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C. A. Moore
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Marvin Gaye recorded with several female vocalists during his distinquished career at Motown Records. During the 1960s and 1970s, Gaye recorded with Oma Page, Valerie Simpson, Diana Ross and Tammi Terrell, who is regarded by many fans and critics to be Gaye's best and most complimentary duet partner. But this disc from the British branch of Motown highlights Marvin Gaye collaborating with two of his first female singing partners: the late Mary Wells and Kim Weston. Combined on one disc, this collection of tunes reveals Gaye at his most soulful best crooning in tandem with two female vocalists who brought out the best in his musical style. During the early 1960s, Mary Wells was Motown Record's first superstar. She'd recorded a respectable string of hits when the decision was made to pair her with Gaye, who by 1964, was beginning his own streak of hit records. No doubt inspired by the success of other successful duetting vocalists including Dinah Washington and Brook Benton and Ray Charles and Betty Carter, Motown Records paired its top female singer with its top male vocalist. The result was "TOGETHER," a rare treat for fans of both singers. The cover sported the two young vocalists gazing romantically into each others' eyes. Wells' Cleopatra styled hairdo contrasted nicely with Gaye's All-American, Boy-Next-Door image. The musical sounds they made were just as complimentary. The disc begins with their hit single "Once Upon A Time," a lilting, cha-cha ballad that's further distiguished by mellow vibe work courtesy of musician Dave Hamilton. The single reached the pop Top 20, but was hurt from larger sales when the nation's top R&B jocks flipped it, preferring its B-Side, "What's The Matter With You Baby," which had a more rocking and soulful beat. To capitalize on the hit single, Motown producers quickly crafted a showcase album for the two singers. "TOGETHER" found Gaye and Wells swinging on such jazz and pop standards as "Deed I Do," "Until I Met You," "You Came A Long Way From St. Louis," "Squeeze Me," "The Late, Late Show" and "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons." On most of the songs, Gaye sounded hip, jazzy and aggressive, while Wells often cooed and responded to Gaye's belting with a lot of soul. She allowed her partner set the pace which gave him freedom to improvise and play with his phrasings. Gaye, a natural vocal talent, brought out the best in Wells, making her sound a bit more confident and hip (in the jazz sense of the word) than she probably really was. Afterall, Wells wasn't even 21 years old when this album was recorded. Listen to the playful interplay between the two singers on the swinging "The Late, Late Show" where the musicians and the mood becomes so energized, Gaye unleashes a soulful squall right out of Brother Ray Charles' handbook. Fans were robbed of further "Marvin and Mary" duets when she left Motown for what she hoped would be a more successful financial deal at 20th Century Records. It was not to be, but that's another story. Fortunately, Motown didn't give up on the duet idea, and in 1965, it next paired Gaye with singer Kim Weston. Weston, a fiery vocalist, excelled at sophisticated and adult blues and pop tunes, which were often created for her by her then-husband Mickey Stevenson. Weston had travelled with Gaye as a supporting act in his entertainment revue. It was on the road where a musical rapport between the two singers was established. "TAKE TWO" is even better than "Together" and featured a substantial hit in "It Takes Two," which has since become a pop standard and a staple in the nightclub acts of many female/male duets including Donny and Marie Osmond and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. On "TAKE TWO" Marvin and Kim tackle a variety of material, including Motown compositions such as "It's Got to be A Miracle," "I Want You 'Round," the bouncy "Baby Say Yes," "What Good Am I Without You," and "Baby, I Need Your Loving."Marvin and Kim also covered standards including "Secret Love," and "Till There Was You," from "The Music Man." Unlike Wells, Weston was an expressive singer with a smokey and often husky tone. But she could belt with the best of them because her roots were in the church - in gospel music. And where Mary Wells had cooed seductively to Gaye, allowing him to shine on their duets, Weston often challenged him, sometimes matching him note for note. This caused Gaye to sing with a bit more soulful grit than he usually did and occasionally made some of the duets sound more like a battle or a test of lung power. Still, the outcome was often satisfying with both singers giving their all-out best. But eventually, once again, Gaye found himself without a singing partner when Weston and her hubby Stevenson were enticed to leave Motown for a deal at MGM. "It Takes Two" rose in popularity on the nation's pop charts in early 1967, but Weston had left the label. During a performance on "American Bandstand" Gaye was forced to sing his hit with an oversized rag doll. Luckily, Gaye would continue to find success with female singing partners. After Weston and Wells, he would record a string of memorable love duets with Tammi Terrell, who as stated earlier is widely regarded as his best partner. However, this disc captures Gaye singing with two of his earliest partners from the 1960s and serves as a warm-up for the Gaye & Terrell partnership that would come later in the decade.
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Marvin Gaye enjoyed his parallel career as a duettist with Motown's favoured ladies, and enjoyed commercial success with each, but was always ultimately unlucky with his vocal partners. First, Mary Wells left the label for Twentieth Century Fox, then Kim Weston left with husband-producer Mickey Stevenson to sign to MGM, and Tammi Terrell left this world altogether, having tragically collapsed in his arms onstage with a fatal brain tumour.
Both Together, the album he made with Mary Wells, and Take Two, made with Kim Weston, were re-mastered entirely in stereo and released on this single CD in 2001, in the 2 Classic Albums 1 CD series.
Together was recorded between February and October 1963 and released in April 1964, at the same time as the Top Twenty single Once Upon A Time/What's The Matter With You Baby, and was sufficiently successful for a follow up to have been planned, though it is an unremarkable, if by no means bad album, the pair seldom reaching the heights that either had achieved individually. Apart from the two songs on the single, all the material was standard material, re-interpretations of songs well known at the time by Connie Francis, Ella Fitzgerald, the Dominoes, Sarah Vaughan and so on. Needless to say, the singing is smooth and faultless and the Funk Brothers never less than excellent, but perhaps all missing that certain spark to lift the enterprise.
Mary Wells' sudden departure caused seismic waves at Motown, but after it had caught its breath, the choice of Kim as Marvin's new singing partner must have been quite swift as the B-side of their first joint single, What Good Am I Without You/I Want You 'Round, was cut less than two months later. It must have been a natural choice as Kim had been a supporting artist on the Marvin Gaye Revue concerts that year.
I Want You 'Round was a Smokey Robinson song that Smokey had tried out with Mary Wells the year before but not released. Another early try-out was James Brown's I Love You, Yes I Do which Kim Weston had recorded alone in April 1964 and to which Marvin Gaye added his new vocals that September. Although a few tracks were recorded during 1965, and a one-sided acetate of Baby Say Yes was circulating towards the end of the year, after the failure of What Good Am I Without You in the charts no follow-up single appeared until December 1966, when It Takes Two became a huge smash. It remains the song for which Kim Weston is best known, and was the only single to be taken from the album Take Two after its release in August 1966. It looks as if the sessions of March 1966, during which It Takes Two was completed, marked the last time Kim Weston recorded for the label.
The album veered slightly awkwardly between the trademark hot Motown groove of the in-house compositions, many co-written by Mickey Stevenson, and the standards thought by Berry Gordy to appeal to the more "adult" buyers - songs like 'Til There Was You and Secret Love, blessed though they were by some modern arrangements and brilliant playing from the Funk Brothers. Kim's vocals were strong though, and were the foil that coaxed some competitively inspired performances from Marvin. The piecemeal recording process, however, stretched over more than two years, gave a lack of cohesion to the album.
Take Two is alternatively available on Take Two, with seven bonus tracks, in a re-sequenced version.