Thursday, September 18, 2008

Norman Whitfield obituaries

Selections from web posts on Norman Whitfield.

Guardian Music Blog:

Following the death of Isaac Hayes last month, it's been a bad year for fans of heavily orchestrated, epic soul. Hayes and Whitfield were two of my heroes for the way they redrew the boundaries of soul, letting songs thunder and swirl far beyond the traditional pop song format. But while Hayes was a famously charming and outgoing character – hence those frustratingly reductive obits that mentioned Shaft and South Park and left it at that – Whitfield was always a mystery....

Whitfield's big chance came when Holland-Dozier-Holland stormed out of Motown in early 1968 in a row over profit-sharing. Inspired by Sly and the Family Stone's wild arrangements, he wrote the hard-driving, socially aware Cloud Nine with lyricist Barrett Strong (who is himself currently recovering from a stroke) for the Temptations. Despite Gordy's reservations over its perceived pro-drug message, it changed Motown overnight. Suddenly, topical comment and audacious psychedelic arrangements were on the agenda, and Whitfield-Strong were on a roll: Ball of Confusion, Papa Was a Rollin' Stone, War and Smilin' Faces Sometimes all smouldered with tension and paranoia befitting the era of Vietnam, Nixon and the Black Panthers. War actually sounds like war; Ball of Confusion is indeed a ball of confusion.


Whitfield was a longtime Motown producer who during the 1960s and '70s injected rock and psychedelic touches into the label's soul music. Many of his biggest hits were co-written with Barrett Strong, with whom he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

The two 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 "Car Wash."

Of the named songs, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" is by far the most haunting. The Temptations certainly brought the song home, but they had good material.

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