Alternative Version, Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

May Your Festive Season Be Happy And Gaye

Everyone own’s What’s Going On, right? A good chunk of folk own Let’s Get It On, aye? The more discerning amongst you might also have a copy of Marvin and Tammi Sing… Every one a 5 star slab of solid gold soul.

None of them though feature Marvin’s second solo single, released in 1964.

marvin gaye bw

Pretty Little Baby cascades on a waterfall of twinkling pianos, eased along by Marvin’s insistent croon as he channels his inner Nat King Cole. It’s not one of his better-known tracks, but it‘s a cracker.

Marvin GayePretty Little Baby

marvin gaye plb

As was usually the case on those early Tamla singles, the instrumentation on the track was played by the Funk Brothers. It’s understated, sympathetic to the track and hardly the in-your-face brashness that the name ‘Funk Brothers‘ implies.  What’s interesting though is that the track lies on a bed of gently rattling sleigh bells. Berry Gordy must’ve misheard the sound of ringing cash registers, as Marvin would go on to re-record Pretty Little Baby as a ‘brand new’ track, epecially for Christmas.

Purple Snowflakes uses the exact same backing track as Pretty Little Baby, adds some festive-friendly lyrics and manages to successfully pass itself off as a Christmas single. Two hits for the price of one!

Marvin GayePurple Snowflakes

marvin gaye jet

Marvin did a few Christmas tracks for Motown. Most of them are gloopy dods of syrupy schlock, heard once and immediately to be filed in the ‘never again‘ section of your head. But he did do this, a vocal-free, gently wah-wahing spacey groove that wouldn’t sound out of place in a bedroom scene in one of those late-night movies they show on the Movies 4 Men channel. It’s called Christmas In The City, though apart from the welded-on sleigh bells, there’s nothing remotely Christmasy about it.

Marvin GayeChristmas In the City

That keen-eared musical magpie Paul Weller borrowed heavily from the hook for Pretty Little Baby. Yes he did! Or perhaps it was wingman Cradock who sticky-fingered it into the song. Either way, transposing the tumbling piano riff to guitar, Weller built his own Find The Torch/Burn The Plans around it. It’s buried low in the mix, but it’s there. To be fair, it’s a great track, although it’s notable mainly for the vocals being so fackin’ cockernee they should be dressed as a Pearly Queen and have Ray Winstone munching on jellied eels in the background a la McCartney on the Beach Boys’ Vegetables.

Paul WellerFind The Torch/Burn The Plans

Here’s a picture of Paul Weller, fattening up for Christmas and off down Oxford Street to find that perfect Santa suit.

paul weller flab

 

Gone but not forgotten, Sampled

Miracle Worker

I’m a total sucker for 60s-70s soul. If you visit these pages from time to time you’ll know that already. I’m more of a Stax man than a Motown man. I’ve always considered Stax to be the rough ‘n tumble, snotty nosed version of its more well-known big brother. If Stax and Motown started school on the same day, it’d be Stax who came home with the knees out his new trousers, while brother Motown’s hair would look the same as it did at 9.00am and the creases in his trousers would still be sharp enough to put new life into an old pencil.

It’s amazing to think that at Stax, it was a relatively small band of musicians who played on much of the stuff. And it was the same at Motown. The Funk Brothers were the go-to band if you needed a recording in a hurry. Between 1959 and 1972 they added their signature breaks, beats and bouncing rhythms to many a radio standard – Baby Love, My Girl, Please Mr Postman, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, Let’s Get It On….the list is practically endless. They were in many ways Detroit’s answer to LA’s Wrecking Crew; seasoned studio pros who went about their business with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of funk.

marv tarplin

Marvin “Marv” Tarplin was never considered one of the Funk Brothers. You might never have heard of him, but you’ll certainly be familiar with his music.

Marv was Smokey Robinson‘s guitar player of choice, discovered when he accompanied a brand-new girl group called The Primettes at an audition for Smokey, then working in his capacity as in-house Motown producer. Smokey encouraged the girls to change their name to The Supremes and helped them on their way to stardom, but at a price – he nicked their guitar player for his own group.

It’s Marv’s clean, chiming picking that opens The Tracks Of My Tears and carries it to the heartbroken crescendo;

(Michael Caine voice) Not a lot of people know this, but Marv’s inspiration for The Tracks Of My Tears came from playing along to Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song at 33rpm. That wee drop in the middle, when it’s just Marv playing a couple of chords? Until I’d heard Steely Dan’s Peg, I was convinced De La Soul had nicked it for Eye Know. (I know, I know…I can practically hear the ‘tut tut tuts‘ from a gazillion sample-spotting soul boys ‘n girls). Someone else should probably nick Marv’s bit. Thinking about it, somebody else probably has.

Back in my days of music retail, I had a loooong conversation with a regular customer over Charlie Parker’s playing style. The customer swore that Parker added little fluttering riffs at the end of the phrases he was playing and that, once he’d pointed it out I’d be able to spot a Charlie Parker solo a mile off. D’you know what? He was right.

As a guitar player, Marv was the polar opposite of Charlie Parker, with seemingly no distinctive style of his own. Clean and clipped, equally at home chopping out barred riffs or picking little runs, Marv’s style could best be described as The Ubiquitous Sound of Motown, which is not a bad playing style to have at all.

His playing graced a gazillion Motown hits – Going To a Go-Go, I Second That Emotion (above), but mainly Motown misses – I’ll be Doggone, Cruisin’, Still Water and many other minor tracks I’d need to Google. He loved a hammer-on with the pinky, he loved a simple-yet-effective running riff up and across the bass strings, and he was part of the reason Smokey Robinson and The Miracles made heartbreak sound so life-affirmingly uplifting. A real Miracle worker, if you will.

It wasn’t only Smokey who benefited from Marv’s guitar…

Marvin GAYE

Marvin Gaye‘s finger poppin’, hand clappin’ Ain’t That Peculiar features Marv’s ringing riffs and clipped guitar. A belter of mid 60s pop/soul, all pistol crack snare, stabbing brass and coo-cooing, doo-be-doo female backing vocals, Ain’t That Peculiar was a favourite of Phil Spector, who heard something in the piano breakdown midway through and went on to model the main riff for River Deep, Mountain High around it. S’true!

 

 

demo, Gone but not forgotten, Hard-to-find, studio outtakes

The Making Of A Great Compilation Tape…

Stubborn kind of fellow. Marvin Gaye sang a song with the same title but to all intents and purposes he could be talking about himself. Fed up with the non-stop rollercoaster of  Motown promotion and hard-sell and at the same time defying the orders of label boss Berry Gordy (who wanted instant hit after hit), he set up camp for the best part of a year recording what many of us consider to be his masterpiece, ‘What’s Going On’.

I expect most of you here to know about the socio-political overtones in the lyrics, about how at the time (1971) such things were no-go for someone in Gaye’s world of work. You could argue that Marvin pushed open all sorts of doors with ‘What’s Going On’. Certainly, Stevie Wonder’s political work was just around the corner, but Marvin was one of the first mainstream million-selling artists to start writing this sort of stuff. Nowadays anyone from Take That to Leona Lewis can have a political conscience, but Marvin’s work was truly groundbreaking. What makes it all the better was that he cajoled, coerced and conducted the Funk Brothers into playing the grooviest music imaginable. Political music doesn’t have to be flat and one dimensional. Billy Bragg, sit up and listen when I’m talking to you.

marvin-gaye-wgo-sessions

Marvin cajoles, coerces and conducts the Funk Brothers

Listen to this. An instrumental (with the odd leaked Marvin backing vocal thrown in at the end) ‘rhythm ‘n’ strings’ version of the title track of ‘What’s Going On’. Listen to that bassline! Listen to those vibes! The clipped guitar! The finger clicks! The sweeping strings! The bongos, man! THIS IS MUSIC!

Marvin took the same approach to recording a couple of years later when writing ‘Let’s Get It On’. An album dedicated to love, sex and all that sort of stuff, you could be forgiven for thinking that it might sound like a slushy mess if you’ve never heard it. Far from it. Like the album before, Gaye pushes the Funk Brothers to their limits (and they have some seemingly never-ending limits) and makes another belter of an album.

I was always in denial about ‘Let’s Get It On’ as an album. Nothing could ever match up to ‘What’s Going On’ and I thought it was slushy romantic crap the first time I heard it. Played it once then filed it away. Then I heard the title track again, at the end of ‘High Fidelity’ when Jack Black’s band sing it. Instant re-appraisal. Jack Black turned me back on to ‘Let’s Get It On’! S’true!

Listen to the original studio demo of ‘Let’s Get It On’. A bit rougher round the edges than the version Jack Black loves but smooth enough to suggest something might happen upstairs sometime soon. Actually, it’s very smooth. Flutes, piano, backing vocals, wah-wah’d guitar, saxophone. This is one lush demo. I like my demos to feature a wee bit of studio chat and the odd bum note here and there. This one is no different. Except I’ve never heard the Funk Brothers never play a bum note, ever. Even on a demo.

gaye-lgio

Marvin hears that all-too-familiar squeak of the bedsprings from the upstairs neighbours and decides to write ‘Let’s Get It On’.

‘Running From Love’ was an instrumental that never Marvin quite managed to find a complete set of lyrics for, so never made the final cut of the album. Shame, as this version with fuzzed intro makes it sound like some long-lost Blaxploitation theme. The other version is slicker and smoother and would make great incidental music on a chocolate advert. Ideal, indeed, for gettin’ it on. With Valentine’s Day but a few days away, what better present to give your loved one than a CD of these downloaded beauties? And if he/she thinks it’s the worst present in the world…ever, then you’ve got to ask yourself if they’re really worth the effort.

marvin_gaye_in_studio