Tag Archives: marvin gaye

1001 Songs – 1971: Part Three

Tired of Being Alone – Al Green

Having spent the last few months listening to modern music or classical music, it’s weird to be back in the songs list where this type of soul music is on the menu. This is very much not Kacey Musgraves or tune-yards.

I know we have some Marvin Gaye coming up to finish 1971 out and that is going to be a more edged soul that I would expect from the 1970s. This feels like a song that belongs in the 1960s and is very much something I can imagine on one of those bargain bin Valentine’s Day compilations.

Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who

Right, so THIS is what I am expecting from a song from 1971. This is a year where we haven’t quite reached metal, punk or the hard rock that we know nowadays, but this is a light on the path towards it.

The old psychedelic are still there with the organ in the background, but this isn’t just any organ – it’s a sythesised organ. So here we have an 8 and a half minute long song with thrashing guitars, a synthesiser and a heavy metal scream.

It’s songs like these that make me happy to be back doing the songs list.

Vincent – Don McLean

‘Vincent’ is on this list, but ‘American Pie’ is not. Let’s let that sink in for a little bit and move on. I mean, I have always preferred ‘Vincent’ as a song but that isn’t the popular opinion.

As the title suggests, ‘Vincent’ is a folk song about the end of Vincent Van Gogh’s live. It manages to be a beautiful tribute to a troubled man whilst not delving into being overly sentimental. It does this with a sparse arrangement, which makes an interesting use of the marimba.

It’s clear that, in writing this, Don McLean is influenced by Nick Drake and Simon & Garfunkel. However, we have a bit of world music seeping in through that marimba, which moves it forward.

City of New Orleans – Steve Goodman

In Ireland you have Don McLean creating a thing of folk-beauty in ‘Vincent’, on the other side of the Atlantic you have ‘City of New Orleans’ for folk music.

To call this traditional would be an understatement, but it’s meant to be. This song was made to harken back as it highlights the disappearing rail services across America, which was starting to affect people living in rural areas.

An interesting history, but not really a song for me.

Peace Train – Cat Stevens

Talkin’ of trains and songs that we inspired by a train journey. We have the images of trains being evoked for an anti-war song. It’s worth remembering that, in 1971, we are still 4 years away from the Vietnam War from ending.

It’s a nice message, but it feels a bit limp. Maybe, because of how it sounds compared to the likes of ‘Ohio’ and ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, it just feels a bit complacent and lacking in urgency. I mean it’s nice to know about the Peace Train, but I’m not convinced by this song to buy a ticket.

Superstar – The Carpenters

Okay, now here’s a song I absolutely adore. The Carpenters have always had a reputation for being a bit twee at times, but there is no denying how fantastic the production and instrumental arrangements are on this song. Same goes for the always faultless and crystal-like vocals of Karen Carpenter, which are all from the first take.

There is an underlying darkess to this song that her vocals pierce through, which makes this a dark pop song unlike anything we have yet heard on this list. It’s a song that you can see being in the back of ABBA’s minds as they later created their darker tracks like ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’.

A Nickel and a Nail – O.V. Wright

O.V. Wright really had a fantastic set of pipes. We’re in a blues-style soul song, where his gospel roots are showing. It’s just a pity that the recording equipment is having trouble capturing the full range of his vocals as he really starts belting.

I could probably do without all the funk-style horns and, instead, up the ante on the bass guitar and the backing vocals. I know this isn’t in the style of Southern soul to do so, but I would have been interested to hear this sung as a straight blues recording.

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) – Marvin Gaye

We’re finally finishing 1971! Man, it’s taken months and we’re ending with one of the greats and with a song that still feels relevant to this day.

This is a song about black pain, anger and protest that chooses to speak through it’s lyrics and a low hum of a then-modern take on blues backing. Later on, songs like this would become grouped under the name of ‘quiet storm’, but because of the politcal nature of this song – ‘Inner City Blues’ would just about be inelegible for this classification.

Listening to this, I do wonder about how much more music we would have gotten out of Marvin Gaye if he had not been murder by his father. How would he react to the politics of his country right now. Guess we’ll never know.

Progress: 344/1021

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1001 Songs – 1968: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

I Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin

I had never understood that this song is about a woman living her life whilst her boyfriend/husband is off fighting in Vietnam. When viewed through this lens ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ becomes a lot less of a throwaway song.

It’s hard to deny the great vocalist and a force of musical nature that Aretha Franklin was. In the late 1960s it feels like she was almost untouchable… and a work horse considering she was releasing 2-3 albums a year by this point.

The Snake – Al Wilson

Staying with the theme of soul music we have ‘The Snake’, which is basically a musical fable.

I only heard of this song because of Donald Trump using it to back his views on immigration. Because, well, the kind-hearted woman takes in and saves a snake that was near death for it to turn around and kill her because, after all, he’s a snake.

It’s a brilliantly entertaining song that’s now been coloured by modern usage.

Oh Happy Day – The Edwin Hawkins Singers

From soul we segue into one of the most famous pieces of gospel music. Whilst I haven’t heard this particular version of ‘Oh Happy Day’, I have heard this in a large number of American versions whenever they go into a gospel church.

At over 5 minutes long this song is just LONG. I mean I get that this would be in a church and there would be other things going on… but this doesn’t translate to a set of earphones as you are making a stir-fry.

Israelites – Desmond Dekker & The Aces

Oh god. It looks like reggae is starting to come into this list. I have mentioned this many a time before, but not only do I not get reggae – I find it annoying.

Especially ‘Israelites’. It’s a big piece of musical history since it was the first reggae song to get to #1 in the UK and one of the first to get a high placement in American charts.

It’s a piece of musical history, but can we move on now.

Wichita Lineman – Glen Campbell

A bit of a different song here as we head into the world of country music. It tells the story of a man’s loneliness as he works on the telephone lines and misses his lover.

It’s actually a rather sweet song that feels like an early attempt at country-pop. The production makes the whole song feel ethereal and otherworldly. I am not sure how they managed to get some of the effects in (to make it sound like Morse code), but it really made for a great song.

I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

We’re back with soul and in the presence of one of the biggest soul songs of all time by one of the biggest soul singers of all time.

In the Marvin Gaye timeline we are still before he went political with What’s Going On and before he went full sex with Let’s Get It On.

Speaks to the longevity of his career that he had where this song is comparatively early and has become such a classic. His voice, the slow tempo and the charisma sells it utterly.

America – Simon & Garfunkel

‘America’ is not the first Simon and Garfunkel song I would think of for this list (that would be ‘The Boxer’, ‘The Sound of Silence’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’… none of which are on this list).

It’s a beautiful song, don’t get me wrong, about a road-trip undertaken by a man and his girlfriend. The storytelling in the song is on the extreme when you consider the short runtime. Then again, that was always Paul Simon’s strong-suits.

I guess I can see how this song signifies what the Bridge Over Troubled Water album was going to become. And it did give that lovely seen in Almost Famous.

Still, would have loved to have had ‘The Boxer’

Ain’t Got No/I Got Life – Nina Simone

I forgot there was another Nina Simone song on here after ‘Sinnerman’. I have been listening to Nina Simone for years, she was a huge part of the soundtrack of my summer of 2009.
And yet, I had no idea that this was neither a song of her creation nor that is was a medley of songs from the musical ‘Hair’. I just figured that this was a song dedicated to the civil rights movement.

Guess that’s the beauty of a good song (and the true genius of Nina Simone). Multiple ways to listen to it and to enjoy it.

Piece of My Heart – Big Brother & The Holding Company

It took me ridiculously long to get that this was Janis Joplin. That’s an amazing set of very distinctive pipes on her.

As covers go it is nearly indistinguishable from the soul original. Instead it is a loud psychedelic rock song with shredding vocals by Joplin. It’s not a sweet song about longing anymore the “take a piece of my heart” is a defiant dare to those who would hurt her. That, unlike in real life, she would bounce back and remain invincible and undeterred.

I really need to listen to Pearl at some point…

Progress: 257/1021

Acclaimed Albums – What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 69/250Title: What’s Going On
Artist: Marvin Gaye
Year: 1971
Position: #6

Music, like any form of art, invariably finds itself making a commentary on the society or culture it finds itself in. It just happens that What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is one of the more famous, and more obvious examples. The titular track, which opens the album, confronts us with the question immediately despite being written over 40 years ago. What was going on? More importantly, is it still going on?

Much like Astral Weeks by Van Morrison, this album is a song cycle. One track bleeds into another, whilst maintaining a central theme throughout. As such it is difficult at times to actually know when the track has changed so I will not be so easily able to refer to tracks on their own as they all form part of one consistent whole.

Like I mentioned in my coverage of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book, I don’t really have much in the way of touchstones when it comes to soul music other than Janelle Monae. This means that once again I am thinking back to her last two albums and being able to draw parallels between the sounds. This is never a bad thing because she is one of those artists that used to be an exception that proved the rule when it came to my musical taste. Now, with my exposure to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder now fully under-way I think my ears are beginning to open up.

Listening to this album it was hard not to have my mind stray to the events of earlier this year when Marvin Gaye’s daughter used a lot of rather out of place superlatives to describe the trial between her inheritance of copyright and Robin Thicke. For someone living off their father’s career whose main highlight is an album addressing the cruelties and incoherent attitudes surrounding the Vietnam through songs focusing on love and understanding… I don’t know. Feels a little strange to me.