TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Debuts on the Billboard Top Selling R&B Singles chart (as Soul 35034) for the week ending Saturday, July 8, 1967.
SONGWRITERS: Edward Holland Jr., Norman Whitfield.
PRODUCER: Norman Whitfield.
BACKSTORY: The big news for Gladys Knight & the Pips in 1967 was, of course, their late-year smash with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December. But before that, “Everybody Needs Love,” released in June on Motown’s Soul label, was their first Top 40 pop hit for the company. It performed even better on the R&B charts, with a Top 3 peak which was a stronger showing than most of the group’s output for their previous label home, Maxx Records.
Gladys & the Pips signed to Motown in early 1966, moving from Maxx in the company of that outfit’s owner, Larry Maxwell, who was simultaneously appointed the Detroit firm’s national promotion manager. By April, the quartet was recording in the West Grand studio, cutting “In My Heart I Know It’s Right” during their first session, as well as “Just Walk In My Shoes,” their Soul debut. Later that same month, they cut “Everybody Needs Love” under producer Norman Whitfield.
When they weren’t in the studio, the group was in concert, drawing audiences with their soulful vocalizing and razor-sharp choreography. In particular, they performed on the same bill as Stevie Wonder for a number of dates in ’67, including an all-important appearance at Motown’s first national sales convention in Detroit in August, and a week-long stint at the city’s Fox Theater as part of the Christmas Motor Town Revue. By then, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was at its chart peak and the group was stepping up to become one of Motown’s most important attractions – as they would be for the next five years.
Three weeks before the Fox shows, Gladys & the Pips traveled to London for a high-profile concert at the Saville Theatre, where “Everybody Needs Love” was in the setlist. They topped a bill there which also featured Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, and Chris Clark (see Story Behind The Image here). Gladys and Bobby had something else in common: both had separately seen the Jackson 5 perform in Chicago before the brothers auditioned for Motown, and both had recommended them to the company. Knight wrote in her autobiography that her endorsement was ignored but Taylor’s was not, and Joe Jackson’s sons were eventually signed up. What’s more, the Jackson 5’s first hit was built on a song called “I Wanna Be Free,” which, in its initial form, was meant for…Gladys & the Pips.
REMAKES – OR FIRST TAKES? “Everybody Needs Love” is one of those songs which seems to have been recorded by more artists inside Motown than outside. Its co-writer, Norman Whitfield, produced versions by Mary Wells (the first, cut in 1964 but unreleased until ’66), Jimmy Ruffin (1965), the Temptations (also in ’65) and the Velvelettes (1966, but kept in the vault until 1998) before putting it on tape with Gladys & the Pips for what is perhaps its most sensual interpretation. He also supervised a version by the Miracles in the fall of ’66, although that did not appear until two years later on the group’s Special Occasion album. Beyond Motown, among those attracted to “Everybody Needs Love” was soul singer Maxine Brown, who added the song to her in-concert repertoire.
FOOTNOTE: Motown’s first on-staff art director, Harry Webber, had a problem because of Gladys & the Pips – or, more accurately, because he messed up during a photo shoot for their first Motown album. In liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles Volume 11A: 1971, he explained that the LP (with a working title of Just Arrived) was to feature Gladys and the group sitting in new Cadillacs. When time came for the shoot, the vehicles were still on autoloader rail cars after leaving the General Motors factory west of Detroit. The train crew had left them there after their shift, and a new crew wasn’t due until the next morning, but Webber had to wrap everything up with Gladys & the Pips that day. Because he had previously worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, he thought he could drive the rail cars to the right location, and got started. “When I looked up the track, I saw looks of horror on everyone’s faces,” Webber recalled. “Looking back, I saw why: I had made convertibles out of eight brand-new Coupe DeVille hardtops. It turned out the train crew had gone home because the overpass was too low for the autoloader. The morning crew was to re-route the trains via higher clearances.” Fortunately, added Webber, the GM factory manager “saved the day when he reported to the railroad and the police there had been a ‘runaway train.’” And despite this, Webber was able to shoot photos of Gladys & the Pips in and around GM automobiles in time.