Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"I Can't Help Myself"

Motown Week: Part 2
Probably one of most successful vocal acts to record for Motown Records (not to mention, one of the most successful in music history!) was The Temptations. In their five-decade career, they have sold tens of millions of albums and are said to be as influential to soul music as The Beatles were to rock and pop. Spanning several genres of music including R&B, doo-wop, funk, soul, disco, and adult contemporary, the group is also known for distinct choreography, unmistakable harmonies, and flashy suits. Written (in about 20 minutes) and produced by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White (member of The Miracles) for lead vocalist, David Ruffin, "My Girl" was released in December 1964, reaching #1 in 1965 and becoming The Temptations' signature song. Another song on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this tune is a pure classic in an era of classy artists.

A group of four friends from New Jersey, The Shirelles were the first major female vocal group of the rock and roll era, as well as the first female group to have a #1 hit single on Billboard chart with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in 1960. Although they were signed by Scepter Records, this group actually precedes Motown as a crossover sensation with white audiences. OK, so technically these gals don't belong in Motown Week, however, they're relevant to the R&B/pop sound of Motown. Another ranked among the list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, this song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, in which King used the same chord progression "Oh! Carol" (a song written about her by ex-boyfriend Neil Sedaka!). Also found on the list of The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, here are The Shirelles giving a sweet, live performance in 1964.

One of Motown's first singing superstars was Mary Wells, who, along with The Miracles, The Temptations, and The Supremes, was said to have "bridged the color lines in music at the time." Known as the Queen of Motown (until she left the company in 1964), Wells helped define the up-and-coming sound of Motown in the early 1960's with a string of hits, mainly composed by Smokey Robinson. Released in March 1964, her signature song, "My Guy," became one of the first Motown hits to break across the Atlantic, making Wells an international star. In fact, The Beatles invited her to open for their UK tour, therefore making her one of only three female artists to do so for The Beatles. Although Wells passed away at the age of 49 from cancer of the larynx, her voice will always live on in this time-honored song.

Another significant group that contributed to the emerging sound of Motown was The Four Tops, a vocal quartet notable for their use of a baritone lead singer (Levi Stubbs) instead of the usual tenor. From 1953 to 1997, the four original members sustained a successful career for over four decades, performing a variety of genres including R&B, doo-wop, soul, pop, disco, hard rock, and adult contemporary. Written by the Motown production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" was a #1 hit in 1965, becoming one of the most well-known Motown tunes of the '60s, as well as another classic song among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

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