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
Not to mention:
Too Busy Thinking About My Baby
Smiling Faces Sometimes
Really Saying Something
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.”