Did You Miss the Motown Feast on BBC4? Me Too ~ Lucky I Taped It

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My life is no longer ruled by the football fixture list or the television schedules. I’m happy with it that way. From 2005 to 2008 I did without a telly altogether, and though I do have one now, I’m still not enslaved to its delights.

Besides, pretty much everything is available whenever I want it, on a plate; youtube, ‘catch up’, BBC iPlayer. Despite this, I still prefer to watch programmes ‘live’, like in the old days, as I know I won’t get around to it within the week. Plus, I am useless at checking the listings in advance of broadcast.

But this Saturday, I looked to see what BBC4 were showing and boy, am I glad I did. I still forgot to set the video until Motor City’s Burning: Detroit from Motown to the Stooges (and the MC5 and beyond to the White Stripes and Eminem) was half-way through, but you can catch it on the iPlayer for another 4 days. It looked pretty interesting, Iggy was fairly eloquent, particularly when noting that Alice Cooper had appropriated their act and “did the units”.

It is depressing, however, to see what has happened to Detroit. I’ve never been there, but imagined its streets would be paved with gold; the city that brought us so much wonderful uplifting music.They’re not; the factories are closed, unemployment sky-high, it’s a ghetto and getting worse.

It was followed by an insightful and saddening doc on Marvin Gaye. I have written here before on my love for his music, and touched briefly on the mess that was his private life. Ruled by an overbearing, cross-dressing, pastor of a father, he was a man who could only associate love with pain.

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Berry Gordy Jr (pictured left), Motown’s “pugilistic boss, ruled with a fist of iron” and rubbished Gaye’s masterpiece, the greatest piece of work in the soul canon, indeed one of the greatest works of any music full stop ~ What’s Going On. Gordy laughed when presented with the tapes, though he admits now how wrong he was.

I guess Gaye is hardly unique in being an artist who has created beauty from intense pain and depression, clouded by drugs and booze in huge quantities. His music lives on way beyond his tragic death (bloody hell, the 25th anniversary is just five weeks away).

Next up was Motown at the BBC, a tried and tested format, which I thought would be a banquet of wonderful music, but turned out to be nothing more than pancake day. Perhaps it’s a reflection on the way things were back then ~ was it all Beatles and Swinging Carnaby St? Were we wary of showcasing black artists? I don’t think so, but the choice of clips and songs was rather underwhelming. Most of the label’s major artists were represented (although no Isleys or Velvelettes), but the Smokey, Stevie and Jackson 5 performances were the ones you always see, and aside from The Four Tops I Can’t help Myself and The Temptations Can’t Get Next to You (pictured top), these were the highlights of a disappointing hour.

Last up was a doc on the Funk Brothers; the backing musicians who have played on more hit records than anyone else alive (excepting Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan). Not seen it yet, and annoyingly, like The History Man (that I forgot was on), is not available on iPlayer. Luckily, I’ve got it taped on good ol’ video ~ Just like the old days!

Here’s a clip of Marvin and the lovely Tammi Terrell, Gaye’s “perfect partner”, who collapsed in his arms on stage in 1967, dying two years later at just 24 of a brain tumour. This featured in far better quality, though alas not in its entirety, in the Gaye documentary, which is also not available on the iPlayer.

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