West Grand Blog

Seduction by Stateside 228

That funny feeling’s got me amazed

 

This is somewhat personal, but I’ll be brief.

      One year ago this week, Thames & Hudson published Motown: The Sound of Young America, my book with Barney Ales, in the U.S. (and if you bought one, thank you). It was launched at the Motown Museum in Detroit, an event unimaginable by the teenager who had heard “Heat Wave” 53 years earlier. Particularly as the star of that record was there when the party started.

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      Martha Reeves was leaning against a pillar in an upstairs room of the museum as I spoke to guests. She looked as Martha can – stern, dispassionate, still weighing a verdict – until I described my encounter with “Heat Wave” on Radio Luxembourg in the autumn of 1963.

      This was the first Motown single released in Britain through EMI Records, the result of a newly-minted deal with the Detroit firm. “Heat Wave” arrived in a blue-paper sleeve, with a dollar symbol forming the first letter of the Stateside label on which it was pressed. On the record, silver letters blazed out of a black background to reveal the identity of singers, songwriters, producers: Martha & the Vandellas. Holland—Dozier—Holland. Holland—Dozier. It was “A Tamla-Motown Recording” on Stateside 228.

      Those were the technicalities. To describe in words the emotional impact of hearing music so vivid, so impossibly exciting, so exotic is best not attempted, this or any other day.

      At the Motown Museum, Martha seemed pleased to learn why “Heat Wave” had mattered so much to youngsters thousands of miles away from the Motor City. A smile crossed her face and, a little later, she introduced original Vandellas Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard and her sister Lois Reeves, gracious ladies whose presence also raised the room temperature.

Lee Alan, Gordon Prince, Miller London (photo: Andre Smith)

Lee Alan, Gordon Prince, Miller London (photo: Andre Smith)

      Other welcome faces were at the party that night, including the sole survivor of the gods who I came to worship in the wake of Stateside 228, Duke Fakir of the Four Tops. There were onetime Motown staffers Gordon Prince and Miller London, whose earlier willingness to recall their lifetimes’ experience had helped shape the book. And also Harvey Fuqua’s son, Michael, who seemed to appreciate the acknowledgement of his father’s importance to the house that Berry built; Lee Alan, the storied Detroit radio DJ who went to high school with Barney Ales and even once made a record for Motown; and Coraleen Rawls and other virtuous keepers of the flame at the museum.

      (While I rejoiced in the music of Hitsville in the 1960s, Coraleen adored the Beatles. She was always going to marry Paul McCartney, you know. And today, downstairs in Studio A, the museum shows off the grand piano – originally from the Golden World premises, a/k/a Studio B – which was refurbished at McCartney’s expense.)

      The one disappointment last September was the absence of Barney Ales himself, advised against travelling from Los Angeles to Detroit because he had been recently, and uncharacteristically, unwell. He wished to be present, of course, to take the plaudits, to renew acquaintances, to share memories of being part of the most famous record company of the 20th century. (Save the argument about that description for another time, if argument there must be.)

Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, Adam White, Lois Reeves (photo: Andre Smith)

Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, Martha Reeves, Adam White, Lois Reeves (photo: Andre Smith)

      Barney and I first met 50 years ago, in a London pub down the road from the Saville Theatre, after a show by Gladys Knight & the Pips, Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers and Chris Clark. Over the decades, we stayed in touch, and the ambition – born more than ten years ago – to illuminate the work of Motown’s backroom believers would have failed but for the access he granted, the hours of interviews he endured, the friendships he called upon, the photos he excavated. Fortunately, Barney’s offspring were able to join the launch party for Motown: The Sound of Young America, and especially Brett Ales, who did the most to ensure that his father’s story came to be told.

      Moreover, Detroit media’s welcome for the book was generous, thanks to Susan Whitall at the Detroit News, Gary Graff at the Oakland Press, Brian McCollum at the Detroit Free Press, and WDET-FM’s Ann Delisi and Amanda LeClaire, among others. It was an unforgettable few days.

      So there: a more personal edition of West Grand Blog than usual. "Now that funny feeling has me amazed/Don't know what to do, my head's in a haze/It's like a heat wave."

Adam White2 Comments