Category Archives: Marvin Gaye

Norman Whitfield

Surely, my initial appreciation for songwriter Norman Whitfield came at that juncture in the career of Motown’s Temptations in 1968 when David Ruffin, the lead vocalist on “My Girl” and most of the hits up to that point, left the group and was replaced by Dennis Edwards. At the same time, Whitfield became the exclusive producer for the group, and implemented what he freely admitted that he stole from Sly Stone: the multi-lead singer motif, best exemplified by the hit “I Can’t Get Next To You”, number 31 on this list. At the same time, he, along with Barrett Strong (who, incidentally sang the first Motown semi-hit, Money) wrote virtually all of their hits: “Cloud Nine”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion”, “Just My Imagination”, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” to name just a few of the “psychedelic soul” tunes.

But in fact, Norman ended up writing or co-writing tunes for the early Temps (“Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”, “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep”) and many others:

Bright Lights, Big City

I Heard It Through the Grapevine. This is the Pips version, which went to #2 in 1967. Rumor has it that it was covered later to even greater effect.

He Was Really Saying Something

(I Know) I’m Losing You

Too many fish in the sea

Needle in a Haystack

Not to mention:

Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)

Too Busy Thinking About My Baby

Smiling Faces Sometimes


Really Saying Something

Car Wash

Norman Whitfield died Tuesday, September 16 at the age of 67. He suffered from complications of diabetes and had recently emerged from a coma, The Detroit Free Press reported.

Whitfield, with Barrett Strong, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. Whitfield and Strong won the Grammy in 1972 for best R&B song for the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Whitfield won another Grammy in 1976 for best original TV or motion picture score for the hit, “Car Wash.”

Motown great Smokey Robinson called Whitfield “one of the most prolific songwriters and record producers of our time. He will live forever through his great music.”

Carry On, Wayward Son

One of our former library interns, Ben, is leaving town. He’s moving to Wichita, Kansas to take a job. Albany is a tough market for a new librarian because there’s a library school here, and moving away is often the best option. The folks in Wichita had called and I gave a positive reference for him.

He had asked his friends whether he should stay or should he go. I advocated for his departure, not because I was getting rid of him – as he [kiddingly?] suggested, but because his life was simple enough (no house, no spouse, etc.) that leaving was easier than it might be later in life.

Last night, he had a BBQ/auction. Well, not everything was auctioned, only “the most prized and valuable items” were auctioned. Other items were sold in a more traditional manner — “priced and sold to the fist taker”. I think he meant “first”, for there wasn’t anything worth fighting over.

He is a lapsed blogger who may get back to it after he gets settled in his new job.

Ben leaves for Wichita tomorrow. Good luck.
The Marvin Gaye segment of American Masters premieres on PBS, starting May 7; check your local listing. Also being shown this week, the American Masters piece on Aretha Franklin.
Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.