Six Of The Best is a semi-regular feature that pokes, prods and persuades your favourite bands, bards and barometers of hip opinion to tell us six of the best tracks they’ve ever heard. The tracks could be mainstream million-sellers or they could be obfuscatingly obscure, it doesn’t matter. The only criteria set is that, aye, they must be Six of the Best. Think of it like a mini, groovier version of Desert Island Discs…
Stuart Cosgrove is, to most folk in Scotland, the owner of that distinctive voice with the Tayside twang barking and cackling its way out of the tranny each Saturday afternoon between 12 and 2. “Ah yes indeed Tam!” could almost be his catchphrase. As co-presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s Off The Ball, he’s a bringer of much needed humour and mirth to suffering Scottish football fans up and down the land.
‘The most petty and ill-informed football show on the radio‘ is a must-listen to in my house – it’s the central part of my pre-match warm up before I head off to Rugby Park to watch my team lie down to whoever they’re up against that week. Although primarily a football show, there’s a fair smattering of music references. Sometimes, one of the guests will be of that ilk, other times Tam and Stuart will discuss their musical preferences, with Stuart the black music obsessed yin to Tam Cowan’s cabaret ‘n crooners yang. And there’s always a record to play out with, a thematically-linked song that encapsulates the mood of that week’s big (or petty) talking point. It’s my favourite show on the wireless by some distance.
In the 70s, Stuart was a buttoned-down and baggy-panted Northern Soul fan, a collector of rare 7″s who was fond of hopping on the overnight Perth to London train and disembarking at Wigan just in time for the Casino to open. In the 80s, Stuart indulged his musical passions further by writing for the fanzines before graduating to the NME and The Face. He was an early champion of electronic dance music and his job gained him access to all sorts of musical royalty, from Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Ruffin to Prince and the hallowed halls of Paisley Park. He’s long-since moved onwards and upwards (would you still want to be writing for NME nowadays? What/who could you muster up any enthusiasm to write about?) and is now a high heid yin at Channel 4. Somehow, inbetween the radio work each Saturday, working in London through the week and going to as many St Johnstone games as he can fit in, he’s found the time to write a book.
Here’s the blurb;
Detroit 67, The Year That Changed Soulis the story of the city of Detroit in the most dramatic and creative year in its history. It is the story of Motown, the breakup of The Supremes and the implosion of the most successful African-American record label ever, set against a backdrop of urban riots, escalating war in Vietnam and police corruption. The book weaves through the year as counterculture arrives in Detroit and the city’s other famous group, the proto-punk band MC5 go to war with mainstream America. The year ends in intense legal warfare as the threads that bind Detroit together unravel and leave a chaos that scars the city for decades to come.
It’ll be right up my street, and no doubt many of yours too.
Ahead of its publication at the end of March, Stuart somehow found the time to contribute to Plain Or Pan. Keeping with the Detroit theme, Stuart tells us his six favourite Detroit musicians. In what must surely be a serendipitous moment, most of them have graced this blog countless times already.
The original black crooner who wanted to be the black Sinatra but ended up fronting the greatest album of all time ‘What’s Going On.’
Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
The bespectacled lead singer of The Temptations was the most complicated character at Motown and at war with himself. He eventually died of a drug overdose.
The Temptations – Message From A Black Man
The Queen of Soul came from a famous Detroit family whose father was the city’s most flamboyant preacher.
Aretha Franklin – Save Me
Often seen as ‘the other Supreme’ caught in a bitter war between Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, but her voice effortlessly floated from jazz, to soul and even opera.
The Supremes – Automatically Sunshine
An outsider who often won local talent contests in the Motor City but was in his sixties before he joined The Four Tops as a stand in for the legendary Levi Stubbs.
Ronnie McNeir – Lucky Number
Jonnie Mae Matthews
The godmother of Detroit soul and a pioneer who had a voice rougher than sandpaper and smoother than silk.
Jonnie Mae Matthews – The Headshrinker
Stuart Cosgrove is the author of Detroit 67. You can read more about the book and its author on the Detroit 67 Facebook page. Afterwards, you’d best get on the good foot and pre-order your copy from here (or your usual online book retailer.) I’ll see you at the front of the virtual queue.
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.
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 Gaye – Pretty Little Baby
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 Gaye – Purple Snowflakes
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 Gaye – Christmas 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 Weller – Find 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.
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.
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‘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!
It’s the annual, token Plain Or Pan Christmas posting. And this year it’s a cracker. Boom, boom!
At the televised Michael Jackson funeral/tribute on the telly after his death there was a piece of slo-mo footage that was absolutely dynamite, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I can’t seem to find it on the You Tube (copyright, Rob Bryden) so you’ll need to make do with my 3 4 and a half year old memories.
In it, a barely into double figures Michael, wearing an eye-poppingly bright tank top and very pointy collared shirt, body pops up and down, left and right, back to front, with all the carefree abandon of someone so young and foolish and happy. Watching it was almost tear-inducing, to see what he once was like when faced with the grim reality of what he had become. His wee tailored checked flares flap around the top of his cuban heeled boots in time to his and his elder brothers choreographed moves, their afros bobbing up an down in funky unison. Yeah, the brothers played the music and laid down the groove, but all eyes were on Michael. Without him, they were nothing. Ten years old and he owned the stage, looking right down the lens of the camera and into the homes of millions when he was singing, desperate for the musical interlude to arrive when he could break out the shackles and into his total, uninhibited dance as though his life depended on it. That his bastard of a father was probably standing just out of shot with brows furrowed and fists clenched makes the piece of film all the more amazing.
We all know how he turned out, but for a few moments at least, remember Michael Jackson as the wee boy who lit up the stage.
It’s worth listening to the voice too. I mean, really listening to the voice. You know he can dance. And you know he can sing. But strip the music away, isolate the vocals and what do you have? Perfection, that’s what. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is not a track I’ll freely run to when I need to hear the Jackson 5. Who does? But listen to this – the vocal-only track.
The control in his voice. The sheer joy he sings it with. The range of notes he can reach. That last note he hits, and holds, right at the end, is sensational. Anyone who tells you they can sing should be made to listen to this then asked to reassess their position on the matter forthwith.
And here‘s wee Michael giving Santa Claus is Coming To Town the same sort of high-octane, helium-voiced treatment. A pocketful o’ dynamite!
Here‘s that vocal-only track of Michael singing the Jackson 5′s I Want You Back – One of Plain Or Pan’s most popular downloads ever. If you’ve never heard it before it’ll blow your mind…
This could be a never-ending pub argument amongst (mainly middle-aged) men who should know better, but let’s cut to the chase here – Stoned Love by The Supremesis the best pop/soul 7″ ever.
It’s in the measured intro – Jean Terrell’s Diana-aping whispered cooing that gives way to the insistent four-to-the-floor snare ‘n tambourine Motown beat. It’s in the stinging fuzz guitar riff (fuzz guitar!!) that plays like the demented half brother of Ernie Isley throughout the whole thing. It’s in the boot stomps and handclaps that give it that talcummed Northern whiff. It’s in the backing vocal performance, with all the ooos and aaaahs and vocal gymnastics that alone confirms it as a whole mini Motown symphony in itself. But most of all it’s in that wee breakdown around 48 seconds, when everything bar the vocals and kick drum drop out momentarily before it all comes back in again in fantastic, glorious technicolour, strings sweeping in life-affirming joy. Don’t you hear the wind blowin‘? The best pop/soul 7″ ever.
Released in 1970, Stoned Love was essentially The Supremes’ American swansong, albeit a high-charting and successful one, much to Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s disgust. With Diana Ross long-since solo, and Berry Gordy focussed on her and her alone, the 3 Supremes – Jean Terrell, Cindy Birdsong and Mary Wilson – were able to record without the interference of the hit-obsessed Gordy. Both Birdsong and Wilson had rarely featured on previous Supremes records, their vocals instead being sung by anonymous but greater talented sessioneers. Not here. Stoned Love features both their vocals much more prominently. You could argue that Stoned Love is slightly less-polished than the other more well-known Supremes material, but that would surely be nit-picking of the highest order. The vocals soar like a bird on a summer breeze, although, having listened to the media player above, you’ll know that by now. If you don’t want to handclap like a mains-wired marionette and cry even the tiniest tears of joy whenever this record comes on you might as well bunker down with your crap beard and your Biffy Clyro records and fester forever.
Written by Detroit teenager Kenny Thomas as Stone Love and misheard along the way (despite The Supremes singing Stone Love, someone decided it was called Stoned Love, and it stuck) before being fashioned into the best pop/soul 7″ ever by Frank ‘Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)‘ Wilson, Stoned Love is essentially a plea for peace and love. The general sway of the times may have been towards living and loving in harmony, the hippy movement, the ‘legalize it’ campaign, not to mention the war raging in Vietnam (A love for each other will bring fighting to an end, Forgiving one another, time after time…) but the censors heard things differently. Stoned Love was clearly about D.R.U.G.S. drugs! TV appearances were cancelled. Radio stations dropped it from their playlists, although not before the record had charted and gone to #1 on the RnB charts and #7 on the Hot 100 (and #3 in the UK). Berry Gordy washed his hands completely of it and The Supremes were left to limp on a few more months, to ever-decreasing returns.
For such a sacred cow, there have been mercifully few butcherings of Stoned Love over the years. There was a terrible Motown Remixed album that came out a few years back (possibly for a Motown landmark anniversary, though I can’t be sure) where Stoned Love was remixed, rejigged and extended to within an inch of its life, but apart from that there seems to be a healthy respect for it and it’s so far been left otherwise untouched. The Stone Roses last year chose to use it as their intro music, the ‘love between our brothers and sisters‘ seeming to be pretty apt for the event. They play Glasgow in little over 2 weeks and if it’s anything like the last time they played Glasgow Green, this writer will be praying that the audience of grown-up neds and nedettes heed the words wisely. You can read all about that particular event here. Poignant and Beautifully Written were John Robb’s words to me. Just sayin’.
It’s the annual, token Plain Or Pan Christmas posting. And this year it’s a cracker. Boom, boom!
At the televised Michael Jackson funeral/tribute on the telly after his death there was a piece of slo-mo footage that was absolutely dynamite, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I can’t seem to find it on the You Tube (copyright, Rob Bryden) so you’ll need to make do with my 3 and a half year old memories. In it, a barely into double figures Michael, wearing an eye-poppingly bright tank top and very pointy collared shirt, body pops up and down, left and right, back to front, with all the carefree abandon of someone so young and foolish and happy. Watching it was almost tear-inducing, to see what he once was like when faced with the grim reality of what he had become. His wee tailored checked flares flap around the top of his cuban heeled boots in time to his and his elder brothers choreographed moves, their afros bobbing up an down in funky unison. Yeah, the brothers played the music and laid down the groove, but all eyes were on Michael. Without him, they were nothing. Ten years old and he owned the stage, looking right down the lens of the camera and into the homes of millions when he was singing, desperate for the musical interlude to arrive when he could break out the shackles and into his total, uninhibited dance as though his life depended on it. That his bastard of a father was probably standing just out of shot with brows furrowed and fists clenched makes the piece of film all the more amazing.
Michael Jackson turned out all wrong, but for a few moments at least, he is worth remembered as the wee boy who lit up the stage. It’s worth listening to the voice too. I mean, really listening to the voice. You know he can dance. And you know he can sing. But strip the music away, isolate the vocals and what do you have? Perfection, that’s what. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is not a track I’ll freely run to when I need to hear the Jackson 5. Who does? But listen to this – the vocal-only track.
The control in his voice. The sheer joy he sings it with. The range of notes he can reach. That last note he hits, and holds, right at the end, is sensational. Anyone who tells you they can sing should be made to listen to this then asked to reassess their position on the matter forthwith. And here‘s wee Michael giving Santa Claus is Coming To Town the same sort of high-octane, helium-voiced treatment. A pocketful o’ dynamite!
Here‘s that vocal-only track of Michael singing the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back – One of Plain Or Pan’s most popular downloads ever.
Deleted by The Man. Pfffft.
That’ll probably be me till after Boxing Day. See you on the other side….
I wrote this on Saturday, telling myself I’d finish it later and went out to enjoy the weather. It’s now Tuesday and the storm clouds are gathering.
Y’know, I make a point of digging deep to turn up the rarest of the rare when sometimes it’s the obvious ones that are the best. With the school holidays nearly over, the weather has (naturally) taken a turn for the better and we’re currently basking in what the tabloids of yore might refer to as a heatwave. Phew, what a scorcher and all that. There’s no denying. I’m in shorts. I’ve cut the grass. The smells of barbecuing meats are wafting from somewhere across my back door. The shrieks and high pitched laughter from wee ones in paddling pools is competing for ear space with the football on the radio and I’m contemplating painting my fence, safe in the knowledge that the job’ll be done before the rain comes on. Because at the moment it looks like we’ve as much chance of rain as the Costa del Sol. Great, eh!
Heat Wave was a 1963 hit single for Martha Reeves & the Vandellas. From the collective pen of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the oft-forgotten about songwriting team who are up there with your Lennons & McCartneys and Jaggers & Richards in the Sixties Premier League of hit songwriting teams, it’s sometimes referred to as (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave. Straight off the Motown production line, it’s a Funk Brothers piano-led, hand-clapping, gospel-tinged, giddy call-and-response shout-out to the joys of being in love, ell you vee love and all that, and it gave the Vandellas their first big hit single, reaching number 4 on the Billboard charts. Since then, it’s been covered by all manner of artists, from label mates The Supremes (a facsimile of the original), via celebrity coat ‘n hat checker Cilla Black (Surprise, Surprise, it’s very good!) to Linda Ronstadt’s mid 70s FM-friendly AOR version, replete with subtle bongos and meanderingly polite soft rock guitar solo, the sort of thing you might expect a half-arsed covers band to be playing at a Holiday Inn in the background of a TV movie. The most effervescent covers tend to have been by the boys. Both The Who and The Jam channeled their inner mod and bashed out R ‘n B tinged faithful reworkings. The Who’s version is fast. The Jam’s is faster.
Martha & the Vandellas‘ vocal-only studio outtake. These vocals gained the group a Grammy Nomination. And rightly so. They’re terrific!
Martha & the Vandellas‘ vocal-only take of Jimmy Mack.
That fence painting job? I’m just contemplating, though. Not doing. This weather doesn’t happen too often. I think I’m going to get some sounds on and sit in the sun and enjoy it. I might even pour myself a drink. Costa del Sol, or Costa del Peroni, it won’t matter.