On this day in music history: September 24, 1983 – “In A Special Way”, the third album by DeBarge is released. Produced by El DeBarge, it is recorded at Kendun Recorders in Burbank, CA and Westlake Audio in West Hollywood, CA from Late 1982 – Mid 1983. Buoyed by the success of their sophomore release “All This Love”, the family vocal group from Grand Rapids, MI are granted more creative freedom in the studio. Only twenty one years old at start of recording, lead singer El DeBarge oversees the sessions as the sole producer and bandleader, with brothers James and Mark and sister Bunny all writing songs that are included on the completed album. Aided by a group of seasoned studio veterans including Greg Phillinganes (keyboards), Harvey Mason, Ricky Lawson, Leon “Ndugu” Chancler (drums) “Ready” Freddie Washington, James Jamerson, Jr., Nathan East (bass), Charles Fearing, Paul Jackson, Jr., Carlos Rios (guitars), and Paulinho DaCosta (percussion), the sessions are highly productive. Motown label mate Stevie Wonder (harmonica) also makes a guest appearance on the title track. The finished album is an artistic triumph and is widely regarded as the group’s best. It spins off two singles including “Time Will Reveal” (#1 R&B, #18 Pop) and “Love Me In A Special Way” (#11 R&B, #45 Pop). The album receives further belated attention more than a decade after its release when the album tracks “Stay With Me” and “A Dream” are widely sampled and interpolated by numerous Hip Hop and R&B artists during the 90’s including The Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, and Ashanti. Originally released on CD in the early 90’s, it is remastered and reissued as part of the compilation package “Time Will Reveal: The Complete Motown Albums” in 2011. “In A Special Way” peaks at number four on the Billboard R&B album chart, also peaking at number thirty six on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 24, 1966 – “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” by The Temptations hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks, also peaking at #3 on the Hot 100 on October 1, 1966. Written by Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland, is the fourth R&B chart topper for the Motown vocal quintet. Written early on in his tenure as a staff songwriter and producer at Motown, Norman Whitfield collaborates with fellow songwriter Eddie Holland on “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”. The instrumental track is originally recorded on April 14, 1964 in Motown Studio A in Detroit, featuring The Funk Brothers providing instrumental support, specifically bassist James Jamerson and “Master Of The Shuffle”, drummer Richard “Pistol” Allen, and is arranged by Paul Riser. For unknown reasons, the track is shelved for over two years before The Temptations record their vocals. Other versions of the song are released by The Miracles and Jimmy Ruffin (the brother of Tempts lead vocalist David Ruffin) before The Temptations rendition. Billie Jean Brown, head of Motown’s Quality Control selects the song for single release, initially over the groups objections, who think it will not be a hit. Released on August 4, 1966, the group are quickly proven wrong as it races up the R&B and pop singles charts simultaneously, becoming the third of four number one R&B hits The Temptations score during 1966. “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 19, 1970 – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on October 3, 1970. Written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it is the first solo chart topper for the former lead singer of The Supremes. Originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967, Ashford and Simpson dramatically revamp the song for the Motown diva, punctuated by sections of spoken dialogue by Ross. The basic track is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit on March 13, 1970, with members of The Funk Brothers including James Jamerson (bass), Johnny Griffith (celeste), Earl Van Dyke (clavinet), Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina (guitars), Eddie “Bongo” Brown (congas), Jack Ashford (tambourine), Uriel Jones and Andrew Smith (drums). Valerie Simpson also plays piano on the session. Ross records her vocal the following day on March 14, 1970, and background vocals sung by Ashford & Simpson and Jo Armstead. The orchestral accompaniment arranged by Paul Riser is recorded in New York City four days later on March 18, 1970. The completed version of the song runs nearly six and a half minutes, far too long to release as a single. Motown founder and chairman Berry Gordy, Jr. is also not fond of the new arrangement at first, feeling that it takes too long to “get to the point”. However, the song quickly finds favor with fans, and radio stations respond by making their own edits and putting it in heavy rotation. Motown reacts quickly by editing it down to three minutes and fifteen seconds, rush releasing it as a single on July 16, 1970. Entering the Hot 100 at #46 on August 8, 1970, it rockets to the top of the chart six weeks later. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” sells over a million copies in the US, earning Diana Ross a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1971. One of Ashford & Simpson’s most beloved songs, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” is covered by many other artists including Hugh Masekela, Inner Life Featuring Jocelyn Brown, Howard Hewett & Stacy Lattisaw, Human Nature, Michael McDonald, and also recorded live by Ashford & Simpson in 1981. In 2004, an instrumental mix of Ross’ version appears on the Deluxe Edition of the “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown” soundtrack.
On this day in music history: September 13, 1985 – “In Square Circle”, the twentieth studio album by Stevie Wonder is released. Produced by Stevie Wonder, it is recorded at Wonderland Studios in Los Angeles, CA from Mid 1983 – Mid 1985. Recorded over a two and a half year period, it is Wonder’s first full album of new material since “Hotter Than July” five years before. Wonder actually takes time away from his work on the album to record the soundtrack for the comedy “The Woman In Red” as well as embarking on an extensive tour of Europe during the Spring and Summer of 1984. Besides Wonderlove, the band of musicians he has been working with for much of the last decade, Wonder also invites other musician friends such as guitarist Earl Klugh, and vocalists Luther Vandross, Deniece Williams, Philip Bailey and Syreeta Wright to perform on the album. It spins off four hit singles including “Part Time Lover” (#1 Pop, R&B, Dance, & AC), “Go Home” (#2 R&B,#10 Pop), and “Overjoyed” (#8 R&B, #24 Pop). Stevie also wins a Grammy Award (his thirteenth) for the album for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1986. The original vinyl LP comes in a glossy gate fold jacket with embossing on the front and back cover, also including an eight page color booklet with photos and lyrics. “In Square Circle” spends twelve weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number five on the Top 200, and is certified 2x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 12, 1973 – “G.I.T.: Get It Together”, the seventh album by The Jackson 5 is released. Produced by Hal Davis, it is recorded at Motown Recording Studios in Hollywood, CA from April – July 1973. The album marks an important transitional point in the J5’s career. The project sees the group moving away from their original bubblegum Pop/R&B sound to a more Proto-Disco/Funk sound. It spins off three singles including the title track (#2 R&B, #28 Pop) and the original full length version of “Dancing Machine (1 R&B, #2 Pop)”. The track “Hum Along And Dance” become a dance floor favorite in clubs and is adapted as an early Hip Hop staple for the songs extended breakdown. The original LP pressing features a die cut cover with the initials “G.I.T.” cut out to reveal a picture of the group on the albums inner sleeve. The album is remastered and reissued on CD in 2001 as a two-fer disc with “Skywriter”. It is reissued as a stand alone release in 2010. Out of print on vinyl for over two decades, it is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram LP in 2009. “G.I.T.: Get It Together” peaks at number four on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number one hundred on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: September 11, 1971 – “The Jackson 5ive” animated cartoon series makes its debut on the ABC television network. A joint venture between Motown Productions and Rankin & Bass, twenty three episodes of the series (original episodes broadcast until September 1, 1973) are produced. The debut episode “It All Started With…” is a fictionalized account of the J5’s being discovered by Diana Ross, when Michael’s pet snake Rosey finds his way in to Ross’ dressing room. The groups voices are provided by actors Donald Fullilove (Michael), Edmund Sylvers (Marlon), Joel Cooper (Jermaine), Mike Martinez (Tito), and Craig Grandy (Jackie). The Jackson 5 themselves are unable to contribute their own voices, due to their busy recording and touring schedule. Animation for the series is by the London based production company Halas & Batchelor and Spanish studio Estudios Moro. Following its run on the network, the series runs in syndication throughout the rest of the 70’s and 80’s. It is revived again in the 90’s when episodes are shown on MTV, VH1, and the Nick At Nite spin off channel TV Land. The complete series is released on DVD and Blu-ray disc in January of 2013 by Classic Media.
On this day in music history: September 8, 1973 – “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks (non-consecutive), also topping the R&B singles chart for 6 weeks on August 18, 1973. Written by Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend, it is the first pop and tenth R&B chart topper for the R&B music icon from Washington DC. After the critical and commercial triumph of “What’s Going On”, Marvin Gaye renegotiates his contract with Motown Records which guarantees him greater creative freedom, and at the time making him one of the highest paid black musicians in the music industry. However, Gaye finds himself once again plagued by writer’s block as he is scheduled to begin working on his next album. When Marvin begins working on material, one song in particular initially has a completely different concept and subject matter. Initially, Gaye comes up with a song that has a religious theme, which evolves into a more political song with lyrics contributed by Kenneth Stover. When fellow songwriter and co-producer Ed Townsend (“For Your Love”) hears this original version, he urges Marvin to change it, as the track has a decidedly sensual vibe and the original lyrics don’t work. With Townsend’s assistance, the song is dramatically transformed and becomes the centerpiece of one of Marvin Gaye’s most popular and enduring works. Having come from a very strict religious background, often having a difficult and sometimes physically abusive relationship at the hands of his preacher father, Gaye grows up with a deeply conflicted view of sex that he carries over into adulthood. “Let’s Get It On” is written with the idea liberating one’s self from the often dogmatic views of the church on sex, and that religious fervor and sexual ecstasy are not that far removed from each other. Another inspiration for “Let’s Get It On” comes when Gaye meets guitarist Slim Gaillard’s daughter Janis Hunter. Though she is only seventeen years old at the time, Janis and Marvin become friends which later evolves into a romantic relationship and eventually marriage. Becoming Gaye’s creative muse, Hunter’s presence further sparks the musician’s creativity. “Let’s Get It On” is recorded at Motown’s Hitsville West Studios in Hollywood, CA on March 22, 1973. Issued as the first single and title track of Marvin’s thirteenth studio album on June 15, 1973, it is immediately and emphatically embraced by the public. Entering the Hot 100 at #74 on July 14, 1973, it climbs to the top of the chart eight weeks later. Like the album itself, “Let’s Get It On” becomes iconic, further establishing the Motown superstar as a sex symbol. Over the years, the song is featured in numerous films and television programs including “The Sopranos”, “House”, “The Simpsons”, “High Fidelity”, “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” and “Something’s Got To Give”. “Let’s Get It On” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: September 8, 1970 – “Third Album” by The Jackson 5 is released. Produced by The Corporation and Hal Davis, it is recorded at The Sound Factory and Motown Recording Studio in Hollywood, CA from April – September 1970. The groups third full length album in just nine months, it contains original songs written by Motown staff writers as well as cover versions of hits by Simon & Garfunkel (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”), Shades Of Blue (“Oh How Happy”) and The Delfonics (“Ready Or Not (Here I Come)”). It spins off two hit singles including their biggest hit “I’ll Be There” (#1 Pop for 5 weeks & R&B for 6 weeks) and “Mama’s Pearl” (#2 Pop & R&B), though the album version of “Mama” features alternate vocals from the hit single version (issued in January of 1971). It becomes The Jackson 5’s second biggest selling album in the US, moving an estimated 4.6 million copies. Originally released on CD in the mid 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2001 as a two-fer CD with “Maybe Tomorrow”. It is also reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP in 2009, making it available in the format for the first time in over twenty years. “Third Album” spends ten weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number four on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: September 6, 1980 – “Upside Down” by Diana Ross hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 4 weeks on August 16, 1980. Written and produced by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, it is the fifth solo chart topper for the Motown superstar. When producers Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers sign on to work with Diana Ross, they meet the singer at her apartment in New York City. During the several hours they talk to her, she speaks of wanting her record to sound like nothing she’s done before, wanting to make a break with her past both musically and personally. Edwards and Rodgers leave the meeting inspired, and quickly write an entire albums’ worth of material for Ross. Originally titled “The Work Song”, “Upside Down” is inspired by their conversation, being about a woman who is deeply in love with a man who she’s aware isn’t faithful to her, but can’t let go of him. The song is rumored to be about either actor Ryan O’Neal or musician Gene Simmons of the band KISS, both of whom Ross had dated during this period. One of the first tracks recorded for the “diana” album, the basic track and vocals for “Upside Down” are recorded in November of 1979. When the album is released in May of 1980, initially “I’m Coming Out” (#5 Pop, #6 R&B) is chosen to be the first single, but Motown abruptly cancels its release (issuing it as the second single on August 22, 1980) and issues “Upside Down” instead on June 25, 1980. Entering the Hot 100 at #82 on July 12, 1980, the record at first struggles up the chart, taking a month to crack the Top 50. Then on August 9, 1980, the record suddenly pole vaults from #49 to #10 in a single week. Four weeks after that, it makes its final ascent to the top the chart. The funky, groove laden “Upside Down” becomes one of Diana Ross’ biggest and most enduring hits, earning her a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female in 1981. In 1997, the song is sampled as the basis for the remix version of MC Lyte’s hit “Cold Rock A Party”. “Upside Down” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.