a double vinyl album. The concert material only covered three sides. It was to his credit that he did not try to compress the material onto a single disc. Instead, the fourth side is taken up by the eleven minute funk jam, “Got To Give It Up.” The improvisation and energy make this a wonderful bonus and a glimpse of a musical genius in action.

Live At The London Palladium a fitting tribute to a legendary artist who has been gone for a quarter of a century. Marvin Gaye may not have been able to moonwalk or have had intricate choreography, but what he was able to do was sing better that than just about any rhythm & blues artist of his time. That legacy is presented intact on this classic concert album.