303. Diana Ross – I'm Still Waiting (1971)

How much power did Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn have in 1971? Quite a lot it seems, as it’s thanks to him that Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep topped the charts, and only a few months later he persuaded EMI (who distributed for Motown in the UK) to release this album track by the former Supremes singer as a single. It went on to become Diana Ross’s first solo number 1.

I covered The Supremes when I reviewed their 1964 number 1 Baby Love, but Ross’s life deserves a closer look. She was born in Detroit, Michigan on 26 March 1944. Her mother actually named her Diane, but a clerical error resulted in ‘Diana’ appearing on her birth certificate. She was billed as Diane Ross on early Supremes records. Growing up, Ross had Smokey Robinson and Aretha Frankin among her neighbours.

On the day she turned 14 in 1958, the Ross’s moved to the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects. She had ambitions to be a fashion designer and took several classes, in addition to modelling and hairdressing for neighbours. A year later, she joined Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown in The Primettes, the sister group of The Primes.

Thanks to Robinson, The Primettes auditioned for Motown in 1960. Berry Gordy Jr recalled being blown away by Ross’s voice in his autobiography, but he felt they were too young. In these early years, Ross would be responsible for the group’s look, serving as hair stylist, costume design and make-up artist.

In 1961, with McGlown gone and Barbara Martin in, Gordy signed The Primettes on the condition they change their name. Ballard chose ‘The Supremes’, and Ross was worried it made them sound like a male group, but as we know, The Supremes they became, and from 1963 onwards, reduced to a trio without Martin, they became one of the most successful groups in history. They scored their sole UK number 1 with Baby Love, but had many more in the US.

From around 1966 and for the next few years Gordy began pushing for Ross to take centre stage. He had considered getting her to go solo, but deciding the timing was wrong he settled on renaming them Diana Ross & the Supremes instead. Ballard was fired and replaced with Cindy Birdsong, and Ross would often be the only Supreme to actually feature on recordings, backed by session singers like The Andantes. The pressure resulted in Ross developing anorexia, and she collapsed on stage during a 1967 performance, and had to be hospitalised for exhaustion.

Nevertheless, Gordy continued to shine the spotlight on Ross, having her perform solo in 1968 TV specials by The Supremes. The following year he decided the time was right, and it was announced she was leaving the group. Someday We’ll Be Together became Ross’s swansong, and the single was the final US number 1 of the 60s. She made her final appearance as a Supreme in January 1970.

It was only four months later that her eponymous debut solo LP was released, and it featured her cover of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (originally recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell), which climbed to number six in the UK and was number 1 in the US.

November 1970 saw the rush-release of her second album, Everything Is Everything. Deke Richards was commissioned to make the LP more pop than her debut, and it featured two Beatles covers (Come Together and The Long and Winding Road), as well as a sad ballad by Richards himself – I’m Still Waiting. No singles were released from it, initially, with Motown choosing to mine her next album, Surrender, released in the summer of 1971. Unusually, both Remember Me and the title track performed better on these shores than America, both reaching the top 10.

Blackburn, then in charge of the Radio 1 breakfast show, was a huge fan of Ross, and he loved I’m Still Waiting. He promised Motown/EMI that if it was made a single, he would make it his ‘Record of the Week’ and play it every morning for five days. Both sides kept their end of the arrangement, and the hype saw it reach number 1. It was Motown’s biggest-selling single in the UK until Three Times a Lady by the Commodores in 1978.

I’m baffled as to why this is the case. For me, I’m Still Waiting should have remained an album track. It’s dated, melodramatic and rather unmemorable.

Ross sings from the point of view of a woman who met the love of her life when she was five and he was 10. He would tease her, as boys do, but she loved him. Then he had to move away, and told her not to wait for him, but for love. But Ross couldn’t forget him, and nobody else compares.

Nice sentiment, but it could have been so much better. It has a slick production, but the tune is certainly not up there with the classics of The Supremes. Ross isn’t known for displaying too much emotion in her singing, which is probably a good thing in such a sentimental song, but I find it hard to believe in the performance. I much prefer her next number 1, Chain Reaction, which came 15 years later in 1986.

Written & produced by: Deke Richards

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 August-17 September)

Births:

Actress Gaynor Faye – 26 August
Business executive Nicola Mendelsohn – 29 August
TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp – 31 August
Conservative MP Daniel Hannan – 1 September
TV presenter Lisa Snowdon – 2 September
Actress Louise Lombard – 13 September
Fashion designer Stella McCartney – 13 September
Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda – 17 September

Deaths:

Travel writer Peter Fleming – 30 August

Meanwhile…

1 September: The end of an era, as the pre-decimal penny and three-pence ceased to be legal tender.

3 September: Qatar became independent from the UK.

7 September: Three years after the beginnings of The Troubles, the death toll reached 100 with the death of 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, who was fatally wounded by a gunshot in crossfire between British soldiers and the IRA. There would be many more deaths still to come.

9 September: British Ambassador Geoffrey Jackson was freed after being held captive for eight months by extreme left-wing guerrillas Tupamaros in Uruguay.

291. Freda Payne – Band of Gold (1970)

Multi-talented American singer Freda Payne enjoyed an impressive six weeks at number 1 with this soul track, featuring noteworthy lyrics that have been much misunderstood over the years due to cuts made before its release.

Freda Charcillia Payne was born in Detroit, Michigan on 19 September 1942. Her younger sister was Scherrie, who became the final lead singer of The Supremes in time. Growing up, the elder Payne enjoyed female jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, which would later have an impact on her singing style. She attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts as a teenager, and also recorded jingles for the radio, as well as taking part and winning various talent shows.

In the early 60s Payne toured as a jazz singer with big names such as Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby, leading to her debut album in 1963, After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More!!! for Impulse! Clearly, exclamation marks were popular back then. Three years later came the follow-up How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore for MGM Records, and TV appearances on various chat shows.

Payne spent the next few years dipping her toes into acting, until 1969 when she was contacted by old friends and hitmakers Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr. Holland-Dozier-Holland had left Motown in 1968 and formed their own label, Invictus, also home to Chairmen of the Board and the first Parliament album, Osmium. Her first single for Invictus was the long-forgotten Unhooked Generation. Holland-Dozier-Holland then offered her Band of Gold, which they’d written with Ron Dunbar, but due to their dispute with Motown, they were forced to use the pseudonym Edyth Wayne in the credits.

Band of Gold touched on an unusually adult theme for its time. It’s about a recently wed woman, already separated from her husband, due to their honeymoon going awry. They ended up sleeping in separate rooms, with her hoping he would return and try to make love to her once more.

So, what went wrong? The ambiguous lyrics have been open to interpretation – her husband must surely be impotent, or gay? Over the years, Band of Gold became popular in the gay community thanks to the latter theory, one that was borne out by an interview Lamont Dozier did for Songfacts (songfacts.com), where he confirmed the husband loved his new wife, but was unable to get it up as he was a secret homosexual.

But according to Dunbar, the original version of Band of Gold explains exactly what the issue was. The first verse originally ended with ‘And the memories of our wedding day, and the night I turned you away.’ The original bridge also said ‘Each night, I lie awake and I tell myself, the vows we made gave you the right, to have a love each night’. Apparently, Payne has also said she didn’t want to record Band of Gold because she felt too old to come across like a naive, virginal teenager. So there we have it – the poor guy, believed to have been unable to get it up for all these years, was given the cold shoulder from his new wife, and walked out. A messy start for the poor newlyweds, and we’ll never know if they ironed out their differences.

I was surprised upon first listen to hear this was number 1 for so long. Not because it isn’t decent – it is, but it took a few listens to make an impact on me. It helps if you pay attention to the lyrics, which I didn’t at first, and I assumed it was about a guy cheating on his bride, or something along those lines. Payne performs it well, sounding indignant (which also helped create the confusion – she sounds like she’s been let down between the sheets) and hurt at the same time. The stomping rhythm is very Motown, and the tune gets under the skin eventually.

I also like the electric sitar, played by session guitarist Dennis Coffey, who also played on Edwin Starr’s War, among others. Lead guitar comes from Ray Parker Jr, that’s right, the man behind the theme to Ghostbusters in 1984. The backing vocals were performed by Scherrie, Pamela Vincent, Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins. Wilson and Hopkins would soon be members of Dawn, number 1 artists with Tony Orlando in 1971 and 1973.

Band of Gold had a formidable run, and reached number three in the US, but Payne couldn’t get anywhere near repeating the feat. Deeper and Deeper, released at the end of the year, reached number 33 in the UK, but none of her singles reached the top 40 after that. However, Bring the Boys Home, her anti-Vietnam War single, did well in her home country in 1971

Payne left Invictus in 1973, and signed with Capitol Records in 1977, releasing three disco albums between then and 1979. Hot was her final LP for 16 years.

Sensing her music career was stalling, Payne concentrated on acting in the 80s. She also briefly hosted her own talk show in 1981, Today’s Black Woman. Only one single was spawned in this decade – In Motion, in 1982.

In 1995 Payne recorded a comedy album, called, bizarrely Freda Payne Sings the (Unauthorized) I Hate Barney Songbook: A Parody. Was she not a fan of the purple dinosaur? The following year came the festive  Christmas With Freda and Friends, featuring a duet with her sister.

The new millennium began with the soul singer appearing on the big screen alongside comedian Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000). She’s been releasing music sporadically ever since, and recorded Saving a Life, a duet with Cliff Richard, in 2011, which led to her supporting him on a UK tour. Her last album to date is Come Back To Me Love in 2014 – was this a message for Darlene?

Band of Gold is a curious number 1, sounding rather like a forerunner to disco and yet very much old-school Motown at the same time. Rather a bridge between what had passed and what was to come. It’s been covered several times since, by stars including Belinda Carlisle, but nobody has matched Payne’s original.

Written by: Edyth Wayne & Ron Dunbar

Producer: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier

Weeks at number 1: 6 (19 September-30 October)

Births:

Actress Emily Lloyd – 29 September

Footballer Richard Hancox – 4 October

Footballer Jason Cousins – 4 October

SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh – 5 October

Olympic rower Sir Matthew Pinsent – 10 October

Footballer Andy Marriott – 11 October

Meanwhile…

19 September: The first Glastonbury Festival was held. Then known as the Worthy Farm Pop Festival, farmer Michael Eavis had been inspired after attending a blues festival at the Bath & West Showground. 1500 watched Tyrannosaurus Rex headline after The Kinks pulled out.

3 October: Tony Densham, driving the ‘Commuter’ dragster, set a British land speed record at Elvington, Yorkshire, averaging 207.6 mph over the flying kilometre course.

5 October: BBC Radio 4 first broadcast the consumer affairs magazine programme You and Yours, a mainstay to this day.

15 October: The new Conservative government created the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment.
Also this day, Thames sailing barge Cambria, the last vessel trading under sail alone in British waters, loaded her last freight, at Tilbury.

19 October: British Petroleum announced it had found a large oil field in the North Sea.

23 October: The Mark III Ford Cortina went on sale.

290. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – The Tears of a Clown (1970)

Much like Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine in 1969, The Tears of a Clown was an album track by Motown legends, several years old, that could have easily languished as a forgotten album track, but is now considered a soul classic.

William Robinson Jr was born 19 February 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. It was his uncle Claude that gave him the nickname ‘Smokey Joe’ while he was still young. He was a clever child, and sporty, but he really loved music. In a 2007 interview with CBS Robinson revealed he and Aretha Franklin lived only a few doors down from each other, and he had known her since she was five.

Robinson formed a doo-wop group called The Five Chimes in 1955, which included schoolfriends Ronald White and Pete Moore. They changed their name two years later to The Matadors. The line-up then consisted of Robinson, White, Moore and cousins Bobby and Claudette Rogers (who Robinson married in 1959) .

The Matadors auditioned for Brunswick Records but failed. However, among those watching was songwriter Berry Gordy Jr, who was impressed with Robinson’s voice in particular. Gordy recorded what was to become their debut single around the time they settled on The Miracles as their name. Got a Job was given to End Records to distribute – Gordy made the princely sum of $3.19 for his production, and Robinson suggested he start his own record label. Which he did, in 1959, and he called it Tamla Records. Bad Girl became their first single to chart in the US, and around this time guitarist Marv Tarplin, fresh from playing with The Primettes (later The Supremes) joined Robinson and co to form the classic line-up.

The Miracles’ first hit came in 1960, when Shop Around reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the R’n’B chart. It was only modest successes on Motown Records after that until the classic You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me in 1962. The group’s brand of bittersweet, smooth soul, with Robinson’s beautiful voice, made them Motown’s top-selling act and earned them rave reviews for their live performances, which helped them become known as ‘The Showstoppers’.

But The Miracles were so talented, they all helped write some of Motown’s greatest songs sung by other groups. I’m talking soul classics such as The Way You Do the Things You Do and My Girl for The Temptations and My Guy by Mary Wells. Most other Motown acts had their songs written by staff songwriters, but The Miracles mostly recorded their own.

Around 1964, Robinson was made vice president of Motown, and other members of The Miracles took jobs within the label. Unfortunately, Smokey and Claudette made plans to start a family, but the intense touring schedule was believed to contribute to several miscarriages by Claudette, and in 1965 she quit touring, TV and and publicity photos, despite continuing to record until 1972.

That same year they finally made their way into the UK singles chart with one of Motown’s best songs, The Tracks of My Tears, from the album Going to a Go-Go, reaching number nine. From this album onwards they became known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. In 1966 (Come Round Here) I’m the One You Need reached number 13.

At that year’s Motown Christmas Party, Robinson was approached by fellow label legend Stevie Wonder with a backing track he had come up with along with his producer Hank Cosby. Wonder wondered (sorry) if Robinson wanted to work on it, as he was stumped for any lyrics. After a few days, Robinson felt inspired to come up with something circus-themed to match the distinctive opening, and went back to the clown in the opera Pagliacci, who puts on a show for his audience while crying on the inside. He had used this before in the 1964 song My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down), written for Carolyn Crawford. Weirdly, Little Stevie Wonder covered (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over, which also referenced Pagliacci, on his album Tribute to Uncle Ray in 1962.

For that famous circus-like opening, they hired Charles Sirard from The Detroit Symphony Orchestra to play the bassoon, which is the low burbling sound beneath the piccolo by Jim Horn. Horn would also feature on albums by The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys.

The Tears of a Clown became the closing track on Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ 1967 album Make It Happen. And, unbelievably, there it stayed for three years. In the meantime I Second That Emotion was a top 30 hit on these shores that year, but then the UK hits dried up once more.

By 1969, Robinson was ready to quit the group and concentrate on his role as Motown vice president and be at home more for Claudette, as they had finally started a family. But all that was to change in 1970, when the frustrated British division of Motown asked Karen Spreadbury, head of a Motown fan club here, to pick a song they could release as a single, and she chose The Tears of a Clown.

Motown may be a legendary label, and for good reason, but you do have to wonder about how many hits they let slip through the net when you look at the stories behind The Tears of a Clown and I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Perhaps Gordy (and Wonder, before he became more experimental) found that opening too weird, without realising its exactly that which draws the listener in to begin with. But Robinson was such an expert songsmith he’s able to keep up the momentum, with his always wonderful, soaring vocal and great lyrics.

The idea of a song about a man masking his pain had been done plenty of times before, including by Robinson himself on The Tracks of My Tears. However, I’d argue Robinson’s lyrics here make The Tears of a Clown the definitive example. I particularly like ‘But don’t let my glad expression/Give you the wrong impression’ and the chorus. Robinson is a man on top of his game here. A sad song about heartbreak that’s uplifting and you can dance to it. Oh, and of course, Robinson’s voice. What’s not to love?

The renewed interest in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles meant The Tears of a Clown was then released in the US, albeit in a new mix. It reached number 1 in their home country too.This double success persuaded Robinson to stay on as lead singer for longer. They had their own TV special in the US, The Smokey Robinson Show, also starring The Supremes, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. One more hit, 1971’s I Don’t Blame You at All followed, and then Robinson decided it was time to go in 1972, introducing Billy Griffin as his replacement. Their final album together was Flying High Together, including the ironic single We’ve Come Too Far To End It Now. Claudette chose to retire entirely from the group too, and within a year Tarplin had gone.

Their first releases in 1973 landed without trace, but they scored a 1974 US hit with funk song Do It Baby. And then in 1976 came the great disco smash Love Machine – Part 1, which was a US number 1 and reached number three in the UK. Despite this, The Miracles left Motown and signed with Columbia Records in 1977, but the hits dried up again, and they split in 1978.

In 1980 The New Miracles were formed and lasted three years. Then in 1983 the Robinsons, Moore, Tarplin and Rogers reunited to perform a medley on the TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

In 1993 White, Rogers and New Miracles member Dave Finley reformed The Miracles with former Shalamar singer Sydney Justin. Sadly White died in 1995. The group continued to perform until 2011, with even Claudette returning to the fold (now divorced from Smokey), but age caught up with some of the longest-serving members. Tarplin died in 2011, then Rogers in 2013, then Moore in 2017.

Smokey Robinson went on to have a solo UK number 1 in 1981 with Being With You, so I’ll cover his solo career and the controversy with his entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in due course.

The Tears of a Clown has been covered time and time again, and the most notable version is Tears of a Clown, a well-deserved number six hit for ska and new wave group The Beat in 1979.

Written by: Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson & Stevie Wonder

Producers: Hank Cosby & Smokey Robinson

Weeks at number 1: 1 (12-18 September)

Births:

Cricketer Darren Gough – 18 September

Meanwhile…

18 September: US rock star and guitar god Jimi Hendrix, died in London from a suspected drug-induced heart attack, aged only 27.

268. Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1969)

Ruling the charts after four weeks of Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? was a stone-cold soul classic. I Heard It Through the Grapevine by Motown legend Marvin Gaye was one of label’s greatest, and yet boss Berry Gordy, usually so sharp at spotting hits, just couldn’t see it.

Gaye was born Marvin Pent Gay Jr on 2 April 1939 in Washington DC. The Gays had it tough, and he was raised in Public Housing Project the Fairfax Apartments in the Southwest Waterfront neighbourhood. Most buildings lacked electricity and running water.

Gay developed a love of singing from the tender age of four, where he would perform in church while his father backed him on piano, and he was encouraged at school to pursue a singing career after singing in a school play when he was 11.

Sadly, poverty wasn’t Gay’s only problem, as his father ruled with an iron fist, and would often subject Marvin to beatings, which went on well into his teenage years, and of course ultimately led to a tragic end.

In the early 50s the Gays moved to DC’s Capitol View neighbourhood, where Marvin would stay until 1962. He joined a glee club in junior high, and then several doo top groups. As his relationship with Marvin Sr grew worse, he dropped out of high school and joined the United States Air Force. Gay’s relationship with his father clearly affected his dealings with authority figures, and he clashed with his sergeant.

Back in in DC, Gay formed The Marquees. They worked alongside none other than Bo Diddley, who helped them get signed and wrote their only single, Wyatt Earp. Although they were soon dropped, it inspired Gay to start writing. They changed their name to Harvey and the New Moonglows, and Gay recorded his first lead vocal in 1959. They also backed Chuck Berry on Back in the USA.

In 1960 Gaye became a session drummer for Tri-Phi Records, but that Christmas he performed at Berry Gordy’s house and earned himself a contract with Motown subsidiary Tamla. Before the release of his first single, Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, in May 1961, he decided to add the ‘e’ to the end of his surname, to stop jokes about his sexuality and distance himself from his estranged father.

His single and album, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye failed to make an impression, but 1962 was an important year for the struggling singer, with second album That Stubborn Kind of Fellow featuring three hit singles. The next few years saw his star rise, with singles such as How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) in 1964.

Gaye became well known for his duets. He had made an album with Mary Wells, and early in 1967 It Takes Two with Kim Weston became one of his most famous songs. But he gelled best with Tami Terrell, recording classics including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. Gaye suffered with shyness on stage, and helped to bring him out of his shell. Unfortunately, that October she collapsed in his arms on stage, and it was discovered she had a brain tumour. Although she continued to record, it spelled the end of her live career. Gaye was devastated, and became disillusioned with the music industry.

It had been in February that year that Gaye had recorded I Heard It Through the Grapevine. The song had been started by Motown’s Barrett Strong, writer of Money (That’s What I Want), in 1966. He had heard the phrase ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ in Chicago. Its origins came from black slaves during the Civil War, who had developed their own human telegraph system relay messages – the ‘grapevine’.

Working with producer and songwriter Norman Whitfield, they developed their classic tune of suspicion and betrayal. Smokey Robinson and The Miracles recorded it first, but Gordy vetoed its release as a single (it eventually surfaced as an album track in 1968).

Gaye’s recording followed, but wasn’t straightforward either. With Paul Riser on board arranging the strings played by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the track also featured The Funk Brothers and The Andantes supplied backing vocals. Production took two months, and an argument ensued between Gaye and Whitfield when the producer told the singer to try in a higher key than his normal range.

As the whole world now knows, Whitfield was right. Gaye’s performance, taken out of his already formidable comfort zone, really hits the point home. The singer has been hit with an emotional bombshell. He feels disbelief. He is wounded, angry, paranoid, confused. Gaye’s performance is the reason his version is remembered long after Robinson’s. If aliens landed tomorrow and asked me what soul music was, I’d play them this. And that intro is simply one of the coolest in soul and pop.

And yet, Gordy still couldn’t see it. Once more, he refused to allow it to become a single, but it did make it onto Gaye’s album Into the Groove in 1968. In the meantime, Motown’s head honcho did allow Gladys Knight & The Pips to release theirs as a 7″. And fair enough really, as it’s excellent in its own way. Inspired by Aretha Franklyn’s Respect, Whitfield sped things up, added some funk, and Knight sang it with real anger. In contrast to Gaye, Knight is really pissed off, and her man is going to rue the day he messed with her. Leftside Wobble’s techno update in 2011, Grapevine Boogie, is a real banger.

Gaye’s version began to be heard on the radio, and eventually Gordy relented. In 1968, to his surprise, it went to number 1 in the US, and propelled Gaye to superstardom. The UK is just one of many other countries in which it subsequently hit the top spot. In the Groove was even renamed I Heard It Through the Grapevine!. And yet, Gaye was still reeling from Terrell’s condition. She died from brain cancer in 1970.

Follwing a battle with depression, he returned that year with a new, politicised approach. Gordy didn’t want the single What’s Going On released, considering it too controversial. This time Gaye didn’t back down, and after going on strike, he won out. It was a huge hit in 1971, and the album of the same name is a landmark in music.

Despite signing a lucrative deal to remain on Motown, Gaye’s outspoken political views caused further ructions with Gordy. He was forced to shelve the 1972 album You’re the Man, which was finally released earleir this year. The carnal classic song of sensuality Let’s Get It On became his second US chart-topper in 1973. For me, I Want You, the title track of his 1976 album, is just as hot, if not better.

As 1975 drew to a close, Gaye was mired in lawsuits with former bandmates and he was going through a divorce with his first wife Anna, elder sister of Berry Gordy. Disco was big, and he was under pressure to adopt the sound. He responded with Got to Give It Up, a funky floorfiller with a supersmooth falsetto from Gaye. It went to number 1 in the US in 1977, and if you want to hear its influence on 21st-century pop, just listen to 2013 number 1 Blurred Lines.

As the 70s came to an end, Gaye’s personal problems had become too much again. He had money problems and was battling addiction to cocaine. He owed so much in taxes he feared a prison sentence, so he relocated to London following a European tour in 1980. While working on a new album, the master tapes were stolen and were given to Motown. Gaye was furious when the sessions surfaced in January 1981, edited and remixed without his knowledge, as (Far Cry). His time at Motown was over.

Relocating to Ostend in Belgium, Gaye quit the drugs, returned to the church, and was reborn. He signed with CBS in 1982, and released Sexual Healing. Another steamy, sexy classic, but with an updated sound (check out that 808), it became his biggest-selling hit ever, earned him two Grammy Awards, and the album it spawned from, Midnight Love, was also huge. It would be his last recorded work.

In 1983 he made his last TV appearances, most notably on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special. But his return to making hits brought back old problems, and his drug issues resurfaced. He was becoming increasingly paranoid, and that summer he returned to live with his parents. It would be a fatal choice.

The world was left stunned on 1 April 1984 when the news came out that Marvin Gaye had been shot dead by his own father. He was only 44. Years of bad blood had come to a head and ended in the worst possible way. Marvin had intervened in an argument between his mother and father, and Marvin Gaye Sr shot his own son twice. He was initially charged with murder but his sentence was reduced to voluntary manslaughter when it was discovered he had, of all things, a brain tumour. He died in a nursing home in 1998.

It’s likely my first exposure to I Heard It Through the Grapevine was in 1985, when Gaye’s version was copied and used in a Levi’s advert. One of the most famous commercials of the decade, it made Nick Kamen, the man who strips down to his boxers, into a star. It also propelled Gaye to number eight in the singles chart. Carling Black Label spoofed the ad the following year, which starred Steve Frost and Mark Arden.

Gaye’s life reads like the script of a Hollywood blockbuster, without the fairytale ending. But scrape away all the personal problems and you’re left with that versatile, beautiful voice. He was soul music.

Written by: Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong

Producer: Norman Whitfield

Weeks at number 1: 3 (26 March-15 April)

Births:

Sporting executive Karren Brady – 4 April

Meanwhile…

29 March: Eurovision 1969 took place, and the UK, represented by Lulu with the song Boom Bang-a-Bang, shared first place with not one, not two, but three countries – France, the Netherlands and host nation Spain.

April Fool’s Day: The Hawker Siddeley Harrier (‘Jump Jet’) entered service with the RAF.

9 April: Sikh busmen in Wolverhampton won the right to wear their turbans while on duty.

181. The Supremes – Baby Love (1964)

supremes-at-emi-house-london-october-1964-11.jpg

In the US, The Supremes were one of the biggest acts of the decade, certainly the most popular on Motown, and rivalled The Beatles for commercial success, scoring five consecutive number 1s in a row and 12 in total at the end of the 1960s. However, the girl group only ever peaked at the top once in the UK, with Baby Love.

Originally the trio were a quartet known as The Primettes. Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diane Ross and Betty McGlown all hailed from the Brewster-Douglass public housing project in Detroit. They began as a sister act to soul group The Primes, and their line-up featured Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who went on to form The Temptations. They covered songs by artists including Ray Charles and The Drifters at local talent shows, with a vivacious youthful sound akin to The Teenagers.

In 1960 the Primettes wanted a recording contract, so Ross asked her old neighbour Smokey Robinson to get them an audition with Berry Gordy Jr’s Motown label. Gordy decided they were too young and should try again after high school, so they released a single elsewhere, but it sank and McGlown left when she became engaged, to be replaced by Barbara Martin. In January 1961, Gordy relented on the proviso they changed their name. He gave them a list of ideas and Ballard liked ‘The Supremes’ but Ross thought it too masculine.

Fast forward to 1963, and The Supremes were a trio, minus Martin, who left to start a family. And who could blame her? They had released six singles and got nowhere, earning them the nickname ‘the no-hit Supremes’. Finally, December’s When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, by Holland-Dozier-Holland saw them enter the charts. Around this time, Gordy decided Ross should be their main singer (she didn’t go by ‘Diana’ until 1965).

Early in 1964 they recorded Where Did Our Love Go? despite not being keen (it had already been rejected by The Marvelettes). To their surprise, it was massive, topping the charts in the US and reaching number three in the UK. Clearly Holland-Dozier-Holland and The Supremes were the perfect match, and Gordy insisted they repeat the formula for the follow-up, Baby Love.

In my opinion, it follows the formula a little too closely, and the previous single is superior, but you’d be a fool to deny Baby Love is a great pop and soul song. Ross coos her way through effortlessly, with an excellent backing from the always reliable Funk Brothers. Ballard and Wilson get to ad-lib towards the end, before Ross was thrust firmly into the spotlight and the resentments began. I’m not sure it earns the right to be called a classic, in part due to its lack of originality, and I find The Supremes a bit too slick and lightweight when compared to other Motown acts. Or perhaps I’ve just heard it too many times?

The hits kept coming, with Stop! In the Name of Love, You Can’t Hurry Love (a number 1 for Phil Collins in 1983) and You Keep Me Hangin’ On among their best. Thanks to The Supremes, Gordy realised his dream of making a Motown act have crossover appeal among black and white audiences. But with that success came greater tension.

In 1967 he renamed them The Supremes with Diana Ross, then Diana Ross & the Supremes. Ballard hit the bottle and her weight gain meant she was becoming unable to wear her stage outfits, when she was in a fit state to perform. Wilson came across as staying neutral, but in private she told Ballard that Ross and Gordy wanted her out. She tried to slim down and go sober, but she was unaware that he had already hired lookalike Cindy Birdsong from Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles. Ballard was eventually sacked in 1968. Her solo work was poorly-received and she unsuccessfuly sued Motown in 1971. She died suddenly in 1976 from coronary thrombosis.

1968 was also the year Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown, and The Supremes suffered from a lack of decent material. They were also starting to look a bit middle-of-the-road compared to artists like Aretha Franlin. Wilson and Birdsong were often replaced by session singers on their singles. In November 1969 the long-rumoured Diana Ross solo career was announced, and she was replaced by Jean Terrell. Someday We’ll Be Together marked the end of Ross with The Supremes, the end of the group’s number 1s in the US, and was also the final US number 1 of the 60s.

The 70s began promisingly for The Supremes, with hits including Stoned Love (the song the reformed Stone Roses walked out to on all their reunion shows), but fortunes began to fade, and the line-up changed several times as disco became the prevailing chart sound. They finally disbanded in 1977. Diana Ross’s career? Another time.

Written by: Lamont Dozier & Brian and Eddie Holland

Producers: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 November-2 December)

Births:

Astronaut Nicholas Patrick – 19 November 

Deaths:

Geneticist JBS Haldane – 1 December 

158. Brian Poole and The Tremeloes – Do You Love Me? (1963)

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Decca Records, the label of Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, must have been relieved when their act toppled The Beatles from number 1, as they had famously opted for them and turned the Fab Four down at auditions held on the same day – New Year’s Day 1962. As a London-based band, with a radio following, it had made commercial sense to do so.

Singer Brian Poole (born 2 November 1941) grew up in Barking, east London. He met two Alans, Blakley and Howard, at secondary school, and a shared love of rock’n’roll saw the original formation of The Tremeloes in 1956. Poole took on vocals and guitar, with Blakley also on guitar and Howard on bass. Guitarist Graham Scott also joined up, with the line-up completed by drummer Dave Munden in 1957.

Then known as just The Tremeloes, they quickly amassed a strong local following. Upon signing with Decca, the label insisted the band became Brian Poole and The Tremeloes, to follow prevailing fashions. Like other Merseybeat acts, they were in awe of rock’n’roll, Motown and other soul records, and their first single was their version of The Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout, which came after The Beatles made it their album-closer on Please Please Me. They decided to cover similar ground with their follow-up, taking on The Contours’ classic from 1962.

Motown CEO Berry Gordy Jr had written Do You Love Me? with The Temptations in mind, but was struggling to find them. In the meantime he ran into The Contours and they performed a run-through. They were on the verge of being dropped, so were keen to make it theirs, but some band members believed it to be a pale imitation of Twist and Shout. They soon changed their tune when it became a huge hit.

Brian Poole and The Tremeloes clearly saw no problem in Do You Love Me? being so similar to their debut and were right to do so. The similarity is too close for my liking though, particularly near the end as they scream and shout their way into the chorus in exactly the same way The Beatles did in Twist and Shout. Ultimately, this number 1, although fast-paced and a very good facsimile of the Merseybeat sound, is a little bit too like a karaoke version for my liking. Poole doesn’t have the vocal prowess of Billy Gordon, and his spoken-word introduction is a little cringe-worthy. There’s some nice flourishes from the rhythm section, though.

The original has of course remained popular due in large part to its appearance in 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing. For me though, it tends to conjure up images of a young Jason Bateman as a werewolf in shoddy sequel, Teen Wolf Too, which came later that year.

Written by: Berry Gordy Jr

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 3 (10-30 October)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Alan McDonald – 12 October 

Meanwhile…

10 October. The Conservatives were plummeting in opinion polls, thanks in large part to the Profumo affair, and Harold Macmillan had only just scraped through a parliamentary vote on his leadership. The 69-year-old had been struck down with prostate problems on the eve of the Conservative conference a few days earlier, and was operated on for prostate cancer. Although his doctor said he would be well enough to continue to run the country, Macmillan decided he had been offered a way out.

18 October: Harold Macmillan officially resigned from his hospital bed, and was succeeded a day later by Alec Douglas-Home. This proved controversial, as Douglas-Home was sitting in the House of Lords. To become Prime Minister, he renounced his peerage. A rather stiff, old-fashioned figure, like Macmillan before him, Douglas-Home looked decidedly outdated compared to Labour leader Harold Wilson, who was quickly gaining popularity.