I can’t muse upon Motown without thinking of the duets recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. There are other man/woman duets which I rate as highly. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s, “Some Velvet Morning” has a mystery, an otherness. “Love Hurts” in the hands and voices of Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris is melancholy beauty defined. The songs of Marvin & Tammi are joyous, potent & young, everything you want from cheap popular music. They make me happy.
The songs have the same effect on others. Whoever has enhanced the sights and sounds of this clip has done us all, and the song, a big favour. Marvin was Motown’s biggest male star but not the happiest. He had come from the church and was looking to go to cabaret. His idol was Nat “King” Cole, Marvin wanted to croon. Tammi was not a star at all. The care he shows for the young Mod girl, helping her through the nonsense of record promotion, adds to the already immense charm and chemistry of their songs. I am not going to dwell on the tragedy of her collapse while onstage with Gaye in 1967. That and her failure to recover (she died, aged 24 in 1970) contributed to a new maturity on Gaye’s part. His subsequent recording of the best LP recorded in the history of popular music, “What’s Going On”, stands as a fine tribute.
A young couple (later married) Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, wrote the songs. It is their dual voices which make the songs so effective. They are written to be sung as duets. Reliable sources have said that Simpson sang on the later records as Tammi was too ill to record. Others, around at the time, have challenged this. I really don’t care. This was released as Marvin & Tammi & that’s how I first loved it. “Good Lovin” was not a big hit in the UK, the inferior “Onion Song” made a bigger impression. This song is such a personal favourite.
The record label were eager to put the “King and Queen of Motown” together. Marvin was not as enthusiastic. When he finally agreed there were delays for the producers, Ashford & Simpson (their last job for Motown). The record was released in 1973. The stories from the making of the record are very funny. The pair were not the best of friends and both possessed a sizeable ego. Not surprisingly I take Marvin’s side in most of the arguments. If he needed a joint or two to ease his voice then…& why is the LP not titled “Marvin & Diana”?
The producers only had two songs for the couple. They turned to a new hit factory over in Philadelphia for two songs which had already been hits. Thom Bell & Linda Creed wrote “You Are Everything” a hit for the Stylistics. The song is not a duet rather a song they sing together. Marvin was no-ones backing singer & rose to the occasion for his performance. He joins Diana for the first chorus and then sings the second verse himself. I still find this to be one of the loveliest, most affecting vocal performances I have ever heard. Marvin is really trying on this one.