Motown (along with Doo Wop) has been the soundtrack of my life. It’s the 50th anniversary of the founding of Motown and I have been lost in YouTube-ville digging out my favorites. I’d love to serve you up a dozen clips, but I’ve controlled myself. Here are three that are meaningful for me.
DUSTY AND MARTHA
Dusty Springfield was a brilliant British talent, tortured by the need to hide her lesbian sexuality. A white convent girl from small-town England, her biographer Lucy O’Brien wrote of her: “In true diva style, she had a succession of wigs that she named Cilla, Sandie and Lulu, and a host of gay fans who appreciated the fact that she modeled herself on drag queens. During a Gay Liberation march in the late 1960s, for instance, about 20 gay men led the parade dressed up as Dusty.”
Martha Reeves, of Martha and the Vandellas (“Dancing in the Street”) was a brilliant Motown artist who became very close to Dusty. As one of the top-selling Motown groups (1963-72), Dusty admired them from afar. The feeling was mutual. Wikipedia reminds us that, “Martha often cites her performance highlights as one being a performance with Vandellas worshiper, Brit soul singer Dusty Springfield, on the UK show, Ready, Steady, Go!”
Here is a clip (3:06) from that loving performance:
GLADYS KNIGHT AND THE PIPS
After I moved to California in 1972, I got to see Gladys Knight and the Pips (1953-89) live a number of times. I was mesmerized by her backup singers, the Pips: her brother Merald "Bubba" Knight and their cousins Edward Patten and William Guest. As an old Doo Wop freak without much of a voice, I always identified with the backup dancers. Few were slicker than the Pips and I imagined myself in those matching white or rhinestone suits doing the steps with the other guys. It was like my favorite cross-dressing sexual fantasy.
Here’s a clip (5:29) from a 1972 performance for “Save the Children” that shows some of those fine shuffles:
Finally, I have been a life-long Marvin Gaye fan. Besides the moisture-producing sensuality of his music, especially all those astounding duets with Kim Weston, Mary Wells and most of all Tammi Terrell, Marvin was a brave political innovator whose number one Motown ranking helped him fight to break Motown’s restrictions. His anti-war “What’s Going On,” his urban critique "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" and his sexual liberation song “Sexual Healing” cut new ground. But I have played Marvin’s “Let’s Get it On” in almost every seduction scene I’ve mounted since he brought it out in 1973.
Marvin had his demons – he wrestled with drugs and sexuality. In 1984 Marvin Gaye’s fundamentalist father murdered him (don’t get me started). Here he is (6:26) in 1980 at the Montreux Jazz Festival: