You may not know her name, but I guarantee you’ve heard her voice. When acts as diverse as Graham Nash, Peter Gabriel and KLF are in need of a soulful vocal, PP Arnold has been a top choice. Her voice has graced dozens of songs & albums for over 50 years, though she’s never had a hit under her own name in the US. On this episode, we take a brief look at her career and examine a great lost track, featuring Eric Clapton and the Derek & The Dominos band, recorded in 1970 but didn’t see the light of day until 47 years later.

“Medicated Goo” (Steve Winwood, Jimmy Miller) Copyright 1969 Island Music Ltd, Universal/Island Music Ltd.,F-S-Music Ltd., Kobalt Music Copyrights SARL

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TRANSCRIPT:

Well, hello there! Come on in, don’t be shy. It’s good to have you here. You’ve found your way to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. My name is Brad Page, and each edition of this podcast, I come to you via the Pantheon Podcast Network with another one of my favorite songs to explore and examine, as we attempt to understand what goes into making a great song.

I’m going to start by playing eight short clips from eight different artists, spanning five decades of music. What is it that all of these songs have in common? Let’s start with:

  • Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High”
  • The classic 70’s band Humble Pie
  • Nick Drake
  • New Orleans legend Dr. John
  • Roger Waters from Pink Floyd
  • and then there’s Oasis
  • KLF
  • and Peter Gabriel

All of those songs featured the voice of a woman named P. P. Arnold. She was an American soul artist transplanted to London in the 1960’s, where she was able to carve out a career, though she never cracked the charts in the US.

On this episode, we’re talking about P. P. Arnold and her version of a song called “Medicated Goo”.

Patricia Anne Cole was born in Los Angeles in 1946. She started singing in public when she was just four years old. She came from a family of gospel singers. She got pregnant very young and got married, and may never have pursued a career in the music business; she already had her hands full working two jobs, but a friend convinced her to audition for the gig as one of the Ikettes, the backing singers for Ike and Tina Turner. When she returned home late after that audition, her abusive husband hit her. That was enough for Patricia. She grabbed her two kids, handed them over to her mother and hit the road with Ike & Tina Turner.

In 1965, the Rolling Stones booked Ike & Tina Turner as their opening act for their UK tour. And that’s what brought Patricia to England. She quit the Ikettes in 1966 and stayed in London. Mick Jagger took a liking to Pat. In fact, they supposedly had a fling. But it was the Rolling Stones piano player Ian Stewart who recommended Pat to producer Glenn Johns, who then introduced her to Andrew Oldham, who signed her to his record label, Immediate Records.

It was around this time when her stage name had been changed to “PP Arnold”, a name she didn’t really like. I mean, who wants to be called PP? But it stuck. And she still goes by PP Arnold today.

She wasn’t the first black artist to discover more opportunity and better treatment overseas than in her home country. Actually, the fact that she was a real Black American singer in the gospel tradition, in a country filled with a lot of pretenders and wannabes, may have helped her career. She was a rarity. The real thing.

She released a couple of singles on the Immediate label that didn’t really get off the ground. But in 1967 she had her first hit in England with a song written by Cat Stevens: “The First Cut Is The Deepest”.

She toured opening for the Small Faces. She had an ongoing affair with Steve Marriott for a while, and he wrote the song “Tin Soldier” originally for her, but then decided to keep it for the Small Faces, though she did contribute significant backing vocals to that song. We covered “Tin Soldier” in detail back on Episode 54– if you haven’t heard that episode, go back and check it out.

She recorded a duet with Rod Stewart called “Come Home Baby” that was produced by Mick Jagger, with a band that included Keith Richards, Keith Emerson, Ron Wood and Nicky Hopkins. How’s that for a lineup?

She released her second album, “Kafunta”, in 1968, which featured string arrangements by John Paul Jones. That album was a mix of originals and cover songs, including her version of “Angel of the Morning”. It was Merrilee Rush who had the big hit with that song in the US, but in England, it was PP Arnold’s version that was the hit.

By the end of the 1960’s, Immediate Records imploded. She tried working on a new album with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees producing, but the project fell apart and only a couple of songs were released. The rest went into the vault.

When Eric Clapton went on tour with Delaney and Bonnie, PP Arnold was tapped to open the show. She put together a killer band for that tour that included Steve Howe on guitar and Tony Ashton on keyboards. After the tour, she went back into the studio with Eric Clapton producing and Delaney and Bonnie’s backing band, who Clapton was about to turn into Derek and the Dominos. She cut three tracks with Eric Clapton, but they too weren’t released and those went into the vault too.

Her time in the spotlight seemed to have passed. She did some musical theater and started picking up work as a session vocalist and a backing singer on tours. She moved back to Los Angeles in the mid ‘70’s, and after her daughter was killed in a car accident, she withdrew from public life for a while. And who could blame her?

Eventually she moved back to England. Throughout the ‘80’s & ‘90’s, she continued working as a session vocalist, cutting many tracks, including the ones we heard at the top of the show. In 2001, all of her recordings for Immediate Records were compiled and released on one CD called “The First Cut: The Immediate Anthology”. That’s a great place to start if you’d like to hear all of her early work.

And finally in 2017, after decades of legal wrangling, her recordings with Barry Gibb and those tracks cut with Eric Clapton were finally released– almost 50 years after they were recorded. That album was called “The Turning Tide”, and the song that opens the album is “Medicated Goo”.

“Medicated Goo” was written by Steve Winwood and Jimmy Miller, and originally recorded and released by Traffic as a single in December 1968.

P. P. Arnold’s version was recorded in 1970. It was produced by Eric Clapton and performed by the Derek and The Dominos crew. Check out this band: Eric Clapton on guitar, Carl Radle on bass, Bobby Whitlock on keyboards, Jim Gordon on drums, Bobby Keys on saxophone, Jim Price on trumpet, and Bobby Whitlock and Rita Coolidge on backing vocals. The song opens with the bass and the piano in the center channel, one guitar track on the right doubling the bass part, and another guitar on the left playing some licks. Let’s listen to some of those guitar licks.

Carl Radle and Jim Gordon were a pretty legendary rhythm section. Let’s listen to the groove they’re laying down on the bass and drums.

Now let’s bring in the piano and the organ and see what they add.

And then we’ll bring back the guitar parts. One in the left, one in the right.

All right, let’s hear it in the final mix with the vocals.

Here’s the second verse. This is where the horn section comes in. They’re playing a simple part, but it really adds a lot.

Love how the backing vocals join in for just that one line there. That’s great.

Here’s the next chorus, and this time let’s focus on the vocals, starting with PP Arnold’s lead vocal.

Now let’s listen to just the backing vocals.

After that chorus, they break it down, sort of a repeat of the introduction.

That leads into the third verse. And yes, I get that this song is basically just one chord progression repeated through the whole thing. That may bug some people, but not me. If it’s a good groove, a great feel, and the band is hot, they can work the same part all night, it’s fine with me. Let’s bring up her vocals again for this verse.

And let’s bring up all of the vocals for a minute.

Here’s one last break before the final choruses. I like the piano licks in the background and the way the organ swirls in at the end as they hit the chorus again.

There’s a nice little guitar lick that Eric Clapton plays there. I love how Pat sings that line. And there’s another cool little guitar lick from Clapton in there, too.

“Medicated Goo” by P. P. Arnold

“The Turning Tide” album, which finally brought to light all of these tracks that she originally recorded in 1969 and 1970, came out in 2017, and in 2019 she released her first album of new material in over 50 years. It’s called “The New Adventures of PP Arnold”.

This is a woman who’s seen it all, done it all, and lived to tell the tale. She is a survivor.

Thanks for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. New episodes come out on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so I’ll see you back here on the Pantheon Podcast Network in about two weeks. Until then, you’ll find all of our previous episodes on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, or on your favorite podcast app.

Your reviews and comments are always welcome. And do me a favor– go tell a friend about this show. Your help in spreading the word is better than any advertising.

Remember to support the artists you love by buying their music, especially independent artists like PP Arnold, who count on fans like us. And thanks again for listening to this PP Arnold episode on that good old fashioned “Medicated Goo”.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
PP Arnold
https://www.pparnold.com/

Medicated Goo (Traffic song)
https://www.discogs.com/Traffic-Medicated-Goo/master/367906

Ike and Tina Turner
https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/ike-and-tina-turner

The Rolling Stones
https://www.rollingstones.com/

Immediate Records
https://www.discogs.com/label/

Immediate
6— Cat Stevens
https://catstevens.com/

Small Faces
https://www.thesmallfaces.com/

Rod Stewart
https://www.rodstewart.com/

John Paul Jones
http://www.johnpauljones.com/

Eric Clapton
https://www.ericclapton.com/

Derek and the Dominoes
https://www.discogs.com/artist/

New Adventures of PP Arnold (album)
https://www.pparnold.com/discography/the-new-adventures-of

This year’s Bonus Holiday Episode features a lost Soul classic: Clarence Reid’s “Winter Man”. We’ll just kick back and listen to this vintage soul nugget, as well as saying thanks to all of you for listening. Happy Holidays!

“Winter Man” (Clarence Reid) Copyright 1974 Sherlyn Pub, Inc.

Bettye LaVette is the epitome of perseverance. She cut her first record in 1962 at the age of 16, but it took over 40 years before she received the recognition and respect she deserved. In between, she weathered every injustice that the music business threw at her. But she never gave up, she never stopped working, she never stopped singing… in fact, she just got better. Bettye is more than just a singer; she’s an interpreter who can transform any song into something new & special. On this episode, we focus on a track from her 2007 album The Scene of the Crime, and trace the path that brought her to this album– one of my all-time favorites.

“I Still Want To Be Your Baby (Take Me As I Am)” (Eddie Hinton) Copyright Eddie Hinton Music (BMI) 

TRANSCRIPT:

So let me ask you a question: You have your favorite songs, right? What is it about those songs that you love? What makes those songs so great? Well, these are the questions that we try to answer here on the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast.

I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode I pick one of my favorite songs and we listen to it together trying to understand what goes into creating a great song. No musical knowledge is required here, we don’t delve into music theory or technical jargon. All you need are your ears and just a little bit of curiosity.

If I had to pick just a handful of women’s voices for my desert island collection, it would have to include Aretha Franklin, of course, Mavis Staples… and Bettye LaVette.

Many people don’t know Bettye LaVette, but she’s one of the greatest vocalists I’ve ever heard. On this episode, we’ll be listening to Bettye and a song called “I Still Want to Be Your Baby.”

The story of Bettye LaVette is a story of perseverance, of determination, and survival. Bettye LaVette was born Bettye Jo Haskins in January 1946. She grew up in Detroit, and when she was 16 years old, she recorded her first single, a song called “My Man He’s A Lovin’ Man” in 1962. It made it to the top 10 on the R&B charts.

[Music]

Her next couple of singles didn’t do as well, but she made it back onto the R&B charts in 1965 with “Let Me Down Easy.”

[Music]

She continued to record singles for various small labels. She recorded in Memphis with the Dixie Flyers and the Memphis Horns, and reached number 25 on the R&B charts with a song called “He Made A Woman Out of Me”, despite the fact that it was banned on some stations because it was deemed a little too sexual for some folks. I love this track, though.

[Music]

They were planning a full album for Bettye, but the deal fell apart due to conflicts between the producer and the label. Bettye picked herself up and managed to sign a deal with Atlantic Records in 1972. She headed down to the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama and finally got to record her first full album with the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section.

That album was going to be called “Child of the 70s.” It was mastered and prepared for release. There was even a publicity tour scheduled. But at the last minute, the album was shelved. The label called Bettye and said, “We’ve decided not to go forward with this project. Please return your plane tickets.”

You can imagine how devastating that must have been. To this day, nobody really knows why the record was shelved. But Bettye picked herself up again and went back to work.

A few more unsuccessful singles were released. In 1978, she recorded a disco single called “Doin the Best I Can,” which actually became a pretty big disco hit, but Bettye had signed away all of her rights to the song so she didn’t make a penny from it.

She wasn’t going to give up, though. She’d find a way to survive. In 1979, she joined the Broadway cast of “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” and she stayed in that production for four years. She kept recording records here and there all through the 80s and 90s, but none of them got much attention.

Then, a record collector in France had been searching for the master tapes of that 1972 album, “Child of the 70s.” In 1999, he found them. He licensed the recordings from Atlantic and released the album himself. 28 years after it was recorded, Bettye’s first album was finally released. And then people started to pay attention.

Between 2000 and 2006, the crowds grew bigger at Bettye’s shows, the records sold more copies, and the critics raved. Then, in 2007, she returned to the Muscle Shull Studio, now 35 years after her last sessions there to record her next album, and it’s a masterpiece.

Her record label reached out to Patterson Hood and asked him if he was interested in producing Bettye’s album. Patterson is a member of the Drive-by-Truckers, and he’s also the son of David Hood, the bass player from that legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Patterson jumped at the chance to work with Bettye, and he set up the sessions at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios.

Patterson lined up a stellar group of musicians, including the rest of the Drive-by-Truckers, along with some of the original Muscle Shoals players. He even got his dad to come in and play on a few tracks.

They called the album “The Scene of the Crime”, acknowledging that she was returning to the place where her ill-fated child of the 70s album was recorded.

The album opens with this song, “I Still Want to Be Your Baby”. And right off the bat, Bettyee establishes who she is with this track. She’s tough, she is who she is, she’ll love you and stick with you through the good times in the bad– but don’t try to change her.

What makes her version all the more interesting is that this song was written by a man, from a man’s perspective. Eddie Hinton wrote this song. He was another one of the legendary players at Fame Studios; he was their go-to lead guitarist. He was also a songwriter.

Eddie Hinton died in 1995 before this album was recorded, so he wasn’t around to play on the record. Otherwise, I bet he would have been there and would have approved wholeheartedly of Bettyee’s interpretation.

The song opens with two guitars, one in the left channel playing a simple riff, the other is in the middle only playing half of the riff an octave lower.

Both guitars are slathered in reverb. This is not fancy digital studio reverb. This is the sound of a real tube-driven guitar amp with its built-in spring reverb. You can really hear that distinctive spring reverb sound on these guitars. And the guitar in the middle also has some tremolo effect on it, set at a relatively fast speed. Let’s listen.

[Music]

After that four-bar intro, the rest of the band jumps in. There’s a third guitar in the mix, panned a little to the right. There are three guitar players on this album, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, and John Neff, all members of the Drive by Truckers. And I’m not sure who’s playing which parts, but just keep in mind that there are three distinct guitar parts on this song.

The rest of the band includes Shana Tucker on bass and Brad Morgan on drums, also from the Drive by Truckers. So you’ve got the whole Drive by Truckers band backing Bettye on this track. Also on keyboards is none other than Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham.

Let’s pick it back up from the intro.

[Music]

Bettye LaVette was 61 when she made this record. And I think she’s never sung better. This is not the voice of a young diva. This is the voice of a woman, a woman who’s lived, who’s loved, been hurt, and who’s learned.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be interested in hearing a 20-year-old singing this song. “I’ve been this way too long to change now.” That would just sound ridiculous coming out of the mouth of someone that young. Here, Bettye’s singing, it’s pitch perfect, but the ragged edges of her voice adds gravitas. It rings true. Feels real.

Whatever abilities may diminish with age, the experience that comes with growing older can more than make up for it. As great as Bettyee’s performances from the 60s and 70s were, I think she’s an even better singer now. Here’s the first verse.

[Music]

The guitars are playing behind the verses actually pretty atmospheric. Let’s listen to a little bit of that.

[Music]

And that takes us into the next chorus.

[Music]

I love her phrasing on that last line:

[Music]

Here’s the second verse, and this is where Spooner Oldham joins in on the electric piano. Listen for that.

[Music]

This is the closest thing we get to a guitar solo in this song, and I like the interplay between the rhythm guitars here.

[Music]

Let’s bring Bettye’s vocals up in the mix for this last verse.

[Music]

That guitar refrain returns, and Bettye does some improvising.

[Music]

All three guitars begin to play off and around each other:

[Music]

You can really hear that tremolo on the guitar here at the end.

[Music]

Bettyee LaVette – “I Still Want To Be Your Baby”

Bettyee doesn’t play an instrument, and she doesn’t write songs. Bettyee does one thing, and she does it better than almost anyone else: she interprets songs. In 2008, she appeared at the Kennedy Center Honors for The Who, and sang a version of “Love, Reign O’er Me” that brought the house down. It was a show-stopping moment.

Bettyee’s continued to make records, including “Blackbirds” in 2020, where she recorded her version of songs by the great black women artists that inspired her. And just last month, September 2023, she released her latest album, Simply Called “LaVette”, that’s a return to the rootsy, bluesy and Americana sounds of this track. It’s probably my favorite album of the year.

Bettyew is 77 years old, a living legend, and still going strong, doing some of her best work today.

Thanks for checking out this episode of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. If you’d like to know more, or share your thoughts, find us on Facebook or on Podchaser, where you can leave a review, rate us, and tell us what you think. And don’t forget to follow the show so that you never miss an episode.
We are part of the Pantheon podcast family– lots of great music-related shows to be found there, so check them out.

We’ll be back in two weeks with another new episode. Until then, go support Bettye LaVette by buying a few of her albums. You will not regret it.

[Music]

On this episode, we pay a little tribute to the great Tina Turner, with an exploration of the song she wrote about her humble beginnings in a little town called Nutbush, TN.  Join us on a journey down Highway 19 to visit “Nutbush City Limits”.

“Nutbush City Limits” (Words & Music by Tina Turner) Copyright 1973 EMI Blackwood Music Inc and EMI Unart Catalog Inc.

— Don’t forget to follow our show, so you never miss an episode!

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. My name is Brad Page, and I’m on a mission to uncover and rediscover my favorite songs, to get a better understanding of what makes them work and why I love them so much. Thanks for joining me on this journey here on the Pantheon Podcast Network. Everyone is welcome here– no musical knowledge or experience is required. If you love music and are even just a little curious about what goes into making a great song, you’re in the right place.

It’s reality that we are all getting older. I don’t care how young or old you are. We are all heading in one direction. And as we age, so do the artists that inspired us, that have moved us and, um, accompanied us through our journeys through life. Inevitably, we will lose these artists to the ravages of time.

The rock stars of my youth are no longer young. And over the last few years, we have lost so many artists that were such a part of our lives. And it’s just a fact that all of you will experience. Again, it doesn’t matter how old you are, or when you grew up… someday Janet Jackson will be an old woman; someday Britney Spears will be old; someday Taylor Swift will be an old woman. And that’s if they’re lucky– that they make it that far. There’s no shame or insult in that. It’s just the way it is. And nothing will shine a light on your own mortality than the death of an artist that you grew up with, that remains young and vibrant whenever you think of them.

This is all to set the tone for this episode because we’re talking about Tina Turner today, who passed away recently in May of 2023. I have been working on this episode off and on for a while. In fact, I first got the idea for this show back in 2017 when, on a road trip, we came near Nutbush, Tennessee. We never actually got to stop in Nutbush, but seeing the name reminded me of the song and that that would be a pretty good subject for a podcast episode.

So it went on my list, which is a pretty long list of podcast ideas. But one good thing about songs is that there’s no shortage of great ones. So this episode has been in the works for a while. It was about 80% done, just waiting for an opportunity for me to finish it up. And then Tina died… which I’m always of two minds about these situations, because I don’t want to take advantage of, or jump on the bandwagon, or be seen as “cashing in” in any way on the death of somebody, especially an artist as important as Tina Turner. And make no mistake, she is an historically important artist, but she should be remembered, she should be paid tribute to and she should be celebrated.

So I’m going to go ahead with this episode. Keep in mind that most of this was recorded before she passed away. It wasn’t originally meant to be a posthumous tribute, but I think it’s still relevant today. S

So, in honor of Tina, let’s take a road trip down to Nutbush, Tennessee, with Ike and Tina Turner, and “Nutbush City Limits”.

[Music]

Ike Turner was a journeyman musician. It was his band, the Kings Of Rhythm, that recorded “Rocket 88”, considered by many to be the first rock and roll song. Though he wasn’t credited for it– it was credited to Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, which always ticked Ike off.

[Music]

Ike also worked as kind of a talent scout for Sun Records and Modern Records, and spent some time as a session musician playing piano on records for people like BB King and Howlin’ Wolf.

She ended up in East St Louis, playing with his band, the Kings of Rhythm, and that’s where he met Anna Mae Bullock in 1957. She became a fan of the band when she was 17. She saw them whenever she could, and then she began singing with the Kings of Rhythm. They made their first record together in 1958, a song called “Box Top” with Anna Mae, nicknamed “Little Anne” on backing vocals.

[Music]

They had their first big hit in 1960 with a song called “A Fool In Love”, this time credited to Ike and Tina Turner.

[Music]

Ike was the one who changed her name to Tina. By then, she was already pregnant with their first child. Ike was married to another woman at the time; he had already been married at least four times, maybe six times by then. When she was in the hospital having that baby, Ike hired another woman to pretend to be Tina on stage so he could keep playing gigs and getting paid. When Tina found out, she checked herself out of the hospital, went to the gig and punched out that fake Tina and then finished the gig herself.

In 1962, they got married. She was 23, he was 31, and Ike hadn’t even bothered to divorce any of his previous wives.

The abuse started early. When she told Ike she didn’t want to change her name to Tina, he hit her. That was the first of many. He slept around and abused her all through their relationship, and he worked her to exhaustion.

By 1966, the hits had started to dry up. Producer Phil Specter was also going through a dry patch when he saw Ike & Tina perform on “The Big TNT” show in late 1965. Go check out that performance on YouTube– they were on fire that night.

[Music]

Phil Spector, being the control freak that he was, was not about to work with another control freak like Ike Turner. So, they cut a deal: Spector paid Ike a bunch of money to stay away from the studio, and Phil would make the record without him. Though “River Deep Mountain High” is credited as an “Ike and Tina Turner” release, Ike really had nothing to do with making that record.

Though the song didn’t sell as well as everyone hoped, it’s become a true classic; on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, “River Deep Mountain High” came in at number 33.

[Music]

The Rolling Stones– and this time we’re talking about the band, not the magazine– The Rolling Stones loved this song, and invited Ike and Tina to support them on a British tour. It was the first of a few tours where Tina would open for the Stones, and this exposed her to a whole new, and much bigger, audience.

One of the interesting things about both Tina and Ike is that neither one of them really wanted to be known as R&B performers, even though that’s what paid the bills. Their musical preferences were really elsewhere. So they were perfectly happy to venture further into rock and roll. And that’s where they’d find their biggest hits, with their versions of songs like “Proud Mary”, “Honky Tonk Woman” and “I Want To Take You Higher:.

[Music]

Ike opened his own recording studio and Tina did some session work there, providing vocals, including for tracks by Frank Zappa.

[Music]

As they got more successful behind the scenes, life with Ike was getting worse. More cocaine meant more violence. She had attempted suicide in 1968. It wouldn’t be the last time. Eventually, she left him in 1976. Their divorce was finalized in March 1978.

But back in 1973, they were still together when Tina wrote “Nutbush City Limits”. While Ike was becoming more and more difficult to work with, Tina was finding her own footing. She wrote “Nutbush City Limits”. But after it became a hit, Ike tried to take credit for it. But clearly this is Tina’s song. She wrote it about the town she grew up in.

Unfortunately, there’s no credits on the album, and there doesn’t appear to be much documentation as to who played on the song. Mark Bolan of T Rex may have played guitar on the track; it is confirmed that he played guitar on at least one other Ike & Tina song, so it is possible. It’s also been claimed that James Lewis, a member of Ike & Tina’s backing band, played guitar on the track. They both could be on the track. Who really knows?

The song opens with one guitar, maybe played by Mark Bolan, in the center channel. After a couple of bars, another guitar with a wah-wah pedal appears in the left channel.

Here come the horns on the right. The drums come in there, but it’s just the kick and the snare drum. No hi-hat, no cymbals. And they’re going to hold off on the cymbals for quite a while. The bass is also going to lay back for a while.

[Music]

She’s telling us about her little hometown, but she’s not using full sentences. These are barely even phrases. They’re just impressions. A church house, gin house, schoolhouse, outhouse… but you can see the town taking shape in your head, right?

Highway 19 is a small rural state route that runs through this part of Tennessee, I believe it’s about 43 miles long. And a stretch of Route 19 between Brownsville and Nutbush is officially called Tina Turner Highway.

[Music]

When she hits the end of the chorus, the bass comes in, along with a clavinet. A clavinet is an electric keyboard instrument; it was based on the clavichord, an instrument from the Middle Ages. But the clavinet is a relatively new instrument, developed in 1964. It has a very distinctive sound. It’s almost guitar like, but not quite. It’s really its own thing. Of course, it was Stevie Wonder who really popularized the sound of the clavinet on songs like “Superstition”.  Here, the clavinet is kind of accentuating the bass guitar part. Let’s go back and pick it up right before the bass comes in.

[Music]

“25 was the speed limit, motorcycle not allowed in it.” I love that line, it’s so specific. You can also hear that a low, droning note on a keyboard comes in there.

[Music]

There’s a chime or a bell in the right channel. There’s some interesting choices of percussion in this song, and that bell will continue to pop up in the right channel. And the drummer is finally going to play some hi-hat coming up. Listen for that when the vocal comes back in.

[Music]

Listening to the horn part; at first I thought there might be a synthesizer playing along with them, but now I’m not sure. I think it’s probably just horns, but see what you think.

[Music]

Let’s hear that verse with the vocals.

[Music]

Let’s play that chorus again and listen to her vocal. She does a nice little scream in there. And the way she cracks her voice on the word “city”, that is a Tina trademark right there.

[Music]

Now this is where the song takes a total left turn, I think. There is a synthesizer solo that comes out of nowhere, and it feels totally incongruous to me. I don’t know if this was Ike’s idea, he’s credited as producer on the album. At the time, synthesizers were still pretty new. They probably thought they were doing something innovative or updating their sound. But now, to me at least, this is the thing that sounds the most dated about the song. I guess there’s a lesson in there about relying too much on conspicuous technology.

And there’s also that incessant percussion part in the right channel. And that brings us to the last verse where that synthesizer is going to have a little back and forth with Tina’s vocal.

[Music]

And that last line, “salt pork and molasses is all you get in jail”. Again, so specific. And I love the way she sings that line.

[Music]

And I love the way she phrases that line, “It’s called a quiet little old community”. There’s a long pause she puts in between “it’s called” and “a quiet little old community”. And the way she hits the word “quiet”, it’s just so great.

[Music]

Let’s pick it back up and play it out through the fade. “A one horse town. You have to watch what you’re putting down in old Nutbush.”

[Music]

Ike and Tina Turner, “Nutbush City Limits”.

Nutbush, Tennessee remains a small rural town. There’s a sign over the town grocery store proclaiming it as the “birthplace of Tina Turner”. And then there’s that stretch of Highway 19 that’s named after her, Tina Turner Highway. I’m sure if you go there today, there will be memorials, flowers and tributes laid out in her honor.

There have been memorials and tributes pouring in from every corner of the world, and the internet is full of them. It’s a safe bet that every music-related podcast has discussed Tina in some fashion lately. So, I’m not going to explain all of the ways that she made a difference, all of the barriers she broke down gender, race, age, and how many people she influenced. There are other podcasts that have done that and probably done it better than I can. We’ll never know how many women who, inspired by Tina’s example, escaped an abusive relationship. For that alone, she deserves our respect.

But it will always be the music that she’ll be most remembered for. That will be her lasting impact. Her records leaped out of the grooves with energy and intensity, and as a live performer, she was hard to top. Thanks for everything, Tina.

And thanks to you for listening. The “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast comes your way twice a month, on the first and the 15th of every month, so make sure you follow the show in your favorite podcast app so that you never miss an episode.

We are part of the Pantheon Podcast Network, where you’ll find an endless supply of great podcasts.

Keep on listening and thanks for being here for this episode on Tina Turner and “Nutbush City Limits”

Etta James lived quite a life; some incredible highs and heartbreaking lows throughout her 73 years. From hit songs to heroin addiction, from critical acclaim to violence and bad behavior & jail time, Etta experienced it all. And you could hear every bit of that experience in her voice. I’ve wanted to feature Etta on this podcast for a while; the easy choice would be to pick one of her early classic songs… but instead, let’s listen to an overlooked track from late in her career, when she might have been “past her prime” but more than capable of delivering a heart-wrenching performance.  

“Love’s Been Rough On Me” (Gretchen Peters) Copyright Sony/ATV Tunes LLC dba Cross Keys Publishing/Purple Crayon Music (ASCAP)

— Remember to follow this show, so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome back to the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. Thanks for joining me here on the Pantheon Podcast network. I’m your host, Brad Page, and each episode of this show I pick one of my favorite songs and we explore it together, discovering what makes it a great song.

This episode happens to come out just in time for Valentine’s Day. And as I mentioned on this show before, I am not a fan of these holidays that are really just an excuse to sell greeting cards and merchandise, but it’s also an excuse for me to play a song. So I thought this time we’d listen to, I don’t know, maybe this is an anti-Valentine’s Day song. This one’s by Etta  James. It’s a song called “Love’s Been Rough On Me”.

[Music]

Etta James is a legend. She was born James Etta Hawkins in Los Angeles on January 25, 1938. She was 16 years old when Johnny Otis heard her singing in San Francisco. He asked her if she was 18. She lied. He brought her back to LA, renamed her Etta James, and she cut her first record with him, “The Wallflower”, in 1955.

[Music]

She released a few more singles, but the hits dried up for a while and so did the good paying gigs. To find a new opportunity, she borrowed a few bucks from Jackie Wilson and bought a bus ticket to Chicago to meet with Chess Records. Leonard Chess liked her a lot and signed her up. One of her earliest singles for chess was “All I Could Do Is Cry” in 1960, written by Billy Davis and Barry Gordy Jr. in the days before he started Motown, she recorded this vocal in one take.

[Music]

Chess Records was home to Muddy Waters, Howlin’Wolf and Chuck Berry. There wasn’t much call for strings, but once they started working with Etta, they pictured her as a balladeer as well as a house rocker, and issued quite a few lushly orchestrated ballads, culminating in the universal classic “At Last”.

[Music]

If Etta James had never cut another song, her legacy would be cemented by that track alone. But of course, she cut a lot more records than that. In 1963, she released one of my favorite records of hers, a live album recorded in Nashville called “Etta James Rocks The House”.

[Music]

Hard to believe that’s the same woman who sang “At Last”.

Life was not easy for Etta. She was a heroin addict and would struggle with addiction for the rest of her life. Over the course of her career, she would be arrested more than once. In and out of rehab, she spent 17 months in a psychiatric hospital. Somehow, in the midst of all that, she managed to record some great music, like the classic “Tell Mama” in 1967, recorded in Muscle Shoals Alabama.

[Music]

And the B side of that single was a song just as iconic: “I’d Rather Go Blind”.

[Music]

Though she was no longer hitting the charts by the mid 70’s, and therefore off the general public’s radar, she continued to make records for three more decades. In 1997, she released an album called “Love’s Been Rough On Me”, and this is the title song from that album. The song was written by Gretchen Peters, who’s released a bunch of her own records. But I think this recording by Etta James was the first time the song had been released. I don’t know if Gretchen wrote it specifically for Etta, but she might as well have. Etta delivers it like it was made for her.

This is a song about the real cost of love. Love can give you something amazing, but it can also exact a terrible price. I love this song because it doesn’t sugarcoat the subject. It’s not overly poetic, it’s not trying to be clever with its lyrics. It’s just laying it all out there, honestly.

There are two guitars, very cleanly recorded. One panned more to the left, the other panned hard right, and they’re playing off of each other. There’s a piano and a little bit of what sounds like a pedal steel guitar. It’s all very nicely setting the stage for Etta’s vocal.

[Music]

“They say life goes on… well, I can’t prove it, but I know they’re wrong”. I love that line.

[Music]

That brings us to the first chorus.

[Music]

“I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I don’t seem to be able to get back on my feet.” And with a pretty subtle delivery, Etta makes you believe it.

[Music]

Speaker B: That’s just a nice little guitar fill there.

[Music]

I will admit that I’m not into that distorted guitar part there. I’m all for distorted guitars– big fan. But I don’t think it’s needed here. I think that’s just a reflection of the time. This was recorded in the late 90’s. I think if they were making this record today, they would have gone with a different sound.

At any rate, here’s the next verse… and there’s only two verses in this song. Two verses and two choruses, and that’s it. Three minutes, no fat. But honestly, I could have listened to Etta sing this all day.

[Music]

Let’s bring up her vocal and listen to that verse again.

[Music]

“Love’s Been Rough On Me” – Etta James

Life was rough on Etta James. Along with fighting addiction, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2008, suffered a MRSA infection in 2010, and in 2011 was diagnosed with leukemia, which would eventually take her life on January 20, 2012, just before her 74th birthday. If anybody understood this song, it was Edda James.

So this song is my Valentine’s gift to you. It’s easy for people to say cliches like “it’s better to have loved and lost than never have loved it all”, but this is a song for everyone who’s ever loved and lost and never quite recovered. Have mercy, because love’s been rough on us all.

Thanks, as always, for being part of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. You can post a review or comments on our Facebook page, or on Podchaser, or wherever you listen to the show.

You can find all of our previous episodes on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, as well as on Apple podcasts. Spotify, Google, Amazon, basically anywhere that you can find podcasts, you will find this show. And don’t forget to follow the show so that you never miss any of our new episodes.

We’re part of the Pantheon family of podcasts, where you’ll find a ton of music related shows, so be sure to check them all out.

We’ll be back in two weeks with a new edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. Thanks for listening to this show on Etta James and “Love’s Been Rough On Me”.

Norman Whitfield turned The Temptations from a typical Motown vocal group into Psychedelic Soul pioneers. Their collaboration reached its zenith with “Papa Was A Rolling Stone“, a dark, atmospheric, orchestral showcase for both the Temptations and Whitfield’s genius. This would be the last #1 hit for The Temptations, and they would stop working with Norman Whitfield soon after. But they left behind this monumental masterpiece.

“Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong) Copyright 1972 Stone Diamond Music Corp.

If you enjoyed this episode, here’s a previous episode that featured another classic Temptations song:
lovethatsongpodcast.com/the-temptations-i-cant-get-next-to-you/

— And remember to follow this show, so you never miss an episode.

TRANSCRIPT:

You have managed to find your way to the “I’m In Love With That Song Podcast, one of the many shows on the Pantheon Podcast Network dedicated to bringing you the best music-related podcasts. I’m your host Brad Page, and each episode of this show, I pick one of my favorite songs and we attempt to discover what makes it a great song. Musical knowledge or experience is not a prerequisite here, we don’t get technical. This show is for anybody who loves music.

On this edition, we’re taking a look at one of the most epic songs to ever hit Number One, and probably the most unconventional track that Motown ever released. This is the Temptations with “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”.

Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield were one of Motown’s most successful songwriting teams. Whitfield was also their most adventurous producer. He was the man credited with creating the sound of “psychedelic soul”. Whitfield and Strong wrote “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” sometime in 1971. Whitfield had composed the music and recorded a basic track, and gave the tape to Strong with the suggestion that he come up with some lyrics that were fun. But as Strong listened to the tape over and over, he heard it differently. In particular, he thought that the bass part sounded like someone struggling to make sense out of confusion. He started to think about kids he knew who had been abandoned by their fathers. When they asked their mother what happened to their dad, what would they say? So Strong ran with that idea, finished up the lyrics and presented them to Whitfield, who liked them.

So they completed the song and then set about recording it with a band called The Undisputed Truth. It was this version that was released as a single in early 1972.

[Music]

That’s actually a pretty cool production, but it wasn’t a hit. Whitfield still believed in the song though, and he convinced Barry Gordy to let him have another crack at it. So Whitfield completely reworked the song and went back into the studio with Motown’s legendary Funk brothers and rerecorded it. They turned it into an epic twelve-minute instrumental, a track full of atmosphere. Whitfield brought in Paul Riser to arrange the strings. Riser thought the track was full of mystery and suspense, and he treated his arrangement like he was scoring a movie. The soundtrack to “Shaft” had come out a year before, and Reiser was definitely inspired by that.

Now here’s where the Temptations come in. By 1971, The Temptations had gone through some major changes. Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks had left, leaving Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards and Melvin Franklin to carry on with two new members, Richard Street and Damon Harris.

The Temptations had had quite a few hits with Norman Whitfield producing, including two number ones. One of them, “I Can’t Get Next To You”, we covered here back in episode number 45.

But the Temptations were growing tired of Whitfield’s experimentations, which made the guys feel more like bit-players on their own records. They wanted to return to the romantic numbers like “My Girl” that they used to do. So, when Whitfield brought them into the studio and played them the twelve-minute track to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, they said, “No way, we are not doing that”. They argued for about 20 minutes when the group’s leader, Otis Williams, finally said, “Okay, we’ll give it a try”.

So let’s get into the track. Now, usually my preference is to go with the album version rather than the single, but this time we’re going to go with the single. The album version, at twelve minutes long, is a bit much for this podcast, and considering that the single itself is seven minutes, that gives us plenty to work with.

Here’s how the track begins. Just bass and hi-hat. Let’s hear just the bass, because that’s really the heart of the song.

The next thing you hear are the strings arranged by Paul Reiser. They add some real drama to the song. You can hear how Reiser was orchestrating this like a soundtrack to a movie, rather than just a pop song.

Here come the guitars, played by Paul Warren and Wah-Wah Watson. The two guitar parts play off each other and all the other instruments throughout the whole song. They’re always doing something interesting.

Added here, a trumpet played by Maurice Davis. Davis had already finished recording his part and was on his way out when Norman Whitfield called him back into the studio. He wanted to try recording it with a heavy echo on it. So, Davis re-recorded his whole part using the echo, which adds another layer of spookiness to the song.

Hand claps on the off beats. Notice how the hand claps stop there? The wah-wah guitar flutters and then the harp comes back in. All these parts flowing in and out. The wah-wah guitar drops out, the strings build and then drop out, too.

We are 1 minute and 55 seconds into the song, and here is where the vocals finally come in. On the album version, it’s almost four minutes before the vocals come in. You can see why The Temptations felt like they were being sidelined, but that intro really sets a mood, doesn’t it?

We’ll take a look at the vocals in a minute, but first, let’s just listen to what those guitars are doing in the background.

The Motown guitar players were usually relegated to just playing rhythm, but here they get to stretch out a bit.

Now the vocals. The first voice we hear is Dennis Edwards. Edwards and Whitfield clashed from the start about this song. Edwards kept trying to put more into his vocal performance, but Whitfield kept telling him to hold back, to tone it down. Edwards did not like to be restrained, but Whitfield wanted it dialed way down. That was making Edwards pretty mad. But Whitfield got the take he wanted.

Edwards was also upset because he was taking the lyrics a little personally. This verse about the 3rd of September being the day that Daddy died hit a little close to home. Now, the legend has it that Edward’s own father died on September 3, but that’s not actually true. His dad died on October 3. Still, it was close enough for Edwards to be concerned about it. And Whitfield had to convince him that it wasn’t personal. Barrett Strong had only written the lyrics that way because he liked the way it sounded–the date was purely a coincidence.

Let’s hear more of the guitars behind this verse.

Here come those hand claps again.

Maurice Davis’s trumpet, saturated with echo, appears again. The strings are going to take over for a few measures. Let’s hear what they’re doing. Reiser used nine violins, four violas, three cellos, and that harp for the string section.

In classic Temptations fashion, the lead vocals are shared by different singers. This works particularly well on this song, because it sounds like multiple children telling their stories. It’s not just the story of one boy, it’s the voices of all those kids who were let down by their fathers.

This next verse features Richard Street, who replaced Paul Williams in 1971, as well as Melvin Franklin, whose deep bass voice was the foundation for so many great Temptations songs.

I love that part.

Let’s zero in on Richard street’s vocals.

Wah-wah Watson is getting in some licks behind this verse. Let’s hear some of that.

And here’s the second chorus.

I like that guitar lick there. The final verse features Damon Harris, who replaced Eddie Kendricks when he quit in ‘71. Harris was the youngest member of the band, and while Kendrick’s falsetto was one of the Temptation’s trademarks, Damon sounds great here.

Damon gets the last word.

Let’s listen a little more to that backing track.

“Papa Was a Rolling Stone”. During their career, The Temptations had four number one hits on the top 100: “My Girl”, “I Can’t Get Next To You”, “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”. Three of those four were written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and produced by Whitfield.

That was a magic combination, but it didn’t last. Within a few years, Whitfield and The Temptations would stop working together, and Whitfield would leave Motown. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” would be the last number one hit for The Temptations, but it was their crowning achievement.

Thanks for listening to this edition of the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast. New episodes are released on the 1st and the 15th of every month, so we’ll be back soon with another show. You can find all of our previous shows on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com, as well as on Spotify, Apple, Podcasts, Google, Amazon, wherever you can find podcasts. And if you’re looking for more music podcasts, check out the other great shows on the Pantheon Network.

Drop us a line on Facebook, Podchaser, or send email to lovethatsongpodcast@gmail.com.

Don’t forget to support the artists you love by buying their music. And thanks for joining me for this episode on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by The Temptations.

Few albums in history have had the cultural impact as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Universally loved by music fans around the world, it’s an album like none before it. Few records have captured the zeitgeist and remained as relevant as this album — Marvin’s crowning achievement. On this episode, we take a deep dive into the title cut to discover the elements that make up this masterpiece.

“What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye, Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson) Copyright 1970, 1971, 1972 Jobette Music Co, Inc.

If you liked this episode, check out our previous episode featuring the great Marvin Gaye:
lovethatsongpodcast.com/marvin-gaye-i-heard-it-through-the-grapevine/

TRANSCRIPT:

Before you were even born, you were listening. In the womb, you can’t see the world, you can’t smell it or touch it, but you can hear it. Sound is your first connection to the world that awaits you.  My name is Brad Page, and this is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network. On this show, we use our ears to explore the world of music together, on our mission to discover how songs are put together and what makes a great song work.

On this episode, we’ll explore one of the most important records ever made. There are very few albums you can say that truly changed music history. This is one of them. The title song from Marvin Gaye’s classic album, “What’s Going On”.

[Music]

Marvin Gaye seemed like a guy who had it all together. By 1970, he was Motown’s number one male solo artist, the Prince of Motown. He was smooth, he was cool, but underneath that cool exterior, he was a tortured soul. He was racked with self-doubt and shame, raised by a violent, abusive father who was a preacher, a so-called “Man of God” who was a total hypocrite that beat his wife and kids. And Marvin received the worst of the beatings. Thanks to music, Marvin was able to escape from the mistreatment, but I think he always carried some guilt about abandoning the rest of his family.

Marvin’s first taste of success came when he hooked up with Harvey Fuqua from The Moonglows, and Marvin kind of became his protege. But then Fuqua linked up with the Gordy family, and basically sold Marvin’s contract to Barry Gordy and Motown. Marvin was essentially traded for money. That’s a simplification, but you get the gist of it. And that whole experience left Marvin with a sense of disillusionment with the music business, before he even cut his first song for Motown.

But he established himself, had a string of hits as a solo artist, along with duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, and most successfully, with Tammi Terrell. The two of them recorded a bunch of classic duets together, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.

[Music]

And “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”.

Then on October 14, 1967, Tammi collapsed into Marvin’s arms on-stage during a performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. She was eventually diagnosed with a brain tumor; she would die a few years later.

But the Motown machine had to keep churning out those hits, and Marvin was even forced into recording some fake duets with Valerie Simpson pretending to be Tammi Terrell. This just made Marvin even more disillusioned and depressed.

To make matters worse, along the way, Marvin had married Barry Gordy’s sister, Anna, and their marriage was tumultuous, to say the least.

In 1968, Marvin had a huge hit with “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. We covered that song in-depth, back in episode number 62 of this podcast. If you haven’t heard that one, go check it out. It’s a good one.

“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was not only a number one smash hit, it also became the biggest selling hit in Motown’s history. And it was a record that Barry Gordy didn’t even want to release. In fact, he fought against it.

In the end, Marvin was ambivalent about his success with “Grapevine”, but one thing it did prove to him was that Barry Gordy and his Motown machine could be wrong. They could make mistakes. Their judgment wasn’t always right. And that empowered Marvin to start making the album that he really wanted to make.

The reverberations from the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were still being felt in 1970, along with the riot at the Democratic National Convention and the ongoing effects of the war in Vietnam.  Tammi Terrell had died in March 1970; Marvin spoke at the funeral very emotionally. Then, in June 1970, Marvin headed into the studio to record “What’s Going On”.

Obie Benson was a member of the Four Tops, and when they were in California in May of ‘69, he had witnessed the police attacking protesters in Berkeley, and that inspired him to start writing “What’s Going On” with his songwriting partner, Al Cleveland. Now, the Four Tops were not interested in recording what they saw as a “protest song”, so Cleveland and Benson brought the song to Marvin, and Marvin refined the melody and added to the lyrics.

Marvin’s brother Frankie had served in Vietnam and brought home some horrific stories that he shared with Marvin. Those emotions work their way into “What’s Going On”. Marvin was able to channel his feelings about his brother’s pain, his own sadness over the loss of Tammi Terrell, and his frustrations over his career. All of it was poured into “What’s Going On”.

Marvin Gaye, Obi Benson and Al Cleveland share writing credit on “What’s Going On”. The musicians on the track include members from the legendary Motown session players called the Funk Brothers, including bass player James Jamerson. But Marvin wanted to mix it up, too, so he brought in some outside musicians. Rather than use the regular Funk Brothers drummers, he brought in a drummer with big band experience, Chet Forrest.

The song opens with the sound of a small crowd, like we’ve just joined some friends at a party.

[Music]

Those voices include some of the Funk Brothers and two members of the Detroit Lions, Mel Farr and Lim Barley, friends of Marvin’s, who he invited into Motown Studio, the “Hitsville” studio. The voice you can hear loudly proclaiming, “Hey, man, what’s happening?” Is LG Stover, a Motown employee and a trusted friend of Marvin’s.

Now that saxophone part that opens the song is one of the most recognizable in history. Marvin worked hard with the arranger and the musicians to refine the tracks exactly as he imagined them, but he also knew magic when he heard it. And there are two key features of this song that were completely accidental, but so perfect that Marvin kept them and they became essential elements of the song:

Eli Fontaine was an alto sax player that Marvin brought in to play on the song. Eli listened to the track and then played a little bit on his saxophone just to warm up. Then he told Marvin he was ready to record. Marvin said, “Nope, you can go home. We got what we needed.” What Eli had played for his warm up, just noodling around, was perfect. What was captured on tape and became part of music history isn’t even a first take– it’s a rehearsal. That part is so memorable, it’s one of the main hooks of the song, and that is the only time that that part appears in the song, just right there at the very beginning. Let’s listen to the whole intro again into the first verse.

[Music]

OK, let’s spend some time on how these tracks were put together, because there’s a lot of layers here. There are two guitar parts. I’m going to play them together, but pan them left and right so that you can differentiate them, but also see how they work together.

[Music]

There’s a few tracks of drums and percussion. Here’s the drum part.

[Music]

There’s a conga part

[Music]

And also this percussion part.

[Music]

There’s a piano part, which I believe was played by Marvin himself.

[Music]

And there’s vibes, played by Jack Brokensha

[Music]

There’s more saxophone on there, too

[Music]

And of course, the bass played by James Jameson.

[Music]

There are also background vocals that are present through the whole song

[Music]

So now that we’ve heard those parts in isolation, let’s go back and listen to that verse again and see how all those parts come together.

[Music]

I’m just curious if any of those parts jump out at you now, now that you know what they sound like individually, let’s hear the second verse.

[Music]

I mentioned before that there were two serendipitous events that ended up becoming a big part of the song. One was that saxophone introduction. The other was a mistake by engineer Ken Sands. Marvin had recorded two different takes for the lead vocal, and he wanted to hear them separately and decide which one to keep. But Ken Sands accidentally played them both back at the same time, and when Marvin heard them together, he liked the way that sounded, the way the two parts weaved around each other. And he decided to keep both vocal parts. This multi layered vocal style became a sound that Marvin would return to throughout his career.

[Music]

That multi-layered vocal style became a technique that Marvin would return to on many songs throughout the rest of his career. Now we’re heading towards the chorus and there’s a couple of new elements added here. There are some finger snaps:

[Music]

And a string section, arranged by David Van De Pitte, whose arrangements were a critical part of dozens and dozens of Motown hits.

[Music]

Let’s listen to it all together now.

[Music]

In a song full of great moments, this may be my favorite part. The way Marvin syncopates the phrases “picket lines and picket signs”, the sensitivity in his voice when he sings “don’t punish me with brutality”, something he had plenty of personal experience with. And the way his voice just soars when he hits that chorus, it’s total perfection.

[Music]

And barely audible in the mix, you can hear Marvin add this:

[Music]

The next section is an instrumental break where you’d normally hear something like a sax solo. But here, Marvin fills the space with his own voice.

[Music]

And let’s just take a minute to appreciate the groove that the bass, drums and percussion are laying down behind this party.

[Music]

And here’s the last verse.

[Music]

Notice right there that Marvin says, “I’ll tell you what’s going on”.

[Music]

One small little detail that I actually think is important: most people probably interpret the title of this song as a question “What’s going on?”, question mark. But in the actual song title, there is no question mark. In fact, I’ve heard that in the original lyrics, there was a question mark, but by the time they finished the song, Marvin removed it intentionally. The song, and the album, isn’t phrased as a question. There’s no punctuation. So the song can be read as a question and a statement. Marvin is asking us what’s happening, but he’s also telling you what he’s seeing and feeling. He’s being a reporter, a journalist in song, documenting the world around him.

[Music]

And if you ever wondered what the crowd was talking about in the background there, well, here you go.

[Music]

At one point, you can hear a voice refer to someone as “Gates”. That was Marvin’s nickname, Gates. Let’s hear that final passage one more time.

[Music]

And let’s listen to James Jameson’s bass one more time.

[Music]

Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”

As the legend goes, when Berry Gordy first heard the song, he said it was the worst thing he’d ever heard and refused to release it. Well, Marvin told them that he wouldn’t record a single thing for Motown until they released this song. He even decided that he’d just quit music and play football for the Detroit Lions. He’d never actually played football before, but that didn’t seem to deter him.

Eventually, Marvin won out. There was just too much demand for a new Marvin Gaye single, and Marvin wasn’t going to give them anything else. “What’s Going On” was their only option. So they released it.

By then, Berry Gordy had pretty much relocated to California, so it was easier for other people to get the single out without Gordy’s approval. Story goes that Gordy was furious that they released the song, until he discovered that it had sold a hundred thousand copies on the first day… then he changed his tune.

Both the single and the album have sold millions of copies and they frequently topped the list of greatest songs and greatest albums of all time. But beyond the charts and the stats, this album endures because it touches people, it moves people, it inspires people. It’s bigger than Motown, it’s bigger than Marvin.

Marvin Gaye would lead a troubled life that ended in tragedy. But this album that he created is a singular perfect piece of art. Nobody can do better than that.

I used a number of sources to research this episode, but my main resource was a book called “What’s Going On” by Ben Edmonds. I think it’s out of print now, might be a little tough to find, but it’s a fantastic book. Highly recommended.

Thanks for listening and for being a part of this journey. The adventure continues in two weeks when we’re back with another new episode. Until then, visit us on Facebook or on Podchaser, where you can leave comments and feedback. And if you enjoyed the show, share it with your friends and follow the show so that you never miss an episode.

We are but one show on the Pantheon Podcast network. Be sure to check out some of their other great shows. And remember to support the artists and the music you love.

Only love can conquer hate. That was Marvin Gaye and “What’s Going On”.

After after two years of COVID-19 shutdowns & false starts, live music is beginning to return. Let’s celebrate the power & importance of live music by looking back at a critical moment in history:

April 5, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated the day before. America was on edge and riots were breaking out in cities across the country. But the city of Boston, MA held it together. Why? Because the Godfather Of Soul– James Brown— was in town.

(Above Photo: Thomas Atkins (left) and Kevin White (right) speak with James Brown at the Boston Garden, April 5, 1968. It was one day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Atkins, Brown and White are credited with keeping the city quiet in the aftermath.)

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Wilson Pickett only recorded 9 songs during his time at Stax in Memphis, but they were defining records. “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” is the last of those singles, released in May 1966. Though not as well-known as “In The Midnight Hour”, “634-5789” or “Mustang Sally”, this song is a stone-cold classic in my book. Let’s see what it’s made of.

“Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do)” (Eddie Floyd, Steve Cropper, Wilson Pickett) Copyright 1966 Irving Music and Pronto Music Inc.

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Sugar Pie DeSanto (born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton) was a ton of dynamite in a tiny 4′ 11″ frame… and still is, at the time of this recording. Let’s have a listen to this super-fun classic track, recorded with the great Etta James in 1966.

“In The Basement (Part 1)” (Billy Davis, Raynard Miner & Carl Smith) Copyright 1966 Chevis Music Inc BMI

TRANSCRIPT:
Welcome to the party, friends! This is the “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast, coming to you on the Pantheon Podcast Network. I’m your Master of Ceremonies, Brad Page, and on this episode we’re tossing out all the pretensions and going to the place where we can dance to any music we choose– “In The Basement” with Sugar Pie DeSanto

Umpeylia Marsema Balinton was born in Brooklyn New York in 1935, to a Filipino father and an African-American mother. Her mom had been a concert pianist, so she had music in her blood. Her family moved to San Francisco when she was four. She was close friends with Jamesetta Hawkins, who was discovered by Johnny Otis and renamed Etta James. Umpeylia won a number of talent contests in San Francisco and LA, and eventually Johnny Otis turned his sights to her, signing her in 1955 and changing her name to Sugar Pie DeSanto.

Sugar Pie stood only 4 feet 11 inches tall, but she packed an explosive amount of talent in that small frame. She had a giant voice and boundless energy, doing backflips on stage. Her first hit came in 1960 with “I Want To Know”, which reached number 4 on Billboard’s R&B chart.

[Music]

Sugar Pie moved to Chicago and signed with Chess Records, where she recorded more singles. Her biggest hit with Chess was a track called “Soulful Dress” in 1964.

[Music]

In 1966, she reunited with her friend Etta James for a duet called “Do I Make Myself Clear”:

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After the success of that single, Sugar Pie and Etta James went back into the studio in ’66 to cut another song together: “In The Basement”.

“In The Basement” didn’t turn out to be a big hit, but I think it’s one of the all-time great dance party songs– right up there with “Dancing In The Street”. “In The Basement” was written and produced by Billy Davis, Raynard Miner and Carl Smith. The song kicks off with a snare drum hit, then a classic bass guitar riff, doubled on the piano:

[Music]

You can tell the party’s already started with the crowd noise in the background. After two bars of the intro riff, there’s a short one-beat pause then the intro riff transitions into the main riff. It is a bit of a different riff, and that’s where the guitar joins in.

[Music]

This is where the first verse comes in, and to set the stage, here’s what Etta James said about the recording of this track:

“I flew up to Chicago where I recorded with my old friend from San Francisco, nutty wild-ass Sugar Pie DeSanto. I dug singing “Into The Basement”, a song that took us back to when we were kids; cutting up, smearing on lipstick, kissing on boys, being bad gang girls with our homemade tattoos and floppy jeans. With happy voices chattering in the background, the record is an all-night-long party, with funky music blaring.”

That pretty much says it all. Here’s the first verse:

[Music]

“Where can you go when the money gets low? In the basement.” Kids with no money, no transportation, too young for the clubs… what do you do? You get together in a friend’s basement where you can turn up the music and have a space of your own.

Now, granted, we were suburban white kids, far from the inner city where I grew up, but we did basically the same thing; hanging out in the basement, playing tunes. A couple times a year, we’d set up our guitars and drums in a friend’s basement and play a show for a dozen of our closest friends. Those moments of escape, freedom and promise… pretty universal experience for most American teenagers, I think.

"Where can you dance to any music you choose, 
you got the comforts of home and a nightclub, too.  
There's no cover charge or fee, 
and the food and drinks are free, 
down in the basement."

That’s the second verse.

[Music]

I love the scream and the backing vocals here.

Let’s bring up the vocals on this last verse

[Music]

“In The Basement” by Sugar Pie DeSanto and Etta James.

Sugar Pie, like so many artists, never made it to the big-time commercially. She’s had to eke out a career over 50 years now, but she kept on going. In 2008, she received the Pioneer Award by the Rhythm And Blues Foundation. At the ceremony, she performed “I Want To Know”, her first hit. And in the middle of the song, she got down on the floor and did a backward somersault.

At the time of this recording, Sugar Pie DeSanto is 85 years old, still going strong. She’s overcome a lot in her life: drugs, alcohol, and tragedy– she was married five times, twice to the same man, Jesse Davis, who died in a fire at their apartment in 2006. Sugar Pie said “He saved my life, but he couldn’t save his own”.

If you’d like to hear more of Sugar Pie DeSanto, there’s a great compilation CD called “Go Go Power: The Complete Chess Singles” that I highly recommend.

Thank you for being a part of this episode. The “I’m In Love With That Song” podcast will be back again soon! Find us on Facebook, where you can write a review or leave a comment; you can find all of our previous episodes on our website, lovethatsongpodcast.com.

This show is part of the Pantheon Network of podcasts, where you’ll find discussions and conversations on all the great bands and artists. Thanks again for listening, and let’s keep the party going with “In The Basement” by Sugar Pie de Santo.