Sorry, readers; this year’s Which Decade has been a slower, more drawn-out slog than usual, but at least the infrequency of updates has been giving you plenty of time to catch up. Weirdly, a number of you have given a wide berth to the Fleetwood Mac / Edwin Starr / Bobby Brown / A+ / James and Nelly round, and I’m not quite sure why – but there’s still a bit of a tussle going on down there for second and third place, so your votes will still count.
Lower down the list, Kid Cudi’s lead has been steadily eroded by Dr Feelgood, who now draw level in first position. And there’s been a change of place in the Number Eights, as Morrissey overtakes The Prodigy. As for yesterday’s Number Fours, the race couldn’t be tighter – mainly because you can’t seem to decide which song you hate more: “Please Don’t Go”, “I Was Made For Dancin'” or “The Living Years”. Tough choices, people. But will today’s bunch be any easier? Let’s put on our sorting hats! It’s the Number Threes!
1969: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations. (video)
1979: Woman In Love – The Three Degrees. (video)
1989: Love Changes Everything – Michael Ball. (video)
1999: Fly Away – Lenny Kravitz. (video)
2009: Breathe Slow – Alesha Dixon. (video)
Listen to a short medley of all five songs.
For the third time this year, we return to the Classic Sound of Motown™. Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations had joined forces for a TV special in late 1968, performing a selection of covers, and so inevitably there was a spin-off album. Even though “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” wasn’t performed on the TV show, it became the lead single from the album, reaching Number Two in the US and Number Three in the UK.
Unlike almost all Motown hits before it, this is a cover of a non-Motown song, rather than an original in-house composition. Its composers were Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (aided by Jerry Ross), whose golden age came in the 1970s with their work for the Philadelphia International label (Three Degrees, O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes), and perhaps there’s a foretaste of that Philly smoothness in this version.
The Supremes/Tempts project also marked the debut of lead Tempts singer Dennis Edwards, who had been recently drafted in to replace David Ruffin. However, the falsetto lead on this particular track is handled by Eddie Kendricks, with the seldom heard “tenor in the middle” (and my dear personal showbiz friend) Otis Williams handling the spoken word section.
Enough with the history lesson, already. Does it WORK? Well, comparisons with “For Once In My Life” and “Dancing In The Street” aren’t going to do it any favours, and there’s a surprisingly screechy roughness to some of the vocals at times, and the song doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself towards the end – but least some of the scary stalker-ishness of the lyric is redeemed by re-casting it as a duet (i.e. they’re as whacked-out as each other, so they deserve each other), and there’s a collective spirit here which just about stops the whole kaboodle from sliding into cabaret… so I’d say, yes, it does.
Oh, did someone mention The Three Degrees? Our heir to the throne’s favourite pop group was sharing the Top Ten with his grandmother’s Desert Island Disc this week, and enjoying a second wind in the UK charts following their Philly period of 1974-75. Fayette Pinkney had been replaced by Helen Scott in the line-up, and composer/producers Gamble and Huff (yes, them again) had been replaced by Giorgio Moroder and Pete Belotte, better remembered for their work with Donna Summer during the same period.
It’s strange to think that the syrupy cabaret of “Woman In Love” was produced by the same team responsible for “I Feel Love” two years earlier – but it was 1970s Diva Law that all albums needed a smoocher, and so this was shoehorned into the trio’s New Dimensions album alongside the wonderful “Givin’ Up Givin’ In” and the good-but-dated “The Runner”.
God, but I’m yakking on about the history today. So what do we think of the SONG? Historically, I’ve always been conflicted – as the first and the second young gentlemen that were to, ahem, take my fancy (in the physical sense) both loved it dearly. Indeed, the second young gentleman loved Sheila, Helen and Valerie so dearly that he was a fully paid-up member of their fan club. (I’ve seen the newsletters!)
Dubious emotional attachments by proxy aside, I can just about live with most aspects of “Woman In Love” (particularly Sheila Ferguson’s lip-trembling, camp-as-tits lip-synch in the YouTube clip) – except that gloopy, mood-killing sax solo (Eighties, here we come!), and except the trifling matter of the lyrical sentiment, which can be boiled down to “I’m a doormat! And I’m grateful for scraps!”
Or – and this only occurred to me last night – is the apparent self-abasement actually a passive-agressive cover tactic? (“Oh don’t mind ME. No, go on! Be as much of HEARTLESS BASTARD as you like!”) If so, then All Power To You, Sister. If not, then Stand Up For Your Love Rights, Change That Stupid Lock, You Deserve BETTER!
And so to our third consecutive song with “love” in the title, and our second brush this year with the tunesmanship of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Taken from the musical Aspects of Love, this provided Michael Ball with his first hit single, and his only major single to date – whereas on the albums front, Ball has had major and sustained success from 1992 onwards.
It’s fair to say that my anticipation for “Love Changes Everything” wasn’t exactly sky high. Musical Theatre is emphatically NOT my bag – still less so, when Lloyd Webber is involved. But, you know what? Twenty years on, I find I can live with this just fine: it’s a sturdy melody, confidently performed with no small measure of charm, backed by a rousing arrangment, and conveying a simple sentiment with which I cannot quibble.
Yes, Michael – love does change everything. And perhaps we’d all be better of with your “aspect” of love than the manipulation of the Supremes/Tempts and the degradation of the Three Degrees. Three cheers for normals!
So far, so reasonable. But that’s partly because I’ve been saving my bile for this UTTER UTTER PILE OF GARBAGE from Lenny Kravitz – an artist who has had his good moments along the way (“It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over”, “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, and the beautiful “Heaven Help”), but who jumped the shark into irredeemable tosspottiness with this, his biggest international hit (it galls me to relate). Why, the damned thing even earned him a Grammy, which tells you all you need to know about the flawed voting processes behind the Grammies.
I mean, come ON, people – these lyrics go far beyond doggerel, into some vile remedial netherworld where even the duffest Eurovision entrant would fear to tread. Did people buy this simply because it was used in a couple of TV ads, leading to Prominent Instore Racking? Were they all DRUGGED? For I shall never understand how else this got to Number One, except to remind myself that we had now entered that dark period in singles chart history where ANYTHING could get to Number One, for a week, if an executive decision had been made to chuck some money at it.
And so we return to matters of the heart, courtesy of Alesha Dixon – formerly of Mis-Teeq, winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2007, and all-around Quite Nice Celebrity, Actually. It’s interesting to compare Alesha’s attitude to a love affair on the rocks – in danger of losing the plot, but still trying to wrest back some dignity and self-control – with the self-harm of the Three Degrees, and in that context I’d take the controlled subtlety of “Breathe Slow” over the gushing cabaret of “Woman In Love” any day…
…BUT, the trouble with “Breathe Slow” is that it Just. Isn’t. Memorable. I’ve played it over and over again in order to get a purchase on it, and invariably my attention starts wandering within the first minute. And besides, we’re not here to rank songs according to how much we approve of their lyrical sentiments… or are we?
My votes: Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations – 5 points. The Three Degrees – 4 points. Alesha Dixon – 3 points. Michael Ball – 2 points. Lenny Kravitz – 1 point.
Over to you. Another free pass for Motown Magic? Or are you all closet Lloyd Webber fans? Hell, we might even have some deranged supporters of Lenny Kravitz in the house. It takes all sorts. Not for me to judge! That’s your job!
Continue reading “Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? – Year 7 – the Number Threes.”