On this day in music history: November 8, 1968 – “Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations” by Diana Ross & The Supremes And The Temptations is released. Produced by Frank Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Al Cleveland, Henry Cosby, Terry “Buzzy” Johnson, Nickolas Ashford and Deke Richards, it is recorded at Motown Studio A & B in Detroit, MI from May 3 – September 18, 1968. The first of three albums pairing the two superstar Motown groups, it is issued prior to the airing of their first network television special “TCB”. The initial single to have been released was their version of “The Impossible Dream” (also featured in the TV special) but their cover of Madeline Bell’s “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (#2 Pop & R&B) is issued instead, becoming an instant smash. The success of the single drives the album into the top five during January and February of 1969, at the same time as the “TCB” soundtrack. “Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, and peak at number two on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1987 – “Characters”, the twenty first album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, it is recorded at Wonderland Studios and the 1 DER 1 Mobile Unit in Los Angeles, CA, Westside Studios in London, and CBS/Sony Studios in Tokyo, Japan from Early 1986 – Mid 1987. Issued as the follow up to “In Square Circle”, it sees Wonder returning to his “one man band” concept of recording, heavily utilizing the most state of the art instruments (of the time) and drum programming. It is the Stevie Wonder album since “Music Of My Mind” fifteen years earlier, to miss the Top 10 on the Billboard Top 200, with the critical and commercial response being largely mixed upon its release. In spite of it not including a major pop crossover hit, it is successful on the R&B charts spinning off three top five singles including “Skeletons” (#1 R&B, #19 Pop) (also featured in the film “Die Hard” in 1988 and in the video game “Grand Theft Auto V”), “Get It” (featuring Michael Jackson) (#4 R&B, #80 Pop, #11 AC) and “You Will Know” (#1 R&B, #77 Pop, #16 AC). The track “Come Let Me Make Your Love Come Down” features guest appearances by B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The album earns three Grammy nominations in 1989. The original vinyl LP release is packaged in a gatefold sleeve, matte finished with embossed graphics on the front and back. The vinyl release of the album contains only ten songs, with the CD and cassette configurations adding the tracks “Free” and “My Eyes Don’t Cry” (#6 R&B), the latter of which is released as a single in the US in 1988, and the former in some foreign territories in 1989. “Characters” spends seven weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number seventeen on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: November 6, 1971 – “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #9 on the Hot 100 on the same date. Written by Marvin Gaye and James Nyx, it is the seventh chart topping single for the R&B music icon. Following the huge success of the single “What’s Going On” after its release in late January of 1971, Motown demands a full album to accompany it. Gaye quickly gets to work on the rest of the songs, writing both on his own and collaborating with close friends and associates around Motown including songwriter Al Cleveland, Four Tops member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and even his wife Anna. Marvin also writes with songwriter James Nyx, who had originally had worked as a janitor and handy man at friend and former Moonglows band mate Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi/Harvey record label in Detroit. Nyx eventually begin writing songs with Fuqua, then following him to Motown in 1963 when Tri-Phi and Harvey Records are absorbed by Motown. Nyx meets Marvin Gaye through Fuqua at this time and the trio begin writing together, though their material is shelved. Together, Gaye and Nyx write songs for The Originals (“Baby I’m For Real”, “The Bells”), including the single “We Can Make It Baby”. While working on songs for the “What’s Going On” album, the pair collaborate on three songs, “What’s Happening Brother?”, “God Is Love”, and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)”. While the title track expresses anguish over problems affecting the world at large, most prominently the war still raging in Vietnam (at that time), the latter of those songs mediates on issues even closer to home. “Inner City Blues” puts into clear focus, the often dire and bleak conditions in major inner cities in America that many of its citizens are living under. The track is recorded in March of 1971 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit with members of The Funk Brothers including Bob Babbitt (bass), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas), Robert White, Joe Messina (guitars), and Chet Forest (drums). Issued as the third and final single from “What’s Going On” in September of 1971, it follows its predecessors to the top of the R&B singles chart, and into the top ten on the pop singles chart. “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” becomes one of Marvin Gaye’s most popular and often covered songs, with versions recorded by Grover Washington, Jr. (the title track of his debut album on Motown’s Kudu imprint in 1972), Gil Scott-Heron, Maceo Parker, and Sarah Vaughan. It is also sampled by numerous artists including The D.O.C., A Tribe Called Quest, MC Solaar, Spice 1, Scarface, Ice Cube, Too Poetic, K-Solo, Janet Jackson, Ralph Tresvant, and Angela Winbush.
On this day in music history: October 26, 1973 – “Diana & Marvin” by Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye is released. Produced by Hal Davis, Berry Gordy, Jr., Maragret Gordy, Mark Davis, Bob Gaudio, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it is recorded at Motown Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA from Mid 1971 – Mid 1973. Diana Ross kicks off her solo career in spectacular fashion in 1970. However, that success is difficult to maintain. Ross’ second and third albums “Everything Is Everything” and “Surrender” both come up short on hits, in spite of the former spinning off a UK #1 hit with “I’m Still Waiting”. At the same time, Marvin Gaye is in the midst of a major triumph with “What’s Going On”. Berry Gordy, Jr. looks to give his biggest female star a needed boost, while also spotlighting his biggest male artist. When Gordy presents the idea to Gaye, Marvin is less than enthused. Having finally won creative control over his career, he is apprehensive. And after the loss of his former singing partner Tammi Terrell, he is not eager to do any more duets. Berry appeals to Marvin’s ego, telling him that “the prince was in a little stronger position than the princess”, and that it would benefit them both. But things are rough from the start. At the time, Ross is pregnant with her first child, and is often tired and moody. Marvin raises Diana’s ire, when he wanders into a session sipping wine and smoking a joint. When Gordy asks Gaye to put out his reefer, Marvin replies, “sorry B.G., I gotta have my grass when I sing…”. Eventually he complies, and proceeds to sing circles around Ross. It is then decided to record their vocals separately. With Diana set to begin filming “Lady Sings The Blues”, the album is put on the back burner. After Ross and Gaye release the albums “Touch Me In The Morning” and “Let’s Get It On”, Motown finally feels the timing is right to release the duet album. Though many feel that the special chemistry present of Marvin Gaye’s duets with Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells and Kim Weston, is not there with Diana Ross. The “together but separate vibe” also transfers to the LP cover. It shows the pair sitting back to back, with original copies featuring a center opening gatefold. It spins off three singles including “You’re A Special Part Of Me” (#4 R&B, #12 Pop), “My Mistake (Was To Love You)” (#15 R&B, #19 Pop). In the UK, their cover of The Stylistics’ “You Are Everything” (#5 UK) hits the top five. Released on CD in 1987, it’s remastered and reissued in 2009 by Universal Japan, with four previously unreleased bonus tracks. Out of print on vinyl for nearly thirty years, it is reissued in 2016. “Diana & Marvin” peaks at number seven on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number twenty six on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: October 25, 1968 – “Cloud Nine” by The Temptations is released. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the twenty fourth single release for the legendary Motown vocal quintet. After lead vocalist David Ruffin is fired from The Temptations in June of 1968, he is replaced by former Contours (“Do You Love Me?”, “First I Look At The Purse”) member Dennis Edwards. With the new addition, producer Norman Whitfield takes the opportunity to take the group in a new musical direction. Using the template of Sly & The Family Stone’s recent hit “Dance To The Music” (at the suggestion of Temptations leader Otis Williams), with its funky and driving back beat, along with the band’s unique habit of having several members taking a turn at lead vocals in the course of a song, inspired him to try something similar with the Tempts. Lyrically, “Cloud Nine” is different from anything previously released by Motown, with its narrative about being poor and disaffected, looking for an escape and release from that situation. The basic track for the song is cut at Golden World in Detroit (Motown Studio B) with members of The Funk Brothers on October 1, 1968. Whitfield also hires another young Detroit based guitarist named Dennis Coffey to play the signature wah wah guitar part on the song. Dubbed “psychedelic soul” by music critics and the public, the single marks the beginning of a new era for The Temptations, quickly racing up the R&B and pop charts immediately after its release. Issued in mono for the single release, the 45 mix of “Cloud Nine” differs significantly from its stereo counterpart. For The Tempts vocal coda at the songs conclusion, most of the instrumentation accept for the hi-hat cymbals drop out of the mix, as the group sings to the fade out. “Cloud Nine” peaks at #2 on the Billboard R&B singles chart and #6 on the Hot 100 in January of 1969. It also wins The Temptations a Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Group Performance, Vocal Or Instrumental in 1969, making them the first Motown artists to receive that honor. “Cloud Nine” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: October 22, 1966 – “The Supremes A’ Go Go”, the tenth album by The Supremes hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 2 weeks, also topping the R&B album chart for 4 weeks on the same date. Produced by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Hal Davis and Frank Wilson, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Fall 1965 – Summer 1966. The Motown superstar trio’s tenth full length release in just four years, the album consists mostly of cover versions of recent Motown songs (“This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You)”, “Get Ready”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) and pop hits ("These Boots Are Made For Walking”, Hang On Sloopy"), along with newly composed original songs for the group. It spins off two singles including “Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart” (#9 Pop, #7 R&B), and “You Can’t Hurry Love” (#1 Pop, #1 R&B). The Supremes become the first all female group in history to top the Billboard Pop and R&B album charts, with ‘A Go Go selling over a million copies in the US (3.5 million internationally) becoming their second largest selling album worldwide behind their double LP Greatest Hits collection released a year later.
On this day in music history: October 19, 1985 – “Part Time Lover” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, topping the Adult Contemporary chart for 3 weeks on October 26, 1985, topping the Hot 100 for 1 week on November 2, 1985, and also topping the Club Play chart for 1 week on November 16, 1985. Written and produced by Stevie Wonder, it is the sixteenth R&B and ninth pop chart topper for the Motown icon. Issued as the first single from “In Square Circle” in August of 1985, it is an instant smash. “Part Time Lover” makes chart history as the first record to hit the top of the Pop, R&B, Dance and Adult Contemporary charts. The track also features background vocals from Luther Vandross, Philip Bailey and Syreeta Wright. Wonder publicly debuts “Part Time Lover” on May 19, 1985 three months before its release, when he performs the song on the television special “Motown Returns To The Apollo” with Boy George of Culture Club. At the time that the single reaches the top of the pop singles chart, it puts Wonder in a tie for fourth place with the Bee Gees and Paul McCartney among the artists with the most number ones. In late 1985, the only other artists ahead of them were The Beatles (20), Elvis Presley (17), and The Supremes (12). The success of “Part Time Lover” propels “In Square Circle” to 2x Platinum status in the US.
On this day in music history: October 18, 1969 – “I Can’t Get Next To You” by The Temptations hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 5 weeks on October 4, 1969. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the ninth R&B chart topper and second pop number one for the Motown vocal quintet. On a roll after changing lead vocalists and going in a bold new musical direction in 1968, The Temptations continue their hot streak into 1969. Much like their groundbreaking single “Cloud Nine”, the groups hit from earlier in the year, producer Norman Whitfield arranges the song so that all five members of the Tempts rotate singing lead through the course of the song, borrowing the template from Sly & The Family Stone’s “Dance To The Music”. The basic track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on June 23, 1969 with members of The Funk Brothers playing on it. Further overdubs are recorded on June 24, 27, 30, and July 2, 1969. The Temptations add their vocals on July 3, 1969. Released on July 30, 1969, it quickly becomes a smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #84 on August 16, 1969, it climbs to the top of the chart nine weeks later. An instrumental mix of the song is featured on the Deluxe Edition of the soundtrack for “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” in 2002. “I Can’t Get Next To You” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.