On this day in music history: November 19, 1966 – “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” by The Supremes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 4 weeks on November 26, 1966. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the eighth number one pop single, and third R&B chart topper for the Motown vocal trio. The track is a deliberate attempt by HDH to give the group a harder edged sound. The songs’ distinctive morse code like lead guitar lick is suggested by Lamont Dozier when he hears the intro to a news report on the radio with a similar rhythmic element to it. The track is recorded at Motown Records Studio A on June 30, 1966 with instrumental backing by The Funk Brothers. The Supremes overdub their vocals two months later on August 1, 1966. Released as the follow up to the girls’ previous chart topper “You Can’t Hurry Love” on October 12, 1966, it is another immediate smash. Entering the Hot 100 at #68 on October 29, 1966, it rockets to the top of the chart just three weeks later. The week that “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” hits the top of the chart, it presides over a unique top five in which all of the songs within had either previously reached number one, or are on their way to hitting the top of the chart. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” sells more than one million copies in the US. Like many Motown classics, “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” covered by a wide variety of artists, including versions by Wilson Pickett, Rod Stewart, and The Box Tops. The song returns to the top ten in a dramatically re-vamped version by hard rock band Vanilla Fudge in 1968. Their version, initially released in June of 1967 fails to make much of an impression at first. Clocking in at more than seven minutes on their self-titled debut, it is pared down to under three minutes for single release. It’s only after it begins receiving widespread airplay on FM underground stations playing the long LP cut, that it eventually crosses over to AM pop stations. Reissued a year later in June of 1968, climbs to #6 on the Hot 100 on August 31, 1968. Then over twenty years after The Supremes top the pop charts with the song, it hits number one a second time, when it is covered by British pop singer Kim Wilde, whose own Hi-NRG dance remake becomes a club and pop smash. Regarded as one of The Supremes career defining singles as well as a R&B and pop standard, it is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1999.
On this day in music history: November 17, 1979 – “Still” by The Commodores hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on November 24, 1979. Written by Lionel Richie, it is the second chart topping single for the R&B band from Tuskegee, AL. Riding a huge wave of success after scoring their first number one pop single with “Three Times A Lady” the year before, The Commodores re-enter the studio in the early part of 1979 to begin recording their seventh studio album. Once again, showing his gift for writing heartfelt and emotional ballads, Richie writes “Still” as a companion piece to “Sail On”, the first single from the bands’ “Midnight Magic” album. Just as “Sail On” is inspired by the break up of a close childhood friends’ marriage, “Still” deals the aftermath of that break up. The songs’ narrative finds the couple realizing that even though their romantic relationship has ended, that they remain bonded to each other as friends. It becomes an instant favorite at radio when stations begin playing the nearly six minute long album cut, with some making their own edits. Its popularity grows so quickly that Motown is forced to rush release it in mid September of 1979, as “Sail On” is still rising up the pop and R&B charts. Entering the Hot 100 at #68 on September 29, 1979, it races to the top of the chart seven weeks later. Both “Still” and “Sail On” both briefly reside in the Top 10 at the same time, with “Sail On” holding at its peak position of number four for a second week on October 20, 1979, while “Still” pole vaults from #38 to #10 that same week. “Still” is The Commodores fourth million selling single in the US.
On this day in music history: November 16, 1966 – “Watchout!”, the fourth album by Martha & The Vandellas is released. Produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson, Smokey Robinson, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Eddie Holland and Harvey Fuqua, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Spring 1964, Late 1965 – Mid 1966. The fourth full length release by the Motown vocal trio spins off three singles including “Jimmy Mack” (#1 R&B, #10 Pop) and “I’m Ready For Love” (#2 R&B, #9 Pop). “Jimmy Mack” is originally recorded in 1964 but is initially shelved until it is pulled from the vault and is released on this album. Several R&B stations add the song to their playlists as an LP cut. The highly positive public response to the song leads Motown to releasing it as a single in February of 1967. Only mono pressings of the album feature the original version of the song. The stereo version features an alterate recording of the song, differing noticeably from the hit single version, which is only available in mono until it is remixed from the original three track master tape in 2005. “Watchout!” peaks at number one hundred sixteen on the Billboard Top 200.
On this day in music history: November 13, 1968 – “Love Child”, the fifteenth studio album by Diana Ross & The Supremes is released. Produced by Berry Gordy, Jr., Frank Wilson, R. Dean Taylor, Deke Richards, Henry Cosby, Smokey Robinson, Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Marv Johnson, George Gordy, Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol, it is recorded at Motown Studio A & B in Detroit, MI from February 17 – October 2, 1968. It is the first Supremes album not written or produced by Holland/Dozier/Holland, who depart from Motown over a year before over a royalty dispute with Motown, resulting in the Supremes not having a major hit for over a year. The album contains the chart topping title track, as well as songs written by Ashford & Simpson, Deke Richards, R. Dean Taylor and Johnny Bristol. Out of print since the early 90’s, the album is remastered and reissued on CD by Universal Japan in 2013, also having been reissued in a limited edition by specialty label Culture Factory the same year. “Love Child” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number fourteen on the Top 200
On this day in music history: November 13, 1965 – “The Four Tops’ Second Album” by The Four Tops is released. Produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Spring – Summer 1965. Following the success of The Four Tops breakthrough hits “Baby I Need Your Loving” (#11 Pop), “Ask The Lonely” (#9 R&B, #24 Pop), and their self-titled debut album, they continue their run of hits with their next album. The second full length release from the group includes three of their most recent hits including the chart topping “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, “It’s The Same Old Song” (#2 R&B, #5 Pop), and “Something About You” (#9 R&B, #19 Pop). Originally released in mono and stereo in 1965, the mono edition is discontinued after 1968, with the stereo edition remaining in print on vinyl until the late 1980’s. The album has been remastered and reissued by Universal Music in Japan in 2012 as a limited edition SHM-CD, in a mini-LP sleeve replicating the original art work. “The Four Tops’ Second Album” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number twenty on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: November 12, 1983 – “All Night Long (All Night)” by Lionel Richie hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 7 weeks on October 22, 1983, and also tops the Adult Contemporary chart for 4 weeks on November 12, 1983. Written by Lionel Richie, it is the third solo number one single for the former member of The Commodores. While writing songs for his second solo album, Lionel Richie pulls the material from a variety of sources. Some songs like the chart topping “Hello”, is written during the recording of his first album in 1982, but is set aside. The idea for what becomes “All Night Long” starts off quickly, before hitting a roadblock. The verses, bridge and melody come to him while on trips that he takes to the Caribbean. The song’s chorus and title take much longer to develop. In all, Lionel spends over two months working on the song before its complete. Adding to the song’s multicultural vibe, are the words “Karamu”, a Swahili word for a party that is usually accompanied by a feast. “Liming”, a word originating in the Caribbean meaning “to get together” and “Fiesta”, the Spanish word for “party” or “celebration”. Another one of the songs hooks “Tambo liteh sette mo-jah! Yo! Jambo jambo”, comes after Richie contacts an African delegate at UN, asking them for an African phrase that is in spirit of the other words he’s used. The delegate gives him those words. Then finally before going into the studio to record the song, Lionel consults his wife Brenda’s gynecologist who is Jamaican, to ask him if he is pronouncing the Caribbean words correctly. When the doctor gives him the thumbs up on his pronunciation, Richie goes ahead and completes his vocals on the track. Issued as the first single from “Can’t Slow Down” in early September of 1983, the song is one of the last tracks completed for the album. The music video is directed by Bob Rafelson (The Monkees TV series, Head, Five Easy Pieces) and is produced by former Monkee Mike Nesmith’s production company Pacific Arts. Entering the Hot 100 at #62 on September 17, 1983, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. In the Summer of 1984, Richie performs a specially re-written version of “All Night Long” during the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles, CA. Richie re-records “All Night Long” with Jimmy Buffett And The Coral Reefer Band for his covers album “Tuskegee” released in March of 2012. “All Night Long (All Night)” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
Tammi Terrell performing at the University of Michigan in 1967.
Young, beautiful, vivacious, musically talented Tammi Terrell appeared to have a bright future in the music business in 1967, when she appeared at the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium with the Motown Revue. After surviving abusive relationships with James Brown and David Ruffin, she made a series of top 40 duet hits with Marvin Gaye. Sadly, Tammi was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1967, which she succumbed to at the age of 24 in 1970.
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.