Norman Whitfield retrospective
October 7th 2008 00:22
Norman Whitfield was one of the original kings of the Motown song, a song writer who embodied the spirit of Motown.
He passed away on Sept. 16, 2008, instigating a flurry of obits and retrospective. I have nothing to add to the avalanche of tribute posts, so all I can do is reflect on the sound of Motown and Whitfield's contribution.
For me, the most important Whitfield-penned track was Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", a song about jealousy and betrayal. There's a lot of pain in this song and, cheesily, I played it over and over when I had a breakup of my own, the lyrics seemingly like a fantastically reflective mirror into my own pain.
I wish it was Gaye's version I heard first... to tell the truth, I first heard this song as a little kid, on a commercial for the California Raisins.
Sadly, I had their album. It introduced soul to me at a very young age, but in the form of claymation commercialism.
When I grew older, getting a record collection, playing the Temptations and Ray Charles while smoking a joint with some friends in my tiny Ottawa apartment, I found the track "Smiling Faces Sometimes"
It's hard not to attribute some pride to "Money (That's What I Want)", a song that's been bought for endless soundtracks of American comedy movies, and seems to be covered at every step, by different artists.
Just yesterday, I listened to covers of this song by Ike and Tina, as well as John Lee Hooker. Nothing quite matches the sense of originality, with collaborator Barret Strong coming in with those vocals.
Whitfield didn't seem to make much news in the press, not with bailouts and elections coming up... still, for me, his songs have watched over me every step of the way. Soul and Motown, while currently unfashionable, are such an integral part of the American landscape.
Moistworks has a collection of tribute covers to some of his greatest hits.
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