Thursday, November 17, 2011

Up On The Roof

Soul Music: Part 4
Continuing with successes from Hitsville, USA (a.k.a. Detroit, MI), American soul singer Jimmy Ruffin had several hits in the '60s and '80s, and is the older brother of David Ruffin of The Temptations. First joining Motown Records in 1961, followed by a few years of service in U.S. Army, Ruffin finally scored his breakthrough hit in June of 1966 with "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted." This beautiful ballad was his only Top-10 hit, peaking at #7 on the Billboard charts and #6 on the R&B Singles chart, and remains one of the most revived of Motown's hits. The original recording initially included a spoken introduction by Ruffin, however, it was left out of the final mix, thus making for an extra-long instrumental intro. The only video footage I could find comes from a performance that Ruffin gave on British TV in about 1975, which does include those original spoken lines at the beginning.

Before they were known as Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (from 1965 through 1972), The Miracles were the first successful act for the Motown Record Corporation. Not only were they one of Motown's signature groups of the 1960s, but their leader, Smokey Robinson, became one of most successful songwriters and record producers of all time. Even maintaining success during the British Invasion, they were actually a major influence on many British bands at the time. Among their fifty hits that charted, their first million-selling single was "Shop Around" released in the fall of 1960. Written by Robinson and Motown CEO Berry Gordy, this early soul single reached #1 on the R&B charts, #1 on the Cashbox, and #2 on the Billboard charts. Although not included in the video footage, the female in the group, Claudette Robinson was Smokey's wife who sang background vocals. Here's another classic tune ranked among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Frequently featured on the '60s Beat, Diana Ross & the Supremes are America's most successful vocal group to date, with twelve #1 singles on the Billboard chart. Their success helped make it possible for future African-American soul and R&B musicians to gain mainstream success. Their consecutive hit singles in the mid-'6os included "Stop! In the Name of Love," which remained at #1 for a few weeks during the spring of 1965, and was nominated for the 1966 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Rock & Roll Group Vocal Performance. In addition to this song making the permanent collection of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the song's choreography, with the outstretched "stop" gesture, is also legendary. Members of The Temptations taught the girls the routine backstage in London before their performance on a Ready, Steady, Go! special featuring Motown music, hosted by Motown enthusiast Dusty Springfield (as seen below!).

Joining the Motown Records Corporation at the age of 11, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Stevie Wonder is going on fifty years of a successful music career and is the most awarded male solo artist of all time. Although the 1970s saw his most classic era of recording, he did score some big hits while still a teenager in the '60s. Released on his seventh studio album in August of 1967, "I was Made to Love Her" peaked at #2 on the pop chart, and spent four straight weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. Written by Wonder with his mother Lula Mae Hardaway, Sylvia Moy, and producer Henry Cosby, this soul song features Wonder's signature harmonica sound in the introduction, as well as strings following the bridge section. The song has some interesting covers including a version by guitarist Jimi Hendrix with Stevie Wonder on drums. Although blind from birth, it's as if Wonder has a sixth sense for creating fantastic music.

We'll conclude our Soul Series with a childhood favorite of mine, the long-lived American doo-wop and soul/R&B vocal group from New York City, The Drifters. Although the group was a revolving door with its members and peaked in popularity was from 1953 through 1963, splinter groups continue to perform today. Having a completely different lineup by 1958, led by Ben E. King ("Stand By Me"), these "New" Drifters are widely considered to be the "true" golden age of the group and have received Pioneer Awards from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. Released at the end of 1962, "Up on the Roof" became a big hit in early '63, reaching #5 on the U.S. pop chart and #4 on the R&B chart. Written by the Brill Building songwriting team Gerry Goffin and Carole King, this timeless song has been described as "a remarkable pop song for 1962" with "first-rate, sophisticated writing." My family had a Drifters' Greatest Hits cassette tape that was played numerous times on roadtrips, yet this music really never gets old to me. Here's another one of those 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (#113), as well as one that Shaped Rock and Roll, performed by one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time (#81).

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