The Explanation
(for those who require one)

And, of course, that is what all of this is -- all of this: the one song, ever changing, ever reincarnated, that speaks somehow from and to and for that which is ineffable within us and without us, that is both prayer and deliverance, folly and wisdom, that inspires us to dance or smile or simply to go on, senselessly, incomprehensibly, beatifically, in the face of mortality and the truth that our lives are more ill-writ, ill-rhymed and fleeting than any song, except perhaps those songs -- that song, endlesly reincarnated -- born of that truth, be it the moon and June of that truth, or the wordless blue moan, or the rotgut or the elegant poetry of it. That nameless black-hulled ship of Ulysses, that long black train, that Terraplane, that mystery train, that Rocket '88', that Buick 6 -- same journey, same miracle, same end and endlessness."
-- Nick Tosches, Where Dead Voices Gather

Motown's Norman Whitfield dead at 68


If all he'd ever done was co-write I Heard It Through the Grapevine (with frequent partner Barrett "Money" Strong), Norman Whitfield would still be remembered as a genius of soul, but he also composed some of my favourite underappreciated early Motown tracks like Marvin Gaye's Pride & Joy, Too Many Fish in the Sea for the Marvelettes and Needle In a Haystack by the Velvelettes before hitting his stride with the Temptations and an enviable streak of singles that included Ain't Too Proud to Beg, (I Know) I'm Losing You and the later, heavier (and socially conscious) sounds of Psychedelic Shack, Cloud Nine and Ball of Confusion. Then there's that song that always seems to get trundled out during Republican administrations, Edwin Starr's War.

Whitfield died on Tuesday after a long struggle with diabetes. Here's the Guardian's obit.

5 comments :

Pop Feminist said...

If "Heard it Through the Grapevine" is all he ever had a hand in, it would be enough. The first 30 seconds or so of that track are magic.

swac said...

Apparently he had to practically beg Berry Gordy to put it out as a single, first for Gladys Knight and then for Marvin Gaye.

It seems some of Motown's biggest later successes (Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On, Stevie Wonder's more progressive records) happened in spite of Gordy's instincts rather than because of them.

Mark said...

"Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong
Are here to make everything right that's wrong.
Holland and Holland and Lamont Dozier too
Are here to make it all okay with you."

Levi Stubbs may be shedding a few tears.

Kreisler said...

Bona fide genius - Papa was a Rolling Stone outranks all. Just think of that intro...

swac said...

Weird thing is, I found out about this from a guy who used to write for the Four Tops (in their ABC/Dunhill period).