Friday, April 1, 2011

Heat Wave

Motown Week: Part 3
Well, since we're having a heat wave this week here in Southern California, this final Motown post for the week will begin with a little "Heat Wave" by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, one of the most successful Motown groups from 1963 to 1972. Charting over twenty-six hits, these girls are ranked #96 on Rolling Stones' list of the 100 greatest artists of all time, as many of their recordings have become a part of American culture. Their 1964 standard, "Dancing in the Street," has been one of the most covered songs in rock and roll history, however, their smash hit from 1963, "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," is likely the first song to represent the Motown Sound with its doo-wop call-and-response vocals, gospel beat, and jazzy flavor. Another written by the Motown production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, this "Heat Wave" is timeless!

Next up, it's the amazing singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Stevie Wonder, who signed with Motown Records at the age of eleven in 1961 and continues to record for the company to this day! Blind since just shortly after birth, Wonder has recorded more than 30 Top-10 hits and has received 22 Grammy Awards, making him the most awarded male solo artist. One of his most popular early singles is the 1966 hit "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," which he co-wrote (along with Sylvia Moy and Henry Cosby) and recorded at just 15 years old. On the day of the recording, the song's lyrics were not available in braille, so Moy sang the lines to Wonder in the studio and he simply repeated the lines, never missing a beat in the recording session. Ranked at #5 on Billboard's Hot-100 All Time Top Artists, Stevie Wonder's music is pure classic.

One of the hottest Motown duos of the late-60's was Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, who had their first big hit together with "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" in 1967 (written by Ashford & Simpson). Known as the "Prince of Motown," Marvin Gaye was the label's top-selling solo artist of the decade, and with his four-octave vocal range, he's ranked #6 among the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time. Tammi Terrell was the perfect musical match for Gaye, and with her easy-going nature with audiences and his laid-back approach, they were successful on stage. Unfortunately, their stardom together was short-lived after Terrell was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, which led to her death at the age of 24 in 1970 (and also tragic, Gaye was later accidentally shot to death by his own father in 1984). However, their voices live on with their signature, care-free, love duets like this.

So maybe it's slightly inappropriate to finish Motown week with a non-Motown artist, but hey, it looks we're just wild and crazy here at The 60s Beat! Well, because it's relevant to soul music, we'll end this post with one of the greatest singers of all time, Aretha Franklin, "The Queen of Soul." Franklin is one of the most honored artists by the Grammy Awards, and since 1961, she has scored forty-five Top-40 hits on the Billboard charts. She also has the most million-selling singles of any female artist (14 total), and in 1987, was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After becoming a superstar with her 1965 hit, "Respect," Franklin went on to sing a string of hits throughout the 1960's (and beyond) including a classic cover of Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer" in 1968. Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Warwick, Franklin's version brought this tune back to the R&B Top 10 for a second time, also gaining her international success. This woman sure has some pipes!

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