Diving into Disco, Part 7 — Psychedelic Soul

Diving into Disco, Part 7 — Psychedelic Soul


Dedicated to legendary deejay Robert Ouimet (1948-2022)

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The Vietnam War and social upheaval… The times they were (still) a’changin’

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

As the escalation and casualties of the Vietnam War grew, so did the angst and protests of the American public. This included the civil rights movement, which came to a boil with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

In an effort to quell the anger from King’s assassination and prevent rioting, James Brown was hired to perform a televised concert at the Boston Garden. Among his repertoire, he sang “I Got the Feelin’“, the funky title song of an album barely out on the market.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

Some people say we got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lotta of nerve
But I say we won’t quit moving
Until we get what we deserve”

— Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud, James Brown

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Pigmeat Markham
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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud“, released as a single in August, 1968, and an LP a few months later, became an anthem for the Black Power movement that favored the more militant style of self-determination for black people promulgated by Malcolm X over the strategy of non-violent racial integration espoused by King. 

At roughly the same time, comedian-singer Pigmeat Markham introduced the very first funky proto-rap track with “Here Comes the Judge“.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine
Marvin Gaye

That same month, Motown’s Marvin Gaye scored a huge hit with his psychedelic soul version of Gladys Knight & the Pips’ “I Heard It Through the Grapevine“, from his LP In the Groove.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine
James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

Gaye had already gained some success back in April, 1967, for his duet with singer Tammi Terrell on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“, later reprised by Diana Ross.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

“Started my life
In a old, cold run down tenement slum
My father left, he never even married mom”

— Love Child, The Supremes

The song “Love Child“, with its psychedelic soul leanings, sprang to life in September, 1968, and grew to become The Supremes’ third biggest selling single of all time. With its “3-minute” formulaic radio format, Norman Whitfield foresaw the writing on the wall. A true visionary, he sensed the Country’s vibe was a-changin’, and Motown needed to shift gears to stay at the forefront of musical innovation.

It was hard times, needed somethin’ to ease my troubled mind
I left home seeking a job that I never did find
Depressed and down-hearted, I took to cloud nine
I, I, I, I, I, I’m ridin’ high on cloud nine”

— Cloud Nine, The Temptations

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine
Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, 1966

And so did “Cloud Nine” ride high in the singles charts in the fall of 1968. Composed by Barrett Strong and producer Norman Whitfield, it became a game changer and template for The Temptations, and for others. “Cloud Nine” was the first song to use both the wah-wah pedal for psychedelic effect and two drummers who played distinct parts. One drummer handled the sixteenth-note hi-hat rhythm pattern soon to be adopted by 1970s cop shows and blaxploitation movies, while the other focused on the kick, snare, and toms. Together, they created a syncopated loop-based groove that would prove influential. There are two breaks in the track, where in the first instance only the drums and vocals trade places, while in the second, bass and strings are added to increase the tension. Both “breaks”climax into a more conventional 4/4 beat that relieves the pressure. It was also the first Temptations song to feature singer Dennis Edwards in lieu of David Ruffin. The whole vibe was definitely darker and druggier-sounding than the band’s earlier efforts, leading to some reluctance from Berry Gordy to give his stamp of approval to this new darker, progressive formula. The song eventually won the group its first Grammy, proving Whitfield right after all.

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In February, 1969, Cloud Nine, the album, was released. On it, the song “Run Away Child, Running Wild“, with its juxtaposition of piano and distorted guitar in its intro, combined elements of gospel and psychedelic rock. It was not only one of the first ghetto-themed tracks, but, up until then, the most progressive original composition for The Temptations, Motown, and soul music combined. Borrowing a page from Sly and the Family Stone, members shared lead vocals that spanned a wide vocal range. It also included a creative call-and-response interplay between leads and backing vocals, whose rhythmic complexity was unique to the genre. The tempo picks up the pace towards the third of the track with a hi-hat pattern later recycled by Rhythm Heritage for 1975’s “Theme from S.W.A.T.“. Midway through the song, tambourines spice up the energy. Organ and fuzzy electric guitar follow, heating up the tension .

The album’s “I Gotta Find a Way (To Get You Back)” is a cross between the traditional uplifting Motown vibe, with the snare driving the 4/4 beat, and the sort of proto-disco track encountered in 1972-73. The group would pursue this path with “I Can’t Get Next to You“, which appeared on the 1969 album Puzzle People.

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Finally they close the very end of the decade with the high-octane track “Psychedelic Shack“.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine
James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

In November, 1968, Sly and the Family Stone released the double-hit single “Everyday People“, with the funky “Sing a Simple Song” on the B-side. Combining funk with psychedelic soul, “Stand!” would follow, first as a single, then as the title-track on their fourth album. Stand! also featured the wildly energetic “I Want to Take You Higher“, which fuses funk with distortion-driven rock.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine
James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

Meanwhile, “Soul Brother No. 1”, aka James Brown,was never one to “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose“, which was the name of the single he released in January, 1969. Note that the promo single was titled slightly differently than the official “Give It Up and Turnit a Loose”.

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James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine
James Brown, disco music, The Temptations, Motown, Gordy, The 5th Dimension, 60s music, Sly & the Family Stone, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Night & the Pips, Diana Ross, the Isley Brothers, PMA Magazine

Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, the Isley Brothers first came to prominence in August, 1959, with the gospel-infused R&B hit “Shout!”. Nearly ten years later, the formation ventured into funky territory with its single “It’s Your Thing“, from the album It’s Our Thing.

Coming up: The 5th Dimension, among others. But first, we’re gonna take a summer break from this series to explore other musical facets. Until then, “Let the Sunshine In“.


For more from Claude Lemaire visit…

https://soundevaluations.blogspot.ca/

Reference List (Singles, albums, and labels):

  • “I Got the Feelin’” [King Records 45-6155]
  • I Got the Feelin’ [King Records KS-1031]
  • “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” [King Records 45-6187]
  • Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud [King Records 5-1047]
  • “Here Comes the Judge” [Chess 2049]
  • Everybody Needs Love [Soul SS 706]
  • “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” [Soul S-35039]
  • In the Groove [Tamla TS 285]
  • “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” [Tamla T-54176]
  • “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” [Tamla T-54149]
  • United [Tamla TS 277]
  • Diana Ross [Motown MS711]
  • “Love Child” [Motown M 1135]
  • Love Child [Motown MS 670]
  • “Coud Nine” [Gordy G-7081]
  • Cloud Nine [Gordy GS939]
  • “Theme from S.W.A.T.” [ABC Records ABC-12135]
  • Early Riser [RCA Victor KJL1-0154]
  • “I Can’t Get Next to You” [Gordy G-7093]
  • Puzzle People [Gordy S-949]
  • “Psychedelic Shack” [Gordy G 7096]
  • Psychedelic Shack [Gordy GS947]
  • “Everyday People”/”Sing a Simple Song” [Epic 5-10407]
  • “Stand!”/”I Want to Take You Higher” [Epic 5-10450]
  • Stand! [Epic BN 26456]
  • “Give It Up or Turnit a Loose” [King Records 45-6213]
  • Shout! [RCA Victor LPM 2156 or LSP-2156]
  • “It’s Your Thing” [T-Neck TN 901]
  • It’s Our Thing [T-Neck TNS 3001]
  • The Age of Aquarius [Soul CIty SCS-92005]

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.


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