The Death of a Legend…the Motown Sound

It has been a sad week for me.

I purposely did not post because I wanted to think about how I would honor the life of someone that had  been such a part of my childhood years.

So many times when we think of our childhood memories, we think of friends, family and the events that surrounded us.  It might have been playing football or baseball, swimming at the lake, going to Cedar Point, or just hanging out with your friends in the neighborhood.

For me, my childhood memories were filled with with sound.  When I hear these “sounds” today, I am instantly taken back in my mind to the 1960’s and 70’s.  When I hear these “sounds”, I can remember where I was at when I first heard it.  I can smell the freshly mowed grass of the yard all my friends and I played in. These special sounds…were the sounds of Motown Music.

In those days, long before FM Stereo, the only radio station that was of importance was CKLW. “The BIG 8” as it was called back then.  It was a loud, glitzy noise-making radio. Everything was shouted — even the news. The 50,000-watt AM radio giant spewed rock and roll and hyped-news across 28 states and mid-Canada.  It broadcast from across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario.  But it was Detroit’s station.  I will never forget the tag line that the DJ’s would say, “C-K-L-W, The Motor Cit-eeeee”.

The capital of the music world was not Nashville, nor was it Los Angeles … back then it was Detroit.

The style…the sound…the hits.

It was Motown… it was everywhere and it was ours.

On Tuesday, September 16, 2008 a legend died.  Norman Whitfield passed away.  For those of you who do not know who he is, he was the Godfather of the Motown sound.  He wrote many of the hits that came from the Motown sound.  Songs that everyone of us have heard at one time or another.  Songs that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will hear in the future.

So many times the singer gets the credit for the success of a song.  But I have always looked past the singer.  I read the liner notes, that fine print that most people never read in a CD or “record” as I like to say.  For me the importance/significance of a song is found in the writing. I look to see who wrote the song.  I try to relate to what the writer was feeling or what the message of the lyrics are saying to me.  I then look to see who the musicians are.  For they are the ones that carry that message.  The singer is just the vehicle in which that message is presented…the music is the body and the lyrics are the real heart and soul of a song.

It is even more magical when the music and lyrics are written by the same artist.  It is then, that we see the true soul of that writer. Norman Whitfield was that kind artist. He wrote the music and he wrote the lyrics.

The word legend is too easily used today.  It seems anyone who has had a hit song at one time or another is considered a legend.  Not for me.  I think we need to reserve the use of the term for those who really deserve the title. Norman Whitfield indeed deserves and has earned the title of “legend”.

In a larger sense, the legend of the “MOTOWN SOUND” of that era has died with him.  Indeed, a very sad week…

But then again, maybe it’s just me…

I have attached just a short list of songs he penned… I have posted a few links of my favorites.

Click on the links below and enjoy…the songs and the life of a true legend. He will be missed.

“I Heard it Through the Grape Vine”

I Wish it Would Rain”

“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”


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