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    Rocket Engineering, Motown Propulsion


    The splashiest music movie of the summer is opening in cinemas across North America, fuelled by a kaleidoscope of reviews from the Cannes Film Festival and from its theatrical – what better word, given the subject matter? – opening in the U.K. last week. Yes, it’s Rocketman, the fantastical account of the rise, fall and rehab of singer/songwriter/superstar Elton John.

    And why, you might reasonably ask, should the readers of West Grand Blog be interested?

    Because a primary character in the film once was, in real life, the Tamla Motown label manager at EMI Records in London, before he became intimately involved – in several senses of the word – with the extraordinary life and times of Reg Dwight, alias Elton John.

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet John Reid.
    It was a job Reid loved. “Every Tuesday morning, all the label managers sat around in the boardroom, played their releases, and it was kind of a Juke Box Jury-style thing. They would vote for what records you could release, because there were only so many you could release every week. I would always get my records released…and then I had to go out and plug them. It was an amazing learning curve.”

    Among Motown’s U.K. hits during Reid’s tenure were Stevie Wonder’s “Never Had A Dream Come True” (Top 10, and bigger than in the U.S.), Marvin Gaye’s “Abraham, Martin And John” (also Top 10, and not a U.S. single), the Temptations’ “Ball Of Confusion” (the group’s highest-charter to that date), Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ “Jimmy Mack” and “Forget Me Not” (both as reissues), and two by Jimmy Ruffin, “I’ll Say Forever My Love” and “It’s Wonderful,” which were both Top 10.

    Plus, of course, the chart-topping “The Tears Of A Clown,” lifted from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ three-year-old Make It Happen album. “You could put out a record one week, it’d be in the charts the next,” said Reid. “The speed, that was the excitement.”

    So was the steady flow of visits to Britain by Motown artists, aware more than ever of their transatlantic appeal. “It was their second home,” remarked Reid. “It was easy for them to come here for two or three weeks, promote the record, do some gigs, make some money.”

    Not every path was smooth. “One of the hardest records I ever had was ‘Indiana Wants Me’ by R. Dean Taylor. I flogged away at that for about five months.” Eventually, the single spent six weeks in the Top 10, peaking at No. 2. The No. 3 record that same week? A reissue of “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by the Elgins.
    Last edited by smallworld; 06-01-2019 at 09:16 AM.


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Ralph Terrana

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