On this day in music history: June 19, 1970 – “Diana Ross”, the debut album by Diana Ross is released. Produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI and A&R Studios in New York City from September 1969 – March 1970. The former Supremes lead singer begins work on her solo debut before leaving the group officially in January 1970. Motown, wanting to market her as the “black Barbra Streisand” initially have Ross record with producer Bones Howe. The material they record ends up being shelved and Ashford & Simpson along with Motown staff songwriter/producer Johnny Bristol are given the assignment of crafting the Motown superstars’ debut. The album spins off two singles including “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” (#7 R&B, #20 Pop) and a dramatic reworking of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (#1 R&B and Pop), first recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in 1967. It is the albums breakout hit and establishes Ross as a solo star in her own right. The LP’s distinctive and iconic cover photo, taken by fashion photographer Harry Langdon, features a sepia toned picture of Ross wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and cut off shorts, holding an apple. The photo is taken with a special optical lens, distorting her features. After taking a series of high glamour shots the same day, the casual picture is chosen instead to stand in sharp contrast to the Motown superstars elegant, high fashion image. Originally released on CD in the mid 80’s, it is remastered and reissued in 2002, featuring eight bonus tracks, including four previously unreleased tracks from the aborted Bones Howe produced sessions and tracks produced by Johnny Bristol. Out of print on vinyl since the late 80’s, it is reissued as a 180 gram LP on Universal’s “Back To Black” series, and by Speakers Corner Records in 2009. “Diana Ross” spends two weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number nineteen on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: June 19, 1965 – “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks (non-consecutive), also topping the R&B singles chart for 9 weeks on June 5, 1965. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the first chart topping single for the Detroit based R&B vocal quartet. The writing and production team Holland/Dozier/Holland take inspiration from one of their previous hits when they write “I Can’t Help Myself”. The Supremes number one smash “Where Did Our Love Go?” being the song in question. HDH use same chords while writing it, changing the progression around and writing a completely different melody over those chords. Released on April 23, 1965, “I Can’t Help Myself storms the pop and R&B charts quickly. Entering the Hot 100 at #67 on May 15, 1965, it rockets to the top of the chart five weeks later. Ironically, or perhaps not so much, The Four Tops single replaces The Supremes’ "Back In My Arms Again” at number one on both the pop and R&B singles charts, also written and produced by HDH. After its first week on top, the single is temporarily bumped from the top by The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” on June 26, 1965, but returns to the top for a second week on July 3, 1965. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” becomes one of The Four Tops signature songs, and one of many in this era that come to define “The Motown Sound”.
On this day in music history: June 15, 1966 – “Gettin’ Ready”, the fourth studio album by The Temptations is released. Produced by Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter, Robert Staunton and Robert Walker, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Late 1965 – Mid 1966. The album marks a major turning point in the career of the superstar Motown group career as producer Norman Whitfield takes over duties as The Tempts main producer from Smokey Robinson. Berry Gordy challenges Robinson and Whitfield to see who can score a bigger hit on the pop charts for the group. Robinson responds with the song “Get Ready” which tops the R&B charts, but falls short on the pop chart peaking at #29. Whitfield gets his shot with “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”. It also hits #1 on the R&B chart, peaking at #13 on the pop chart, leading him to being the groups producer almost exclusively for the next seven years. The album also includes the first recording of the song “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” which becomes a big hit for Marvin Gaye three years later. “Gettin’ Ready” spends six weeks (non-consecutive) at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, and peak at number twelve on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: June 13, 1981 – “Give It To Me Baby” by Rick James hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 5 weeks, topping the Club Play chart for 3 weeks on July 25, 1981, also peaking at #40 on the Hot 100 on July 18, 1981. Written and produced by Rick James, it is the second R&B chart topper for the singer, songwriter and musician dubbed the “King Of Punk Funk”. After the critical and relative commercial failure of his fourth album “Garden Of Love” in 1980, Rick James returns home to his native Buffalo, NY to regroup, “determined to do the greatest album” he could produce. “Give It To Me Baby is inspired after a night of heavy partying. James goes home and sits down at the piano, writing it in short order. The track is recorded at The Record Plant in Sausalito, CA in December of 1980, with James’ lead vocal being completed in only two or three takes. Issued as the first single from James’ landmark album "Street Songs” on February 20, 1981, it is an immediate smash on R&B radio and on the dance floor. Shortly after the single’s release, Motown also issues a commercial 12" single featuring an extended version of “Give It To Me Baby”. The extended 12" mix and its instrumental B-side are both reissued on the 2001 Deluxe Edition of the “Street Songs” album. The bass line is later used on MC Hammer’s “Let’s Get It Started”, and James’ original version is sampled on Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”.
On this day in music history: June 12, 1965 – “Back In My Arms Again” by The Supremes hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also topping the R&B singles chart for 1 week on May 29, 1965. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the fifth pop and second R&B chart topper for the vocal trio from Detroit, MI. After being dubbed “the no-hit Supremes” by people at Motown, The Supremes finally grab the brass ring in August of 1964 when they land their first chart topping single with “Where Did Our Love Go?”. Three more number one singles (“Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, and “Stop! In The Name Of Love”) follow in rapid succession. All are written by the songwriting and production team of Holland/Dozier/Holland, who continue their hot streak with the group. HDH come up with the idea for “Back In My Arms Again in November of 1964, also coming up with the idea of lead singer Diana Ross name checking her group mates Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard in the lyrics. Featuring The Funk Brothers providing the musical backing, the track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on December 1, 1964, with The Supremes overdubbing their vocals on February 24, 1965. Released on April 15, 1965, just five days after their previous single "Stop! In The Name Of Love” drops from the number one spot, “Back In My Arms Again” becomes another smash. The original mono single and stereo LP mixes of the song feature vocal performances that differ slightly from each other. Entering the Hot 100 at #68 on May 1, 1965, it streaks to the top of the chart six weeks later. It becomes the group’s fifth consecutive number one single, an unprecedented feat for an American group. This achievement puts The Supremes in rare company, as only The Beatles and the Bee Gees have had more consecutive chart toppers in the US, with six number ones each.
On this day in music history: June 11, 1970 – “It’s A Shame” by The Spinners is released. Written by Stevie Wonder, Lee Garrett and Syreeta Wright, it is the third top ten R&B and first top twenty pop hit for the R&B vocal quintet from Detroit, MI. Formed the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, MI in 1954, The Spinners sign to Tri-Phi Records in 1961 scoring a hit with their first single “That’s What Girls Are Made For” (#5 R&B, #27 Pop). In spite of this success, the group are unable to rise above second or third tier status at the label. It is another four years before they land their second sizable hit with “I’ll Always Love You” (#8 R&B, #35 Pop) in 1965. The group members end up working mostly as road managers, chaperones, or chauffeurs for the other Motown acts. As the 60’s turn to the 70’s, The Spinners experience a dramatic reversal of fortune from an unlikely source. Only nineteen at the time, and in search of ways to expand his own now blossoming talent, Stevie Wonder is anxious to begin producing records. Close friends and running buddies with Spinners lead singer G.C. Cameron, Stevie resolves to write and produce a hit record for his friends group. With The Spinners being considered low men on the Motown’s totem pole, label founder Berry Gordy grants Wonder permission to work with the group. Stevie along with his future wife Syreeta Wright and friend Lee Garrett writes “It’s A Shame”. The basic track is recorded at Motown’s Studio B in Detroit, MI over two days on January 27 – 28, 1970. It features Funk Brothers members James Jamerson (bass), Robert White, Eddie Willis, and Dennis Coffey (guitars), Jack Ashford (tambourine), Richard “Pistol” Allen and Uriel Jones (drums). The Spinners overdub their vocals at Studio B on April 6, 1970, with the horns (arranged by Paul Riser) being recorded on April 29, 1970. Anchored by a lean and funky rhythm track, topped by Cameron’s thrilling tenor to falsetto vocals and the other Spinners tight harmonies, the record is an instant classic. “It’s A Shame” peaks at #4 on the Billboard R&B singles chart on September 19, 1970, and #14 on the Hot 100 on October 17, 1970, becoming the group’s biggest hit to date. The success of “Shame” marks the beginning of the end of The Spinners association with Motown Records. When their contract expires at the end of 1971, they sign with Atlantic Records on the suggestion of their friend R&B superstar Aretha Franklin, where they finally realize their full potential, becoming one of the biggest R&B groups of the 70’s. In 1990, British born rapper Monie Love samples “It’s A Shame” for her hit “It’s A Shame (My Sister)”.
On this day in music history: June 8, 1968 – “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #8 on May 25, 1968. Written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, it is the third R&B chart topper for Marvin Gaye and the first for Tammi Terrell. The song is the first chart topping single produced by the husband and wife songwriting duo Ashford & Simpson. Hired by Motown as staff songwriters the previous year, they have to lobby for the right to produce their own compositions, as Johnny Bristol had produced the first Gaye and Terrell album “United”. The basic track is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit on July 22, 1967, featuring The Funk Brothers, with further sessions for the vocals and strings taking place on August 8, September 29, and October 5 & 6, 1967. Both Ashford & Simpson and Bristol produce versions of “Ain’t Nothing But The Real Thing”, but Nick and Valerie’s version is the one that is unanimously chosen in Motown’s Quality Control meeting when it is up for release consideration. Issued as the first single from the their second album “You’re All I Need” on March 28, 1968, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” is the first of two chart topping singles taken from the set, selling over a million copies in the US.
On this day in music history: June 7, 1969 – “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” by Marvin Gaye hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 6 weeks, also peaking at #4 on the Hot 100 on June 28, 1969. Written by Norman Whitfield, Janie Bradford and Barrett Strong, it is the fourth R&B chart topper for “The Prince of Motown”. Former Motown secretary turned staff songwriter Janie Bradford, co-author of the early Motown classic “Money (That’s What I Want)”, comes up with the initial idea for “Too Busy”, penning most of the songs lyrics. She in turn shows what she’s written to songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield and his writing partner Barrett Strong, who write the music and finish the lyrics. The song is originally recorded by The Temptations in 1966 on their album “Gettin’ Ready” with Eddie Kendricks on lead vocals. Recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit, the basic track featuring musical backing by The Funk Brothers is cut on February 14, 1969, with Marvin Gaye overdubbing his lead vocal on two weeks later on February 28, 1969. The labels in-house background vocalists The Andantes record their vocals on the track on March 11, 1969, and the strings are overdubbed on March 15, 1969. Released on April 2, 1969, Gaye’s version is the follow up to his smash “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” which had sold over four million copies, becoming Motown’s biggest single to date. Issued as the first single from Gaye’s ninth studio album “M.P.G.”, “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” is an immediate smash. Quickly racing up the pop and R&B charts, it sells nearly two million copies in the US alone. The original single release of “Too Busy” is backed with the song “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”. Though it does not chart, it becomes a fan favorite, and is covered by British blue eyed soul singer Paul Young in 1983. Young’s version spends three weeks at number one on the UK singles chart in July and August of 1983, also becoming his first US chart entry, peaking at number seventy in October of 1983.
On this day in music history: June 1, 1968 – “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” by Stevie Wonder hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week, also peaking at #9 on the Hot 100 on May 25, 1968. Written by Henry Cosby, Sylvia Moy and Stevie Wonder, it is the fourth R&B chart topper for the then eighteen year-old Motown star. Cut in early 1968 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit with members of The Funk Brothers providing musical support, the track features Wonder’s first use of the Hohner Clavinet (an electrically amplified clavichord), an instrument that features prominently throughout his career and on several future hits including his cover of The Beatles “We Can Work It Out” and “Superstition”. Released initially as a stand alone single on April 30, 1968, it quickly races up the R&B and pop singles charts. “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” is also included on Stevie Wonder’s next studio album “For Once In My Life” released in December of 1968. The song is later covered by Michael Jackson on his second solo album “Ben” in 1972.