Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Norman Whitfield (1941-2008)

Songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield – the man who took the Motown Sound beyond sweet soul and into psychedelic funk – died yesterday in Los Angeles. He was 67 and had suffered with diabetes.

Whitfield co-wrote such Motown classics as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “War” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”

Influenced by the early music of Funkadelic, he changed up the style of the Temptations in 1968, and he scored gold records with “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion.”

After his Motown years, Norman Whitfield produced a string of R&B hits for Rose Royce.

To honor Mr. Whitfield, I’m streaming a few cover versions of hit songs he wrote with his longtime collaborator, Barrett Strong. (Roger Penzabene also co-wrote “I Wish It Would Rain.”) Click the song titles below to listen.

1. “I Wish It Would Rain” – Bobby Womack

2. “Smiling Faces Sometimes” – Joan Osborne & Isaac Hayes

3. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – Joe Cocker

4. “I Can’t Get Next to You” – Al Green

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

RIP

jjbrock said...

UBM Whitfield was one of the greatest in the music business. I've only heard the orignal artists version of the songs you have listed. But, my favor would be Smiling Face by, The Undisputed Truth. (1971)Memories!

Anonymous said...

I heard he was in the hospital. A true loss. This guy wrote Papa Was A Rolling Stone. That minute long intro was worth putting him in the songwriters hall of fame.

Undercover Black Man said...

JJBrock, that's one of my favorites too. When I was a little kid and started buying my own 45s, "Smiling Faces" was one of the ones I bought.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Psychadelic soul lost another great this week.

My favorite thang Norm did was Side One of Psyhcadelic Shack, especially Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind.

Folks like Norm, Isaac, and early Funkadelic contributed to large consumptions of cheeba in darkened rooms with the headphones on.

James said...

Wow. A true great. I'd heard he was on his last legs, too, so I wasn't shocked.

I love the story of listening to Funkadelic and getting his mind blown, leading to Cloud Nine and so many more.

He also taught us that white boys could play that funky music with Rare Earth.

Second only to Smokey for Motown hits. (Sorry HDH!)

Undercover Black Man said...

^ I forgot about Rare Earth!

bklyn6 said...

Influenced by the early music of Funkadelic, he changed up the style of the Temptations in 1968, and he scored gold records with “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion.”

Cool.

R.I.P. Mr. Whitfield.

tws392000 said...

I seem to remember reading that he was also influenced by the sounds of Sly & The Family Stone (particularly using all of the group's vocals) that were coming out around the time he started changing the Temptations' sound. A true great, he will surely be missed.