Undisputed Truth? For Norman Whitfield

During the last months the obituaries for legendary black musicians have become a sad and recurring event.
Today news were heard through the grapevine that Norman Whitfield, one of - if not THE - most important producers of all time has died.

Although the news has not yet been officially confirmed, his Wiki page already notes September 16 as the date of his death.

With "I heard it through the Grapevine", Whitfield is responsible for one of my absolute favourite pieces of music ever. If you listen to the original version which was first recorded by Gladys Knight & The Pips, you will hear a good and finely honed r&b song.
However, one year later Marvin Gaye´s expert vocalisation and Whitfields brilliant production methods turned the same song, which was co-written by Whitfield, into a magical and amazing piece of aural perfection. I can still listen to "Grapevine" over and over without ever fully grasping the vaporising effect of the genius backing vocals.

Many years ago I taped an alternative mix off the radio which has become my favourite version of the song. Here the beat is mixed into the foreground and sounds much crisper and driving. The backing vocals are also louder while slightly sounding out of tune. All this does not overpower Marvin´s voice. The song becomes even more urgent and paranoid in this mix. Sadly, I have no idea which version or mix this is and I don´t have it in digital form.

The alternative mix that is available on Youtube goes the opposite way. It almost leaves out the drums entirely only to bring them in to full effect towards the end of the song:

I decided to post another, slightly more obscure example of Whitfield´s magic. I saw you when you met her by The Undisputed Truth is a dark, epic drama condensed into a 5 minute exorcism.

The brooding and foreboding sound borrows from Isaac Hayes´ sprawling excursions and acted as a blueprint for darker hip-hop and trip-hop of the nineties.

Norman Whitfield retired from producing exactly ten years ago.

No comments: