Thursday, September 18, 2008

Norman Whitfield (1940-2008): songwriter

Billy Bragg's ode to rescuing comfort from desolation:

"Norman Whitfield and Barratt 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' Tears

I note the passing of Norman Whitfield, a very significant Motown songwriter, helping write the soundtrack to the late 60s and early 70s. He also produced his songs; from one song (Heard It Through The Grapevine) he made two productions (Gladys Knight and The Pips' then Marvin Gaye's) that in 1967 then in 1968 each time gave Motown its biggest success to that date.

He has a particular influence on later-period Temptations, in the process developing Motown's psychadelic/socially conscious strand from Cloud 9 to Papa Was A Rolling Stone, via Edwin Starr, Undisputed Truth and others. The heavier, more distinctive sounds he created didn't always gel with the people in Motown, but it won him awards.

His songs had sufficient cachet to be covered numerous times. Along with the Motown influence in the UK, Whitfield's sound had a big impact there, with songs covered several times by Rod Stewart and Rolling Stones (both before they wimped out, and after).

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