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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Gladys Knight

The other night we were listening to some Motown songs that were on a mix my boyfriend made and I noticed that he didn't seem to have any Gladys Knight on there. He probably just forgot but since she's one of my favorite Motown singers I'm posting about her tonight. A good overview can be read at VH1's site as well. I haven't listened to any of her later music that they describe there, but I do love the work she did with the Pips on the Motown label.

The best greatest hits-style disc I've heard covering Gladys Knight and the Pips is this one, which I stole from my mom and nearly wore it down before she stole it back from me. Their version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" isn't nearly as famous as Marvin Gaye's, but it's just as essential, in my opinion. Their version is more upbeat, but Knight's powerful voice pulls the anger in the song to the front. It's just one of the best screw-you songs I've ever heard.

It's difficult to explain exactly how powerful and emotional Knight's singing is, though I imagine everyone has heard her on classic songs like "Midnight Train to Georgia" and "I Wish It Would Rain", both songs that cause me to tear up a little and then try to pass it off as something caught in my eye. Everyone knows to sing hosannas to the artists who came off the Motown label in the 60's and created an unrivaled pop music canon, but when reading "serious" criticism or history of it or talking with people I notice that a creeping sexism is slowly rewriting the history of the label in that female Motown singers are all but forgotten at times in favor of male singers. Luckily, the everyday fans know better and you're still as likely to hear Gladys Knight or the Supremes on the radio as you are to hear Marvin Gaye or the Temptations.


Blogger Diane said...

I still think "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is one of the great r&b records. I get excited every time I hear the opening riff. I saw Gladys and the Pips in concert many years in ago, and they were great.

So many wonderful singers came out of that era: Gladys, Aretha, Ronnie Spector, and the great and practically forgotten Darlene Love.

In addition to the sexism to which you referred, there is also a subtle form of racism that occurs when singers are classified. For example, one of my favorite singers of all time and one of my childhood idols--LaVern Baker--is constantly referred to as an r&b singer, and she wasn't. In fact, her refusal to do straight r&b was one of the things that messed up her career (the other being that white people kept ruining her songs and then making a fortune off of them).

Not long ago, I was browsing the cd's in Barnes & Noble, and I saw Tina Turner among the "soul" stacks. Tina Turner has never sung soul music in her life. Missing from the stacks, however, were Dusty Springfield and Annie Lennox. If you're black, you automatically get classified as a soul singer. If you're white, you can't get the classification--at least not at Barnes & Noble.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ur an idiot!!!of course tina turner started her fuckin career singing nothing BUT SOUL music!!


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