Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield.

Label: Kent Soul.

Format: CD.

In 1968, producer Norman Whitfield began to pioneer the groundbreaking psychedelic soul sound at Motown. This was a stylistic departure for the label and the start of a new and exciting chapter for Motown. 

By then, Norman Whitfield had been at Motown  for nine years and had risen to become one of the company’s top producers. However, over the next few years he would go on to even greater things at Motown and then when he founded his own label Whitfield Records where he continued to pioneer psychedelic soul. This he continued to do throughout the seventies and early eighties with an array of top artists and groups which feature on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield which was recently released on CD by Kent Soul as part of their Producer Series.

Cloud Nine.

Norman Whitfield experiment with psychedelic soul began in 1968, when The Temptations were recording their ninth studio album Cloud Nine. By then, Otis Williams of The Temptations had realised that the time had come for the group to update their sound. This came about after he had watched the progress of Sly and The Family Stone and discussed the changes in soul music with his friend Kenneth Gamble. The two friends were won over by the funkier sound and multi-lead vocals. This was the future of soul and Otis Williams knew it and it was a case of The Temptations adapting their sound to stay relevant.

Producer Norman Whitfield worked with The Temptations on their new album Cloud Nine where he pioneered a new genre, psychedelic soul. The album was its fusion of funk, soul and psychedelia and was seen as groundbreaking. It was also a stylistic departure for the group. Despite this, Cloud Nine found favour with critics and record buyers reaching reached number four on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. This was just the start. 

The second single from Cloud Nine was Runaway Child, Running Wild, which reached number six on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. By now, The Temptations were on a roll.

To top it off, Cloud Nine won  The Temptations a Grammy Award. The Temptations’ decision to reinvent their sound was vindicated, and their psychedelic soul era began.

Puzzle People.

Just seven months later, on September the ’23rd’ 1969, The Temptations returned with another album of psychedelic soul, Puzzle People. It was the followup to the live album The Temptations Show. Critical acclaim greeted the release of Puzzle People which reached number five on the US Billboard 200 and again, topped he US R&B charts. Things got even better.

When I Can’t Get Next to You was released as the second single from Puzzle People, it topped both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. The Temptations’ decision to embrace psychedelia was continuing to pay off. They had placed their faith in pioneering producer Norman Whitfield and it had paid off. 

Psychedelic Shack.

On March the ‘6th’ 1970, The Temptations released their twelfth album Psychedelic Shack where they fully embraced psychedelic soul. The Temptations ad turned their back on the traditional Motown sound on what was their most psychedelic album. This groundbreaking album was released to widespread plaudits and praise reaching number nine on the US Billboard 200 and again, topping the US R&B charts. This was the third consecutive number one album in the US R&B charts since The Temptations embraced psychedelic soul. Despite this, not everyone was happy.

Some of The Temptations’ fans weren’t impressed by the band’s new psychedelic soul sound. One man in particular felt the backlash…producer Norman Whitfield. 

Some of The Temptations’ fans felt that Norman Whitfield was using the band, as his own personal plaything and that the band was taking part in what was essentially a musical experiment. These were ridiculous accusations as Otis Williams wanted to explore the new psychedelic soul sound. This didn’t seem to matter to the fans who didn’t understand the new psychedelic soul sound and preferred The Temptations’ older tried and tested sound. However, Otis Williams knew the group had to change their sound to stay relevant and Norman Whitfield had transformed the not just the group’s sound but their ailing fortunes.

The Undisputed Truth.

Norman Whitfield was stung by the accusation and criticism from the vociferous fans of The Temptations. So much so, that he decided to put together a new group which would allow him to continue to experiment with psychedelic soul.This new group was The Undisputed Truth, which featured lead singer Joe “Pep” Harris, while Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans contributed additional lead vocals and background vocals.  

The Undisputed Truth would release their eponymous debut album in July 1971. It was the first of six albums the group released between 1971 and 1975. On these albums producer Norman Whitfield continued to pioneer the psychedelic soul sound. 

Having first worked with The Temptations in 1968, Norman Whitfield went on to work with some of Motown’s other top artists later that year. This included with Marvin Gaye on his In The Groove album which featured I Heard It Through The Grapevine which topped the UK charts in 1970. This future classic opens Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield and sets the bar high on for the musical journey that follows.

In 1968, Norman Whitfield also worked  Gladys Knight and The Pips who were signed to Motown’s Soul SS imprint. The group had yet to make a breakthrough and hadn’t  worked with the producer often. This time he was going to take their music in a new direction when he produced their cover of Bacharach and David song’s The Look Of Love for their Silk ’N’ Soul album. It features a needy, pleading vocal full of longing while the arrangement glistens and shimmers and has an almost otherworldly sound that shows another side to a classic track. This hidden gem is a welcome addition to a compilation that features many a psychedelic soul classic.

This includes two by The Temptations who were pioneers of the psychedelic soul sound. The first to feature on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield is the single version with the intro of Psychedelic Shack which was released on Gordy in 1969. It was another groundbreaking single from The Temptations who in 1968 knew they had to reinvent their sound to stay relevant. 

The following year, 1970, Norman Whitfield worked with Edwin Starr producing his War and Peace album which was released on Gordy. It featured War which the producer had written with Barnett Strong for The Temptations. They passed up the opportunity to record the song fearing that the songs powerful  lyrics full of social comment would alienate many record buyers in middle America. When Edwin Starr released the single it reached number three in the UK and after selling over 500,000 copies topped the US charts. The anthemic psychedelic soul single then went on to win a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance and was the biggest hit of Edwin Starr’s career. None of this would’ve been possible without Norman Whitfield who had the Midas touch. 

By 1972, they were one of the leading lights of psychedelic soul movement when they released Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone on Gordy. The single would become a Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone and was one The Temptations’ finest produced by the genre’s architect Norman Whitfield.

By 1973, Norman Whitfield had been working with the rock group Rare Earth since 1960. The group had started off as The Sunliners but changed their name in 1968. Sadly, this didn’t result in a  change of fortune for a talented and vastly underrated group. Their contribution to the compilation is Come With Me a hidden gem from the Detroit based group.

1974 turned out to be turning point for Norman Whitfield. After producing The Temptations’ album Masterpiece the group decided to work without a producer. Their mentor would soon start to put together a new group The Undisputed Truth. Before that, he produced two more albums.

This includes Yvonne Fair’s album The Bitch Is Black which was released on Motown in 1974. Without doubt, the highlight of the album was It Should’ve Been Me which Norman Whitfield and William Stevenson penned. This underrated song was reissued in the UK in 1976 reaching number five. Sadly, that was as good as it got for Yvonne Fair at Motown. The problem was there were so many artists signed to the label by then. She was one of many artists who was lost in the Motown machine and at another label may have enjoyed the success her talent deserved.

By 1974, David Ruffin had just finished recording his fourth solo album Me’n Rock’n Roll Are Here To Stay with Norman Whitfield taking charge of production. The former Temptations’ frontman struts his way through the title track which is a string drenched slice of good time psychedelic soul. This was very different to his previous albums and was a stylistic departure from David Ruffin and sadly, his psychedelic soul experiment is all too often overlooked.

That wasn’t the case with a new group that Norman Whitfield was about to work with. He was no longer working with The Temptations and had  been stung by the criticism of their fans who hadn’t embraced their new sound. This resulted in the pioneering producer putting together a new group The Undisputed Truth. 

The new trio released three albums between 1974 and 1976. This included Higher Than High in 1975, which was their sophomore album and the last they released on Gordy. It featured the Norman Whitfield composition I Saw You When You Met Her which is one of the highlights of the album. Sadly, the album wasn’t a commercial success despite the quality of music on the album. It was a case of what might have been as The Undisputed Truth signed to Norman Whitfield’s new label.

After leaving Motown the pondering producer founded Whitfield Records which he was determined would be a small label. However, he still wanted to record and produce groundbreaking music of the highest quality. To do that, he knew he could call upon the session players he knew from his days at Motown. They would play a part in the new label’s sound.

So would the new lineup of The Undisputed Truth. Only Joe Harris remanded from the original lineup when the group recorded the Norman Whitfield composition You + Me = Love. It was released as a single in 1976 and stalled at forty-eight in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-seven in the US R&B charts. This hook-laden soulful dancer featured on the album Method To The Madness and was one of the album’s highlights. It’s a welcome addition to the compilation and is a track that has stood the test of time.

By 1977, Norman Whitfield was working with Rose Royce. He had been introduced to the group in 1973 by Edwin Starr. Three years when they recorded the soundtrack for the film Car Wash Norman Whitfield took charge of production. The title track topped the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts in 1976 and launched their career.  This was just the start for the group.

A year later in 1977, Rose Royce returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album In Full Bloom. Norman Whitfield who was a prolific songwriter wrote most of the album including Ooh Boy. When it was released as a single in 1977 it reached seventy-two in the US Billboard 100 and three in US R&B charts. This oft-overlooked song features a beautiful vocal full of emotion from Gwen Dickey and an arrangement that benefits from lush strings and horns.

The other contribution from Rose Royce on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield is taken from their third album Strikes Again. Love Don’t Live Here Anymore is a  heartachingly beautiful ballad that’s one of the highlights of the compilation. It’s a tale of love gone wrong and features a soul-baring vocal from  Gwen Dickey who sounds as if she’s lived the lyrics. Incredibly when the single was released in 1978 it only reached thirty-two in the US Billboard 100 and five in US R&B charts. However, in the UK it reached number two and nowadays is regarded as a seventies soul classic.

It wasn’t just Rose Royce that Norman Whitfield worked with during 1978. Now running his own small independent label he had signed a number of artists and was writing and producing them. This included Willie Hutch who released his album In Tune on the Whitfield Records in 1978. It featured  And All Hell Broke Loose which was penned by Norman Whitfield. It’s a  moody, atmospheric and genre-melting example of psychedelic soul from another underrated album.

In 1978, the vocal group Masterpiece released their debut album The Girl’s Alright With Me on Whitfield Records. It was produced by Norman Whitfield and featured Love Is What You Make It which was penned by Robert Daniels. Sadly, when this beautiful romanic ballad was released as a single it failed commercially. Masterpiece never released any further albums and became a footnote in the Whitfield Records’ story. However, their finest hour was The Girl’s Alright With Me which sounds as good in 2021 as it did in 1978.

In 1978, Norman Whitfield was working with Spyder Turner on his album Music Web. It featured I’ve Been Waitin’ which was penned by Miles Gregory who had also written Love Don’t Live Here Anymore for Rose Royce. With Norman Whitfield who was by then a hugely successful producer Spyder Turner must have thought he had a hit on his hands when it was released by Whitfield Records as a single. Sadly, this stirring slice of string drenched slice of psychedelic soul never came close to troubling the charts

As the seventies drew to a close, Norman Whitfield was working with a familiar face Jr Walker, who he had worked with at Motown in the sixties. By 1979, the saxophonist had signed to Whitfield Records and was recording the album Back Street Boogie. It featured a gorgeous, sultry and wistful sounding cover of Rose Royce’s Wishing On A Star. So good is the song it’s worth seeking out a copy of what was Jr Walker’s only album for the label.

Norman Whitfield had enjoyed a great deal of commercial success with vocal groups since his career began in the sixties. In 1980, he produced two albums by Mammatapee which were both released that year. This includes their eponymous debut album which features the uber soulful ballad Good Lovin’.  It’s one of the highlights of an underrated and often overlooked album from the Whitfield Records’ back catalogue.

By 1981, Norman Whitfield had been working with Stargard since 1977 and had written their US R&B number one single Which Way Is Up. When It was released in late 1977 it launched the group’s career and four years later the Stargard and Norman Whitfield partnership was still going strong. They recorded their fourth album Back 2 Back which featured Just One Love. It’s a beautiful ballad with lush cascading strings that compliment the tender, heartfelt vocal. When the album was released in 1981 Stargard were still signed to Whitfield Records but the album was released via Warner Bros which was the label’s distributor. Despite this, the album failed to replicate the success of their debut album despite the quality of songs like Just One Love.

The eighteen tracks that feature on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield are a tantalising taste of the pioneering producer’s work. His career spanned thirty years and saw him work with some of the biggest names in music.  This included during his time at Motown and at his own label Whitfield Records where he continued to pioneer the psychedelic soul. 

Norman Whitfield was a prolific songwriter and groundbreaking producer who sadly is sometimes overlooked when music journalists write about the great producers. However, Norman Whitfield deserves to referred to as one of the great producers and the King of psychedelic soul a genre which he pioneered. Others followed in his footsteps but were unable to replicate the sometimes dark and orchestrated sound which became his trademark. His inimitable sound which features on Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield has stood the test of time and is a reminder of one of the great pioneering producers who transformed music and dared to be different.

Psychedelic Soul Produced By Norman Whitfield.

1 Comment

  1. Great read. Norman is new to me, and so are most of these artists. Thanks!

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