Favourite Songs #5

Published February 11, 2011

It's been Motown Week here at Casa Palm. Which means that I've been playing my self-compiled 14-disc CD set of Motown favourites.

Along with a friend of mine I visited the original Motown recording studios in Detroit a few years ago. I still can't get over the fact that I've actually been where the majority of all those classic songs were recorded, even if the guided tour had a completely embarrassing moment where "the guys" all had to sing 'My Girl' a cappella. Completely inappropriate for me and my traveling companion, quite apart from the fact that we didn't really come there to sing, but to to gawk at the studio and marvel at all the wonderful music created in there. But, as the guide pointed out, we had now sung in the Motown recording studio, and no-one will ever be able to take that away from us.

But back to the songs. How could I choose five favourites out of the betweeen 350 and 400 songs featured in my "box set"? I guess I will just point out five slightly lesser-known gems for your discovery or re-discovery.

Does Your Mama Know About Me by Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers
Popular music history is full of strange anomalies. Bobby Taylor's claim to fame seems to be that he brought the Jackson Five to Motown's attention, and band member and co-writer of this tune, Tommy Chong, is mainly known for being half of stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong. As all sensible people will agree, they should both be best known for this lovely slice of soul balladry. Sounds like Philly soul before it even existed. Was this really recorded in Detroit?

Can I Get A Witness by Marvin Gaye
It's said about some singers that they could sing the phone book and people would still be completely captivated. For me, Marvin Gaye is one of the few singers who could probably get away with that. 'Can I Get A Witness' is not exactly a "hidden gem", but, hey, this energetic 1963 recording is less famous than 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine'. And by the way, shouldn't all pop TV look like this?

Midnight Johnny by Liz Lands
The sound in the youtube clip of this 1964 single is quite distorted, but hopefully the quality of this should-have-been-a-massive-hit shines through anyway. You could also try this crackly old vinyl clip and get a Liz Lands history lesson as a bonus.

I Can't Give Back The Love I Feel For You by Rita Wright
Better known, perhaps, as Syreeta, the singer was married to Stevie Wonder in the early 1970s and enjoyed a fruitful musical collaboration with him. Her biggest hit as a performer was, I believe, the Billy Preston duet 'With You I'm Born Again', but this, her debut Motown single, must surely rank as one of the best things she ever did. This youtube "vintage vinyl" clip is a little tinny, so I recommend that you seek it out on iTunes or wherever.

All I Do Is Think About You by Tammi Terrell
This song has a complicated history. It was first released by its composer, Stevie Wonder, on his Hotter Than July album in 1980. A lovely version, to be sure. But what a revelation to finally get to hear this original interpretation of the song, recorded in late 1965 and early 1966 but not released until 2002. The Motown vaults seem to be brimming with brilliant recordings that for one reason or another were never released at the time.