Monday, July 30, 2012

Some Things You Just Take For Granted

I had something planned for today, another list of sorts that I found interesting and thought you might, too. But it has to wait.

Yesterday, I found two records in a box marked "Various Artists." They were volumes one and two of a series called "Tamla Motown Presents 20 Mod Classics," each containing original mono mixes of all our favorite Motown hits. But this isn't another music geek "mono is better/vinyl rules" post." It's about "Heat Wave."

This Martha & The Vandellas track has become so ingrained in our lives, if we hear it on a car radio or TV commercial, it seems to just pass through us like the sound of planes flying overhead.  But yesterday, as "Heat Wave" filled my living room, I was thwacked into a surprise state of euphoria.

We know all about Motown, the hit-making machine that was the Funk Brothers, and the songs that have become the soundtrack of our lives. But how many of us at this point, really pay attention to these hits and their structure, and the intricacies of the rhythm tracks or the percussion or the background vocals? We all know Martha. But damn, listen to those Vandellas! Miss Reeves is pretty damn smitten by this boy she's going on about, but he must really be something else, because Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard are egging her on, and its their vocals that push Martha and this song to a fever pitch. At one point, you could almost feel the Vandellas jealousy.


(Yeah, because if you don't go for it, one of us will!)

This song kicks off like a gun shot and never lets up. Every player in the opening 30 second intro can be heard--drums, guitars, handclaps, bass, baritone sax, piano--it's all so precise and all so very hot.

It's genius record-making.

It's very easy for me to slip into a rant about then versus now. I've done it many times before and I know I have it in me to do it again. (And I will, do not worry yourselves.) But I will hold back that urge and just say, don't take these 40 and 50 year old hits for granted. Many of these songs have lost their edge thanks to over-exposure in bad places, like romantic comedies starring Katherine Heigl. But these songs, like "Heat Wave," have so much happening in less than 3 minutes, I can't help but feel that "making a hit record" is a lost art.



FD13NYC said...

Yes it is a lost art from the by gone days of the 60's. As for today, they are still making hits. Only by the likes of Katie Perry and Nicki Minja, yecchh! No heart, just money.

The Motown material does and always will sound terrific. A lot of heart went into making these records, with a nothing to lose attitude.

You should post more of these gems. This collection you unearthed sounds very interesting. Maybe a weekend mix?

Ken D said...

Wow, always one of my favorite songs. A nice way to start the week. Thanks.

As to whether "making a hit record" is a lost art, I highly recommend this piece from the New Yorker a few months ago:

From the article it's clear that even basic terms like "recording," "lyrics," "musician," and "songwriting" bear almost no resemblance to the meanings they had in the Motown era.
And yeah, personally I prefer the old school...

Derek D. said...

Sounds fantastic is all I can muster up... I may not have ever just sat there and "listened" to it, except in a Coppertone ad - and I probably know The Who version better.


A perfect pop song like Heat Wave is a wonder to behold.

Thanks Sal -- keep cool!

buzzbabyjesus said...

Motown will do that to you. It's called "Soul" for a reason.

Anonymous said...

Great Mix . Love the Buckinghams tune , but it'sd the stereo version . Here's ther Mono

mckee said...

As usual, Sal, your piece on Heat Wave helped me to hear it as if it were the first time.

Thanks for that.

Jeff McKee
Richmond, VA

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Jeff. It's what I was hoping for.

Les said...

I was convinced that you were wrong about the airplane noise. I scoffed. Thought, "Nope. I love that song and pause to enjoy it every time it comes along." Then I realized that I probably haven't heard it without some sort of distraction. Driving. Cleaning. Children. So I plugged in my ear buds and tuned out everything else. I'll be damned if I didn't get goosebumps.