Mr Unpredictable: ‘Psychedelic Soul’

❉ As with all Bob Stanley’s artist-based compilations this treasure trove feels like a labour of love.

Bob Stanley’s new compilation for Ace Records follows on from his previous excellent Thom Bell collection Ready or Not and compiles the work of  legendary writer and producer Norman Whitfield. As a songwriter Whitfield co-wrote countless Motown standards in the sixties such as Needle in a Haystack. I Heard it through the Grapevine, Pride and Joy and many more.

Starting at Motown in 1959 (initially getting noticed as a tambourine player of all things) Whitfield became one of Berry Gordy’s main creative background staff and eventually inherited production and writing duties for the Temptations (taking over from Smokey Robinson). It was with the Temptations that he developed the original production  techniques and ambitious sound that came to be known as Psychedelic Soul.

In parallel and maybe influenced by the sounds Sly and the Family Stone were making at the same time Whitfield’s expansive ambitious productions throughout 69 to 71 took soul music in new directions. Starting with the revolutionary Cloud Nine the Temptations recorded  many classic tracks and albums with Whitfield including the magnificent Papa was a rollin’ stone and Psychedelic Shack which are both on this compilation.

Whitfield was called “Mr Unpredictable” by some of the group and the collaboration lasted for a golden period before creative differences led to the Temptations and Whitfield severing their links on good terms. The group were reportedly worried about becoming just “the Norman Whitfield singers”. He had however taken them in interesting directions which they never again matched.

As with all Bob Stanley’s artist based compilations this treasure trove feels like a labour of love. We get the absolute stone-cold classics such as Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the grapevine, Rose Royce’s Love don’t live here anymore and Edwin Starr’s War (originally recorded by the Temptations actually) along with what may be new discoveries to listeners.

Rose Royce were very much Whitfield’s own group as were the Undisputed Truth (a group that I was only dimly aware of but which I now want to hear more of). Both were signed to his own (Warner Brothers backed) label Whitfield Records which he started when he left Motown. Two of the best tracks on the album are in fact by the Undisputed Truth. The hook heavy You +Me = Love later became a disco classic and a 12-inch dance favourite while I saw you when I met her   is fantastically atmospheric.

Whitfield often reworked his own songs and productions with different artists. There is an interesting Junior Walker saxophone, drums and backing vocal version of Rose Royce’s Wishing on a star. There’s also the brilliant stomping Yvonne Fair version of the classic Gladys Knight “wedding song” It should have been me.  The compilation also gives a taste of the smoother later Whitfield productions. The smoochy Good Lovin’ by Mammatapee and Love is what you make it by Masterpiece are excellent examples of this on the album. Meanwhile Come with me by Rare Earth makes Donna Summer and Je t’ aime  look …well tame actually  and shouldn’t be played at full volume if you’ve got near neighbours!

As with most Ace compilations, particularly the ones compiled by Bob Stanley, Psychedelic Soul -Produced by Norman Whitfield makes you want to discover or rediscover more of the stuff on here. Another fantastic compilation.

❉ Various Artists: ‘Psychedelic Soul – Produced By Norman Whitfield’ (Ace Records/Kent CDTOP 504) is released 27 August 2010 from Ace Records, RRP £12.92 (CD). CLICK HERE to pre-order from Ace!

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

Become a patron at Patreon!