I think I’ll go back to the family

One of the lessons learned (or, more precisely, re-learned) during this extraordinarily challenging time has been “It’s all about family.”

Some of us lost loved ones to the Coronavirus. Some of us were quarantined in confined spaces for many months with family members, which was perhaps a combination of heartwarming and exasperating. Many of us were separated from family by travel restrictions and/or the inability to visit safely.

Now that many of us have been vaccinated and restrictions are being eased or lifted, we feel safer about hopping on an airplane for Ohio and finally reuniting with those we love most. Sad to say, my parents have both passed away, but my wife’s parents are still doing great, as are my wife’s siblings and their families, all living in Cleveland, our home town. My in-laws (affectionately known as “the out-laws”) are my family now, and have been for nearly 37 years.

There are a few missing faces, but here’s the gang of “out-laws” I call my extended family. (December 2018)

Sure, there is some degree of dysfunction, irritation and complexity to nearly every family relationship, but there is also love, wisdom, laughter and a trunkful of memories to unpack and share anew. And we’re so looking forward to that part of it all.

To honor the importance of families, I have assembled a playlist of 15 songs with lyrics that celebrate familial bonds. This being Father’s Day weekend, there are several Dad tunes in the mix but also a few about grandparents, sons, daughters, cousins and others who make up the patchwork quilt of the family unit. I’ve focused primarily on songs that offer a positive outlook, but I’ve snuck in a few with a more irreverent take on all this. Doesn’t every family have a crazy cousin?

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“We Are Family,” Sister Sledge, 1979

This international #1 hit, one of the biggest tunes from the disco era, is the perfect song to kick off this playlist. Sister Sledge is a vocal group consisting of Debbie, Joni, Kim and Kathy Sledge, four sisters out of Philadelphia who received their vocal training from their grandmother Viola Williams, a lyric soprano opera singer. They flirted with success throughout the ’70s but had their breakthrough once paired with the great Niles Rodgers, who produced and wrote “We Are Family”: “All of the people around us, they say, ‘Can they be that close?’ /Just let me state for the record, we’re giving love in a family dose, /We are family, I got all my sisters with me…”

“Good Mother,” Jann Arden, 1994

Arden has one of those puzzling singer-songwriter stories about being very successful in her native Canada but barely making a dent among U.S. listeners. Since 1994, every one of Arden’s 11 albums has reached the Top Ten in Canada, and she has won several Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammys), but her excellent “Living Under June” LP is the only one to chart in the US, peaking at only #76. On that album is “Insensitive,” which reached #12 in the US, but there are also six other big singles that were curiously ignored here, including the heartfelt “Good Mother,” which speaks to the importance of having caring parents: “I’ve got a good mother, and her voice is what keeps me here, /Feet on ground, heart in hand, facing forward, be yourself…”

“Father and Son,” Cat Stevens, 1970

From the breakthrough LP “Tea For the Tillerman,” this poignant track helped establish Stevens as a songwriter to be reckoned with. Its lyrics frame a testy exchange between a father not understanding a son’s desire to break away and shape a new life, and the son who cannot really explain himself but knows that it is time for him to seek his own destiny. Said Stevens/Yusef: “Some people think that I was taking the son’s side, but how could I have sung the father’s side if I couldn’t have understood it, too?” Father: “It’s not time to make a change, just relax, take it easy, /You’re still young, that’s your fault, there’s so much you have to know…” Son: “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen, now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away…”

“Grandma’s Hands,” Bill Withers, 1971

Withers, who had a stuttering problem and got picked on a lot as a kid, said, “Grandmothers tend to gravitate toward the weak kid. I learned how to be kind and really just love somebody from a nice old lady. My favorite song that I’ve written has to be about this favorite old lady of mine.” His record company didn’t care for it, but he insisted, and it has gone on to be covered by multiple artists, from Barbra Streisand and Al Jarreau to Keb’ Mo’ and Livingston Taylor: “Grandma’s hands used to hand me piece of candy, Grandma’s hands picked me up each time I fell, Grandma’s hands, boy, they really came in handy…”

Musgaves (right) and her mother

“Family is Family,” Kacey Musgraves, 2015

Most of my readers know I’m not much of a fan of country music, and Kacey Musgraves debuted in 2013 with “Same Trailer, Different Park,” which won Country Album of the Year. But country music isn’t anywhere near as cornpone and excruciating as it once was, and Musgraves is a wonderful singer and whimsical songwriter who I’ve grown to admire. On her “Pageant Material” LP is a marvelous “tell it like it is” tune about the yin and yang of family relationships: “You might look just like ’em, that don’t mean you’re like ’em, but you love ’em, /Family is family, in church or in prison, you get what you get, and you don’t get to pick ’em, /They might smoke like chimneys, but give you their kidneys, /Yeah, friends come in handy, but family is family…”

“Daughters,” John Mayer, 2003

Although Mayer was pegged early in his career as a singer-songwriter, he always wanted to pursue his passion for blues rock as a very fine electric guitarist. When it came time to release another single from his 2003 LP “Heavier Things,” he resisted selecting the mellow “Daughters,” but it ended up being a #19 hit, and won the Song of the Year Grammy. In his acceptance speech, he dedicated the award to his grandmother, who he said had raised wonderful daughters. He said the lyrics were inspired by an ex-flame who hadn’t had a loving relationship with her father, and it had lasting negative effects: “Fathers, be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do, /Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers, be good to your daughters too…”

Urban and his father

“Song For Dad,” Keith Urban, 2002

Urban is another artist who leans mostly country, but his brand also includes plenty of rock and folk elements that make his music appealing to me. On his fourth LP, 2002’s “Golden Road,” there’s a really touching song called “Song For Dad” that tugs at all the heartstrings, especially from the point of view of a son who now has a family of his own and, as he ages, he sees his father in his own mannerisms, habits and behaviors: “In everything he ever did, he always did with love, and I’m proud today to say I’m his son, /When somebody says ‘I hope I get to meet your dad,’ I just smile and say ‘You already have’…”

“Mother and Child Reunion,” Paul Simon, 1972

On his debut solo LP, Simon took a stab at bringing reggae rhythms to the US Top 40 when he made “Mother and Child Reunion” his first single, and it worked, reaching #4. Simon recalls, “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant one night and on the menu was a dish they called ‘Mother and Child Reunion.’ It was chicken and eggs. I thought, ‘Oh, I gotta use that one.'” He had a friend who had recently lost his mother, and it occurred to Simon how fleeting life could be, and how the two could be reunited in the blink of an eye: “I would not give you false hope on this strange and mournful day, /But the mother and child reunion is only a motion away…only a moment away…”

“Back to the Family,” Jethro Tull, 1969

In Tull’s early years, the band struggled, playing small towns or cheap clubs while living on the road, away from home and loved ones. Songwriter Ian Anderson turned that into a song for their successful second album, “Stand Up,” which gave an honest assessment of how returning to see the family can have its good and bad points, but it begins with that homesick feeling: “Living this life has its problems, so I think that I’ll give it a break, /Oh, I’m going back to the family,`cause I’ve had about all I can take…”

“My Father’s Eyes,” Eric Clapton, 1998

Clapton never knew his father, a Canadian soldier who got Clapton’s British mother pregnant and then disappeared. He later received word the man had died in 1985, and has always wished he had had the chance to meet him at least once. Clapton’s four-year-old son died in an accident in 1991, and at that point, he wrote “My Father’s Eyes,” in which he “tried to describe the parallel between looking in the eyes of my son, and the eyes of the father that I never met, through the chain of our blood”: “As my soul slides down to die, how could I lose him? What did I try? /Bit by bit, I’ve realized that he was here with me, I looked into my father’s eyes…”

“Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” John Prine, 1971

Prine, who died last year at 73, was best known for his songwriting skills, particularly the way he fashioned a beautifully descriptive lyric with just a few phrases. One such song, “Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” appeared on his third album, “Sweet Revenge,” in 1973. It’s an affectionate tribute to his grandfather, “a simple man full of wisdom and honest values,” as Prine once put it. The lyrics provided hints that allowed the listener to piece together a picture of the man: “He built houses, stores and banks, chain-smoked Camel cigarettes and hammered nails in planks, /He was level on the level and shaved even every door, and voted for Eisenhower ’cause Lincoln won the war…”

“Teach Your Children,” Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1970

It always seemed to be Graham Nash whose songs were selected to be the singles from the many gems written by David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young during their relatively brief time together. “Marrakesh Express, “Our House” and “Just a Song Before I Go,” all written by Nash, did well on the charts, but the one that really captures the tender side of this iconic trio/quartet is “Teach Your Children,” with Jerry Garcia’s sweet pedal steel guitar and those trademark harmonies. Its lyrics remind us all to treat our children and parents alike with love and kindness: “Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by… Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by… So just look at them and sigh, and know they love you…”

“Family Man,” Hall and Oates, 1982

Mike Oldfield, the British musician known chiefly for his 1973 tour de force “Tubular Bells,” wrote this tune in 1981 with help from three others and had some chart success in the UK with his own recording of it. Daryl Hall and John Oates recorded a more aggressive cover version that peaked at #6 in the US in the summer of 1983. The lyrics describe a man in a bar who’s approached by a hooker, but he turns her down because he’s a family man. By song’s end, he’s thinking about accepting her offer, but she’s gone: “She had sultry eyes, she made it perfectly plain that she was his for a price, /But he said, ‘leave me alone, I’m a family man, and my bark is much worse than my bite…”

“Cousin Dupree,” Steely Dan, 2000

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the brilliant songwriting duo behind Steely Dan’s catalog, were known for creating edgy, sometimes creepy characters to inhabit their songs, from drug dealers (“Kid Charlemagne”) to porn stars (“Peg”). On their 2000 reunion album, “Two Against Nature,” they came up with a classic called “Cousin Dupree,” which focuses on a sketchy relative who lusts after his pretty cousin he hasn’t seen since they were young kids: “When I see my little cousin Janine walk in, all I could say was ouch, /Honey how you’ve grown, like a rose, /Well, we used to play when we were three, how about a kiss for your cousin Dupree… What’s so strange about a down-home family romance?…

“Granny Got a Boob Job,” Rowdy Cousin, 2010

Using the moniker Rowdy Cousin, an informal group of fun-loving Oklahoma rednecks started writing, performing and eventually recording original music and comedy in the country rock vein around 2010. Their success has been limited to the Plains region, but I ran across their repertoire on YouTube and Spotify and decided it would be fun to wrap up this “family playlist” with this bawdy, funny tune about what happened in Grandma’s life once cheapskate Grandpa passed away: “Granny got a boob job, Granny got a face lift, Granny not a new Corvette, the frame around her license plate says ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!”, /Granny got her teeth fixed, Granny got a belly ring, Granny got a new water bed, when somebody asked her why, she said, ‘Cause I ain’t the one that’s dead!”…

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Honorable mention:

Hey Big Brother,” Rare Earth, 1972; “Sweet Li’l Sister,” Bad Company 1976; “Son Of Your Father,” Elton John, 1970; “Somebody’s Daughter,” Tasmin Archer, 1992: “Cousin Kevin,” The Who, 1969; “Uncle Salty,” Aerosmith, 1975; “Your Auntie Grizelda,” The Monkees, 1967; “Me and My Uncle,” The Grateful Dead, 1971; “Cousin of Mine,” Sam Cooke, 1961; “Dance With My Father,” Luther Vandross, 2003; “Daughters of the Sea,” The Doobie Brothers, 1974.

My immediate family: Rachel, Judy, Bruce and Emily. (April 2021)

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Think it oh-oh-ver, think it oh-oh-ver

One of the least discussed but (for me) most satisfying moments of the recent Grammy Awards show was the performance by the new “super-duo” calling themselves Silk Sonic. Bruno Mars and rapper/singer/producer Anderson.Paak have pooled their talents to come up with a marvelous ’70s soul sound exemplified by their single “Leave the Door Open.” (I’m including it as a bonus track at the end of the Spotify playlist below.)

It reminded me how much I enjoyed soul music in that sweet decade of 1964-1974. The talented vocal groups of Detroit Motown, Memphis Stax/Atlantic and “Philly Soul” were a crucial part of that musically fertile period. Funny thing, though — the great songs of that era seemed to be far better known for the music than the lyrics, which often focused rather narrowly on the flip sides of romantic relationships (betrayal and devotion).

As a guy who loves quoting memorable rock music lyrics, I thought that for this latest edition of Hack’s Back Pages Lyrics Quiz, it might be a fun challenge for readers to test their ability to recall lyrics of classic hits by soul artists. I’ve come up with 25 lines from some of the better known soul tunes of the ’60s and ’70s for you to identify. Write down your answers on a piece of paper, then scroll down to see how you did, and read a little bit about each of these memorable songs.

Enjoy!

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1. “So take a good look at my face, you’ll see my smile looks out of place…”

2. “There’s no exception to the rule, listen baby, /It may be factual, may be cruel…”

3. “Comin’ to you on a dusty road, /Good lovin’, I got a truckload…”

4. “Folks say papa never was much on thinking, spent most of his time chasing women and drinking, /Mama, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth…”

5. “Ooh, your kisses, sweeter than honey, /And guess what? So is my money…”

6. “Don’t let the handshake and the smile fool ya, /Take my advice, I’m only tryin’ to school ya…”

7. “Like a fool I went and stayed too long, /Now I’m wondering if your love’s still strong, ooh baby, here I am…”

8. “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow, /But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow…”

9. “But all you do is treat me bad, break my heart and leave me sad, /Tell me, what did I do wrong to make you stay away so long…”

10. “Every minute, every hour, I’m gonna shower you with love and affection, /Look out, it’s coming in your direction…”

11. “Who is the man who would risk his neck for his brother man?…”

12. “I can build a castle from a single grain of sand, I can make a ship sail, huh, on dry land…”

13. “Now if you feel that you can’t go on, because all of your hope is gone, /And your life is filled with much confusion, until happiness is just an illusion…”

14. “Father, father, we don’t need to escalate, /You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate…”

15. “When I call your name, girl, it starts to flame, burning in my heart, tearing it all apart, /No matter how I try, my love I cannot hide…”

16. “Today I saw somebody who looked just like you, /She walked like you do, I thought it was you…”

17. “Now if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public, /But when it comes down to fooling you, now honey, that’s quite a different subject…”

18. “Remember the day I set you free, I told you you could always count on me, darling…”

19. “For once I can touch what my heart used to dream of, long before I knew someone warm like you would make my dreams come true…”

20. “I don’t need no money, fortune or fame, /I’ve got all the riches, baby, one man can claim…”

21. “Why don’t you be a man about it and set me free? /Now, you don’t care a thing about me, you’re just using me…”

22. “I know a man ain’t supposed to cry, but these tears I can’t hold inside, /Losin’ you would end my life, you see, ’cause you mean that much to me…”

23. “When my soul was in the lost and found, you came along to claim it…”

24. “You been running all over the town now, /Oh, I guess I’ll have to put your flat feet on the ground…”

25. “Somebody’s out to get your lady, /A few of your buddies, they sure look shady…”

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ANSWERS:

1. “The Tracks of My Tears,” The Miracles, 1965

Robinson has said he was looking in his bathroom mirror one morning and thought, “What if someone cried so much that you could see the tracks left from the tears on their face?” That became the lyrical concept, partnered with Miracles guitarist Marv Tarplin’s melody, for this classic slice of Motown gold, which peaked at #16 for them in 1965. Ten years later, Linda Ronstadt recorded her own take on the iconic tune, reaching #25.

2. “Everybody Plays the Fool,” The Main Ingredient, 1972

This Harlem-based vocal group lost its lead singer to leukemia in 1970 and was replaced by Cuba Gooding, whose son would later become an Oscar-winning actor. The Main Ingredient had their biggest success with this song by seasoned songwriter Rudy Clark (who also wrote The Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” among others), who had written it with Charley Pride in mind. But Pride thought it was more pop than country, so these guys took a stab at it and found themselves with a #3 hit in the autumn of 1972. Aaron Neville’s 1990 rendition was a #8 hit as well.

3. “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave, 1967

Singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes came up with this song after watching a news broadcast about riots in Detroit where buildings owned by Blacks were marked with the spray-painted word “soul” to spare them from vandalism. “The song became kind of like boasting, ‘I’m a soul man,'” said Hayes. “It was a pride thing.” Sam Moore and Dave Prater turned it into a #2 hit on pop charts, and The Blues Brothers revived it as their signature song in 1978 on “Saturday Night Live” and subsequent LP, “A Briefcase Full of Blues.”

4. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” The Temptations, 1972

Many people don’t know that this hugely popular #1 single, which pushed pop radio boundaries at more than seven minutes in length, actually clocked in at 11:44 in the original album version (included in the Spotify playlist below). Producer Norman Whitfield gave it textures and instrumental passages that set a somewhat forbidding atmosphere for the downcast story of a young man’s memories of life in a broken home. Dennis Edwards sang lead but the others took turns singing bass and falsetto to give voice to the narrators’ siblings. A truly remarkable recording top to bottom.

5. “Respect,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

This may be the most famous song on this list, as iconic as they come. After wallowing for years at Columbia Records, she switched to Atlantic and knocked us all off our feet with her fabulous takes on riveting R&B material. Otis Redding had already put this song on the map, but when Franklin sang it, it transformed into an anthem for the burgeoning women’s movement and became her signature song for decades to come.

6. “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” The Undisputed Truth, 1971

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote this one and gave it to The Temptations, who were undergoing a lineup change as Eddie Kendricks was going solo. They dragged their feet on releasing it, so the up-and-coming group The Undisputed Truth made their own recording and stole the spotlight on the charts, reaching #3 in the summer of 1971, but they never reached the pop charts again. You might check out The Tempts’ version, which (again) goes on for 12 minutes.

7. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” Stevie Wonder, 1970

Wonder wrote this one with a little help from his mother Lula Hardaway, who, upon hearing him toying with the melody, exclaimed, “I love that! Ooh, signed, sealed and delivered, I’m yours!” This single marked Stevie’s first time as producer, a role he would retain for the rest of his exemplary career. The song reached #3 in 1970, and since then, many dozens of covers have been recorded, including ones Peter Frampton, Jermaine Jackson, Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald.

8. “Lean On Me,” Bill Withers, 1972

After first hitting the charts with the angst-ridden “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971, Withers could afford to move to Los Angeles to continue his career, but he missed the tight-knit community of his hometown of Slab Fork, West Virginia. “I started thinking about how we all leaned on each other for love and support, and the song came out as I played some basic scales on piano,” Withers recalled. The result was a #1 song for three weeks in July 1972.

9. “Baby Love,” The Supremes, 1964

Unbelievably catchy, this classic by Holland/Dozier/Holland was the one that truly established The Supremes as a singles powerhouse on pop radio, particularly as their songs faced off against The Beatles’ initial run of chart-toppers in 1964. “Where Did Our Love Go” came before it, but “Baby Love” proved they weren’t a flash in the pan, and indeed, they went on to have five consecutive #1s, which had never been achieved before.

10. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” The Supremes & The Temptations, 1969

Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Jerry Ross, this song was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and then by Madeline Bell in 1968, both with only minimal impact. But when The Temptations and The Supremes chose to team up for an album and TV special in late 1968, this was the song from the album that radio stations chose to play, even though it hadn’t been performed on the show and wasn’t the intended single. Once officially released as a single, it vaulted all the way to #2 on pop charts in early 1969, featuring Diana Ross and Eddie Kendricks trading off on lead vocals.

11. “Theme From Shaft,” Isaac Hayes, 1971

Hayes had been a pivotal producer/songwriter/arranger at Stax Records since its inception. In his first attempt at film scoring, he scored a hit with the quasi-funk/soul soundtrack for the Richard Rountree detective flick “Shaft” in 1971. The theme song was more instrumental than vocal, but it was nonetheless a huge hit, reaching #1 and scoring an Oscar for Best Song.

12. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” The Temptations, 1969

Immediately identified by opening applause cut short by Dennis Edwards saying,”Hold it, hold it, listen,” followed by the piano intro and horn section, “I Can’t Get Next to You” was a gigantic hit for The Temptations in the fall of ’69. Another Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong composition, it featured each of the group’s different voices taking turns on lead. I’m also fond of the excellent cover version Annie Lennox recorded in 1995.

13. “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops, 1966

There’s an undeniable feeling of dread to the way this track begins — minor chords, echo and innovative percussion — followed by a shift to major chords to release the tension. The anguished pleading of lead singer Levi Stubbs, achieved by making him sing in a key that was right at the top of his vocal range, really makes the record. For me, this is The Four Tops at their very best.

14. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye, 1971

Widely considered his masterpiece, “What’s Going On” is a sonic breakthrough and a lyrical cry for our future on the planet. “With the world exploding all around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” he said. “I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.” Gaye’s singing and songwriting were at their best for the title track (which ranked #4 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), while “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues” weren’t far behind.

15. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” The Four Tops, 1965

Another marquis song in the Motown canon is this spirited tune by the Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting and producing team. Using a similar chord progression to “Where Did Our Love Go,” which they’d written for The Supremes the previous year, the H/D/H trio struck gold again for The Four Tops, who put this song at #1 on the pop charts for two weeks, and #1 on the R&B charts for nine weeks, in the summer of ’65.

16. “You Are Everything,” The Stylistics, 1971

Thom Bell, co-creator of the Philly sound, came up with this passionate ballad for The Stylistics, one of the bands on his Philly Int’l label. The falsetto voice of Russell Thompkins Jr. was the defining characteristic of the group’s sound on this and other hits they charted in the early ’70s. “You Are Everything” reached #4 on pop charts, and a cover of the song by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross on 1973’s “Diana & Marvin” LP reached #5 in England.

17. “The Tears of a Clown,” Smokey and The Miracles, 1970

Stevie Wonder and producer Henry Cosby had written and recorded the instrumental track for this tune in 1967, but Wonder couldn’t come up with a lyric for it. He asked for help from Smokey Robinson, who heard the calliope-like section and thought of a clown in the circus, hiding his sadness behind a smile. The Miracles recorded it as an album track, and then three years later, after Motown’s British subsidiary released it to great success, it was released as a single in the US, where it became their final #1 hit.

18. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967

This unforgettable song served as the entree into Motown for the songwriting team of Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and was also the initial pairing of Gaye with singer Tammi Terrell. Gaye was a seasoned recording artist by then, which intimidated Terrell so much that her part and Gaye’s were actually recorded separately and grafted together by producer Harvey Fuqua. It peaked at #19 in 1967 but has since reached iconic status, used in film soundtracks like “Remember the Titans” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” A slower, melodramatic, partly spoken version by Diana Ross made it to #1 in 1970.

19. “For Once in My Life,” Stevie Wonder, 1968

Originally written as a slow ballad and recorded that way by the Four Tops and The Temptations, it was recorded in 1967 in an uptempo arrangement by Stevie Wonder, but Motown head Berry Gordy didn’t like it and withheld it from release for more than a year. It reached #2 on the pop and R&B charts in late 1968 and became a standard, covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and other crooners. The record is mentioned by bass players everywhere as the perfect example of James Jamerson’s unparalleled bass-playing style.

20. “My Girl,” The Temptations, 1964

Written by Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracle Ronald White, “My Girl” was written about Robinson’s wife Claudette and was set to be the next Miracles single, but instead, he produced it with The Temptations. Although Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams typically sang lead vocals, Robinson insisted he wanted David Ruffin to sing it, “featuring his gruff voice on a sweet melody.” It became not only the group’s first #1 hit but their signature song ever since.

21. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes, 1966

Lamont Dozier, in collaboration with Brian and Eddie Holland, incorporated a Morse code-like guitar riff into the arrangement for this magnificent R&B #1 hit they wrote for The Supremes. It became one of the most often covered songs in the Motown catalog — Vanilla Fudge did a slow-tempo, hard rock version in 1967 that made the Top Ten; British singer Kim Wilde returned the song to #1 with a supercharged electronic dance music rendition; and country artist Reba McEntire offered up a Supremes replication in 1995.

22. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968

This awesome tune by Motown songwriting duo Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong was recorded first by The Miracles, but only as an album track. Gladys Knight & The Pips had a big #2 hit with their funky arrangement in 1967, but Gaye’s haunting version eclipsed them both, holding down the #1 spot for seven weeks in 1968-69, making it the most successful song in Motown history. It was later turned into a 10-minute rock interpretation by Creedence in 1970.

23. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

Atlantic Records chief Jerry Wexler had been reading about the philosophical concept of “the natural man” when he ran into Carole King in New York one day. On the spot, he asked her to write a song about “the natural woman” for Franklin’s next album, so she and husband/songwriter partner Gerry Goffin went home and wrote this iconic tune that night. It became a #8 pop hit (#2 on R&B charts) for Aretha. King later recorded her own version for her 1971 epic LP “Tapestry.”

24. “Mustang Sally,” Wilson Pickett, 1966

R&B singer-songwriter Mack Rice wrote and recorded this song in 1965 not long after a friend told him he wanted to get a sporty Ford Mustang, which had just been introduced the previous year. Originally titled “Mustang Mama” about a woman who wanted only to ride around in her new car, he chose to change Mama to Sally because of the use of the line “Ride, Sally, ride” in the middle verses. Pickett reached #23 on the pop charts with his version.

25. “Back Stabbers,” The O’Jays, 1972

Inspired by the theme of betrayal used effectively in “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” Leon Huff came up with “Back Stabbers” for The O’Jays’ first single on Huff’s and Kenny Gamble’s new label, Philadelphia International. It was the beginning of a long and successful relationship between the vocal group and the label, followed by “Love Train, “For the Love of Money” and many more.

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