dusty in memphis
i post this with a little dread ... since writing at this site i have been most careful to keep my posts narrowly focused on motown's music, and have very purposefully steered clear of the "personality wars" that run rampant at this site. however, i think my prior posts make it quite clear that i am interested in pop music history.
however, i feel that i may be treading on shaky ground with this post, so i hope you keep in mind my prior history here shows my serious intentions!
the history of motown is a history of a company that ran best and was most productive when its owner, singers, musicians, writers, and producers worked together like a well oil ford motor car company. when any one of these pieces fell out of place the results were almost always a failure. when mary wells left motown, her career fell apart. when holland, dozier, and holland left they never saw the heights they saw from hitsville. and when barry gordy took the company west leaving behind key players, the not so slow demise of the "motown" began. with the exception of two musical geniuses, marvin gaye and stevie wonder no one at motown was able to sustain a lengthy vital career.
i know many of you will site the career of someone like diana ross as having lengthy career. you will list songs and chart numbers to support the significance of her importance in the history of pop music. but, charts, awards, tours don't have anything to do with the quality or importance of an artists work. i am using ms. ross only as an example. her name could be replaced with any motown singer, or writer producer. her importance ended with motown's alliance with h/d/h. the important historical mark made by ms. ross was the chain of collaborative hits the supremes, and the motown musicians made with the songwriting team of h/d/h.
motown's beauty and downfall was caused by this very close, but precarious mix. besides gaye & wonder motown had no singers that could produce music w/o this machine behind them.
take a look at dusty springfield. although never listed as a producer and not a songwriter, she was in fact in charge of her own product. i can think of no album made by ms. ross, reeves, etc that carries the historical importance of "dusty in memphis". i compare these women to show the difference between a self contained artist (dusty) and an entertainer (ross). to be continued ...
... part ll: so, historically speaking motown needs to be looked at as a whole. we must consider the role of the andantes. valerie simpson's role as songwriter, producer, and frequent singer on the gaye/terrell songs. we can compare motown to phil spector's philles label. however we cannot compare motown to indivual artists who controlled their work independly of record companies like james brown, joni mitchell, princ, the smiths, ect. motown can probably be best compared with today's music where companies, and songwriters control the careers of their artists. the problem is that today's companies have no heart or soul, and their stable of singers have little to no singing talent!
Dusty Springfield was not any more in charge of her career than the Motown stable of artists. Dusty In Memphis is an outstanding album but it required the same well oiled machine of songwriters, musicians, producer, and promotion at Atlantic that Hitsville had. It's been documented that Dusty was so intimidated by the Muscle Shoals musicians due to her underlying insecurity that the initial sessions fell apart and she later had to do her vocals to their tracks in New York! Depending on who you ask, Jerry Wexler claimed Dusty hated all those songs and Dusty claims she only liked Son Of A Preacher Man & Just A Little Lovin'. All this leads me to believe she was not in creative control. Atlantic is well documented as being an artists label but knowing her sales track record had been very inconsistent in the USA I doubt Ahmet signed her and said do whatever you want to do. The era of the self contained artist was still a fewmore years off from being widespread. Dusty may have been vocal about not liking a certain song but so were Diana, Martha, and Aretha. If they recorded something they hated, it was more down their professionalism and trust in their relationship with the producers. In most cases they probably cried all the way to the bank anyway. While I would agree that we do require our pop stars to be more photogenic than we did decades ago, there are still plenty of fine vocalists out there who tick both boxes. There were also plenty of vocalists before the video age who couldn't sing either but managed hit records. Ultimately, a great song comes down to personal preference and taste. I know plenty of people who don't get the adoration Dusty In Memphis but love the latest Adele album. I could point out that Adele called up a lot of top notch producers and writers to create an album just as manipulated to be commercial as a classic Motown album or Dusty In Memphis to them but I just let them enjoy it.
dusty was,in fact, well known in most cases to be the producer of her records. she was not given producing credit because she was a woman. she did spend hours in the studio recording her own vocals to get the sound she wanted and particularly in london was known to be the "real" producer of her records. it is true that she did not write, but her particular power made it possible for her to record a series of albums with little to no fluff in them because of the very fact that she not only complained about material, but refused to record songs she did not like. she was known as "the plate thrower" when she felt being misused.
her atlantic records were slightly different. she and her label wanted a different sound. but dusty knew she did not have the kind of voice that could compete with atlantic's aretha and the album she helped create stayed far away of aretha's sound, except ironically the hit single "son of a preacher man", a song aretha passed on, then later recorded.
so unlike diana ross's adventure with the chic organization, dusty did not come to america to get an already popular sound to push her career. dusty came to america to get a new personal sound she could not get in england. though "dusty in memphis" and its follow up "it's a brand new me" recorded in phllly with gamble and huff were not immediately recognized as important or even especially good selling records when they were released, both and especially the memphis album proved to be an example of classic easy listening music. there is not an equivalent album at motown. i would be hard pressed not to believe that was exactly what barry gordy hoped he would achieve with ms. ross. ms. ross may or may not be temperamental. dusty certainly was, and knew what she wanted as a musician. while a fine singer, ms. ross was not a musician.
I will only add that Just A Little Lovin' was one of the most beautiful songs of the 60s. I never tire of hearing it. I am only a moderate fan of Dusty's, and I know she was a difficult, intriguing woman, but I'm at a lost as to why this lp sold so poorly. Off the heels of a top ten hit with Son of A Preacher Man, that alone should have put the album into the Top 40. This album, and it's singer, didn't get the recognition it deserved until after Dusty was unavailable to appreciate the warmth and brilliance of this album
I think you are over analyzing a phenomenon that "just happened" without rhyme or reason. The actual history of Motown is not supposed to make sense and definitely did not develop according to plan vested in scientific consistency. Kind of get over it and just accept that the history did happen and unfold with varied results. Many have tried to duplicate the success, but the clone is yet to be seen.
Originally Posted by thisoldheart
Please accept this comment in a constructive sense: Barry Gordy is not part of the Motown story. Berry Gordy is the man who made it all happen and reaped the benefits of Motown's success.
Maybe if Dusty spent more time singing, and less time throwing plates at people, she might have been more successful.
There is no doubt that Dusty Springfield was a fabulously talented singer and made some memorable records, particularly in the 60s (but not exclusively). However, to proclaim her as self-contained is to ignore the talent of people such as Tom Springfield, Ivor Raymonde, the amazing songwriters such as Goffin and King, Bacharach and David and also, for example, the Rolling Stones and the Pet Shop Boys. She should be given credit for knowing whose material to use and also what to copy, but she would have been nothing without the talents of others, any more than would Diana Ross for example.
Dusty could have sounded good with the Motown Sound, but she would have ended up one of many female artists signed to the label, something she wouldn't have been cut out for I think, though she was supportive of Motown in the UK. Motown did, of course, sign Kiki Dee from the same management stable.
We need to get this straight though, from a musical history perspective and especially on a forum dedicated to Motown Music - it is Berry Gordy Jr not Barry Gordy. Is Louis Walsh posting on here?
Last edited by mysterysinger; 01-02-2012 at 07:18 PM.
my point in a nut shell is that motown worked best as a self contained unit, and then when these elements fell out of place their music failed. i also believe motown's stable of singers, like that of phli spector, whose record company was run very similarly to motown, were for the most part excellent singers but not musicians in their own right (as say dusty springfield and aretha frankinlin were). when all is said and done the true creative musicians that will be remembered from motown in the history of popular music in america will be the funk bros, H/D/H, smokey robinson, marvin gaye, stevie wonder, and the classic motown era as a whole.
Last edited by thisoldheart; 01-02-2012 at 08:49 PM.
[QUOTE=Glenpwood;84982]Dusty Springfield was not any more in charge of her career than the Motown stable of artists.
Glenpwood, you are so wrong with that statement. Dusty was NEVER a product of a production line. She was a musician who produced her own records in MANY cases throughout her career. The sad fact is that there were times her career badly suffered simply because she WAS her own boss - and not a puppet of a record label. But when she was on form - she made some of the very best popular music of all time. And it came out that way SHE wanted it - not the record exec.
If the Motown legacy is truly "the funk bros, H/D/H, smokey robinson, marvin gaye, stevie wonder, and the classic motown era as a whole", then that's not a bad legacy. To me this suggests that longevity and successfullness are being used as thecriteria which is not unexpected.
Individuals will no doubt recite their own favourite tracks, singers, memories etc and to them that will be Motown's legacy. Whilst I think I understand what you are saying about Motown as a "self-contained unit", because Motown was actually so diverse I find it hard to agree totally with that concept. As I understand it, from fairly early on, some Motown stuff was being recorded in LA for example, and might not have featured the "Funk's" to the same extent (ask Carol Kaye lol). It partly depends on your age and your own Motown experience.
It is surely a matter of personal taste whether any Motown records "failed". I don't hold with the concept that removing one of the building blocks caused a failure in any way. Just as an example, in terms of the Four Tops - my own top 3 tracks would be "Ask The Lonely", "Do What You Gotta Do" and "Walk Away Renee" - none of which were written by HDH. Jimmy Webb was Jobete published, and had good Motown connections, I wouldn't consider him to be a failure. Nor would I consider the careers of The Isley Bros, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Detroit Spinners etc post Motown to be failures. Stevie Wonder's most productive period wouldn't have relied on the Funks for example. Lionel Richie and The Commodores were pretty successful with no HDH. Ashford and Simpson's songwriting was up there with the finest anywhere.
You are probably right to say that the classic era was Motown's best, but people of different ages may not hold the same opinion and in terms of individual best selling records is it true to say that it was the most successful?
having heard and lived through almost all of motown's history, except for its rather shaky beginnings i think i have a pretty firm grip on how motown fit in with other genres of the pop/r&b/rock era. i did not enter this story after all the motown groups added last names to their lead singers, and was present when all groups were in what is considered their classic line-up.
i was witness to the many changes that took place at motown, and popular music from the mid 1960's to the 21st century. motown and the funkier music from the late 1960's was perhaps one of my favorite periods in music, but so was the punk scene in the u.k. and here in the late '70's. my very favorite group of all time, a group that never released a single superfluous recording in their career is the smiths. and the two musicians that i feel will be most remembered in the 20th c. are bob dylan and patti smith.
of course, we all have odd little cravings that do not fit into our neat little histories. if i look at my iPod there are two songs that have been played more than any others. they are "darlin' come back home" by eddie kendricks, and "(come 'round here) i'm the one you need" by the miracles (but not written by smokey!) ... how does one explain quirks like that?!
Now that is absolutely true. She chose EVERY song she recorded... and yes, somesongs by her brother were in there as well... but Tom was a good songwriter, why wouldn't she use his stuff? Philips wouldn't allow her to take production credit, so her and Johnny Franz just had an agreement so she could do what she wanted, and he just sat back with his feet up and took the credit to satisfy Philips. Dusty said in interviews she didn't care who got the credit, she just wanted it to be the way she wanted it. She wasn't TOTALLY self contained, because she didn't write all her own stuff... but she was about as self contained as women singers came in that day and age.
Originally Posted by lakedistrictlad1
Whilst it is true that Dusty had control, pretty much from the start , of what she recorded and how - she insisted that they got a bass player who could play finger style a la Jamerson, when the thwacky plectrum approach was the norm in pop music - it would be wrong to categorise the Motown stars as just singers who did what they were told. Martha pointed out to me that, as well as the charm and stage lessons we all know about, the artists were given fairly extensive music theory training as part of the deal. Most could play an instrument and all had a real understanding of how the sound went together. Because Motown maintained an in-house band, the interaction between them, the artists, the producers and the writers was constant - especially with Berry's propensity for holding barbecues and parties. Most artists seem to have had the opporunity to choose some tracks on their albums. What they couldn't do was decide what went out as a single (at least without a fight). Billie Jean and, ultimately, Berry decided that. I would be surprised if the management at Phillips didn't have a similar veto.
I think "Dusty In Memphis" is one of the most over-rated albums of all time. Is it good? Yes. But big deal. So she was a white chick recording with Aretha's band...in Memphis.
Originally Posted by thisoldheart
As far as Diana Ross goes, who are you kidding? Diana's solo career is notable for its becoming the template upon which future divas like Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey were based. Diana's ballads with Michael Masser are the stuff of legend. AND - she was the first female singer who could juggle dance hits with ballads with equal ease. The 'diana' album's sound set the stage for Janet Jackson. You really need to rethink your assessment.
Patti Smith? Seriously? I know one thing, she will be remembered for exposing her hairy armpits on an album cover.
Originally Posted by thisoldheart
I also think that if Diana Ross hadn't been as physically beautiful as she was/is, that no one would be disputing her innate musical talent. It really amazes me that people always underestimate her intelligence and her musical knowledge. Have you ever listened to the songs she's written herself? Some are quite good; you should start with So Close, Fight For It, I Hear The Voice of Love, Hope Is An Open Window, A Mother's Love, Shockwaves.
Last edited by Sugarchilehoneybaby; 01-05-2012 at 12:06 AM.
perhaps you are unaware that ms. smith holds the highest cultural award given by the country of france, a nation that has more frequently than not has recognized american musicians, writers, and intellectuals when many of those artists were not allowed to perform in many parts of the the united states. this was prior to ms. smith winning the 2011 national book award for her memoir "just kids". the two above awards are not the equivalent of the grammy awards. france, unlike america, actually has a minister of culture, and the national book award has a long and prestigious history. i will not address the gratuitous comment about ms. smith's appearance.
Originally Posted by Sugarchilehoneybaby
Last edited by thisoldheart; 01-05-2012 at 11:39 AM.
Patti Smith appeals to a hipper audience than Diana Ross. Patti's fans tend to be smarter while Ross fans tend to be shallow and superficial. Patti Smith fans tend to discuss Smith's work,, while Ross fans tend to talk about drama, gowns, wigs and sales.
well, i can find many complimentary things to say about many artist's work. i have listened to enough music to feel that i can place their work in an appropriate place in popular american music. i also feel comfortable enough to critique even my very favorite artist's occasional misstep.
Honey, your comment is what appears to be melodramatic and superficial. And you're probably not even a true Patti Smith fan. Name something by her other than "Because The Night".
Originally Posted by smark21
Speaking only for myself, I love Diana Ross's music for her voice, period. Her work is that of an interpreter. There's a magic to her singing. I don't think her art is superficial either. I'm glad we've gotten to hear "Blue" and "To The Baby" because it proves her passion for music. If they had been released all those years ago, I think it would have added a depth to her catalogue and allowed more people to appreciate her as a singer with depth. It was the Motown machine that only wanted to give the public the MOR Ross.
Well .. I loved most of those '60s SUPREMES records and a lot of DIANA ROSS's solo efforts . especially "Surrender", "Remember Me", "Touch Me In The Morning" and "Love Hangover", but I used to think that it was largely down to the production, musicianship, songwriting and that maybe Ms Ross as a singer was good but not quite in the same league as (say) DIONNE WARWICK or ARETHA FRANKLIN ..
Originally Posted by smark21
But then when that U.S.A. for Africa "We Are The World" single came out I thought the vocalist who really stood out head and shoulders above the rest was DIANA ROSS ..
What was it TYRONE DAVIS said .. "What i was trying to find, I had it all the time" ..
oh my god, please don't remind me of "we are the world". if any song ever was ever played into the ground more because of shear promotion, sappy sentiment, and god knows what other reason beside merit, please tell me!
I'm not a Patti Smith fan and yep, I don't know much except Because the Night. So yeah, I was engaging in some hyperbole, lol! But I have belonged to a variety of music discussion boards over the years, and it's been my experience and observation that Diana Ross and Supremes fans on the internet are more focussed on matters like drama, gowns, wigs and especially sales and chart positions, while fans of other acts tend to focus more on lyrics, arrangements, songwriting, production, and other aspects of the creative process with regards to the songs, albums, and videos and there's not as much as emphasis on sales, intergroup drama or wondering how a song could have been a bigger hit.
Originally Posted by Sugarchilehoneybaby
Go wander into a Destinys Child, Mariah Carey, Sugababes, Christina Aguilera, madonna, or Celine Dion discussion on sites like popjustice and youll find plenty of die hard fans who want to discuss their weight, which lineup is best, why did this song not go number one, how many records did they really sell, and stage outfits just like the DRATS threads bring out here. The internet has been a blessing and a curse as far as providing a space where people can congregate together to learn about and discuss a rich back history of music. I can put in perspective a lot of whats said in cyberspace because a lot of it is done to bait discussion/get a reaction, good or bad. It also brings us into closer contact with, ahem, musical snobs. The ones who feel their favorite artist somehow trumps someone elses because of critical acclaim, awards, or sales. I feel we are all musical snobs to some degree about someone btw. What amuses me most about musical snobbery, having spent a decade selling CDs to every walk of life in every genre, is that usually in the piles of Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, or The Ramones these fans of "real music" purchase is more often than you would imagine you find them also buying alleged fluff like Barry Manilow and Diana Ross tucked on the bottom, like a pornographic magazine they didnt want to be seen purchasing. They wont admit it to their friends or play it in front of them but theyre enjoying Love Hangover as much as Tangled Up In Blue. Dusty Springfield is a fine vocalist, self contained or not, but remember she also cut her teeth on Motown covers at the start of her solo career, including some sung by The Supremes, on her musical path of learning that led her into having "Dusty In Memphis" in her catalog....
Originally Posted by Glenpwood
Musical snobbery exactly. No offense to you, thisoldheart, but the post you wrote that opened up this whole can of worms did read to me as musical snobbery. Especially when you waxed on and on about how long you've been into music, and maybe worked in the industry, yada yada.
Well, I worked in radio. I studied theatre and have several plays and even a film to my credit. I studied voice and dance with some pretty well-known singer/actors in the city I grew up in. I've loved music my whole life too, and my first love was actually classical.
You can say Dylan and Patti Smith are the most important musical artists of the 20th century, but I reserve the right to roll my eyes when you say it, because it's soooooooo predictable as a cookie cutter example of musical snobbery.
I will admit to being snarky when I brought up Patti's hairy armpit album cover, but it's TRUE, and you and everyone else who read my post instantly remembered that! LOL (I was being kind anyway; I wanted to also say that she is a doppelganger for Steven Tyler - complete with moobs - but refrained due to my desire for civility on internet forums.)
At the end of the day, you're free to like who you like, and I'm free to like who I like. But just because I consider Diana Ross to be a true artist and a gifted vocalist and not just a black Barbie exploding in marabou and sequins, that doesn't mean you know more about music than I do, or have better taste than I do.
wow, no musical snobbery here. i will defend both motown and ms. smith to my death. but, to be quite forthright i think it is very superficial to judge ms. smith or ms. ross's dress when talking about music. i love both of their voices, but differ on their importance in musical history. ms. ross is part of a bigger machine of which she had a very limited input, ms. smith has never had a manager and has carefully controlled all parts of her career. one is a great singer, the other a very serious artist. i love 'em both, but see vast differences in their personal contrition to popular music history. and, no, my supreme records stand proudly next to ms. smiths. the last patti smith concert i was at she sang the ronettes "be my baby". patti is no music snob either.
Originally Posted by Sugarchilehoneybaby
I wish I could go back and edit my previous post. My reaction was ridiculous and added nothing to the discussion you were starting. You know what? I never asked you why you love Patti Smith's music. Would you please tell me about it, so that I may go listen to some of it on YouTube for example, and gain a new perspective
I'm sincere. Why would I shut my mind off to discovering her art? Please tell me about the essence of the energy she brings.