TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Debuts on the Billboard Soul Singles chart for the week ending Saturday, August 22, 1970.
SONGWRITERS: Norman Whitfield, Edward Holland Jr., Cornelius Grant.
PRODUCER: Norman Whitfield.
BACKSTORY: When “(I Know) I’m Losing You” began its run on the Billboard soul charts, it marked the second such success for the rockers from Detroit. Not only was this type of act seldom seen on those best-selling lists, they were also signed to the Rare Earth label specifically created by Motown in 1969 to appeal to rock music buyers. Moreover, that label was named after them.
“Rare Earth broke out of Baltimore and Washington,” according to Joe Summers, the late Motown executive who managed Rare Earth Records at the time. “We were selling them black. The band was really upset – they wanted to be the Rolling Stones.” The twist was that Rare Earth’s breakthrough hit, a self-produced rock version of the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” had clicked with black radio, and particularly with influential African-American DJ Paul “Fat Daddy” Johnson at WWIN Baltimore. For all of Motown’s plans to establish their new label at rock radio and to appeal to rock album buyers, this band was connecting with a much wider audience.
When time came for a follow-up to “Get Ready,” Motown pressured Rare Earth to record another Temptations hit, this time with Norman Whitfield – who had co-written and produced the original version. “What made it so interesting,” wrote the band’s lead singer and drummer, Pete Rivera, in his autobiography, Born To Wander, “was that he actually got on our case for trying to sound like the Temps the first time we did the song the way we thought it should be.” Whitfield “listened for a while and then he spoke up and said, ‘You guys sound great on this tune, but I think you should give it a different flavour and presentation.’”
The result was, in Rivera’s words, “a much harder edge” – and another major success for Rare Earth, both on the pop charts, where “(I Know) I’m Losing You” reached the Top 10, and on the soul charts, where it registered a Top 20 slot. “The song was originally about 45 minutes long,” recalled Rivera. “Norman cut it down to 12 minutes for the album [Ecology] and then down to 3 minutes for the single. He was a master at editing.”
REMAKES: Rare Earth was not the only Motown act to cut “(I Know) I’m Losing You” after the Temptations in 1966; the others were Gladys Knight & the Pips, Jr. Walker & the All Stars (theirs was an in-concert recording), the Jackson 5, and the Undisputed Truth, while Diana Ross & the Supremes with the Temptations featured the song in the groups’ joint TV special, TCB (Takin’ Care of Business) in 1968. The best-known non-Motown version was that by avowed Motown fan, Rod Stewart, in his 1971 album, Every Picture Tells A Story. The British rocker’s admiration for David Ruffin became apparent when he invited the former Temptation to join him on stage during the Faces’ show at Cobo Hall in Detroit in December 1971.
FOOTNOTE: For a song which first visited the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 more than 50 years ago, “(I Know) I’m Losing You” managed the notable feat of returning to popularity in 2016. That was when Kanye West sampled part of the recording – OK, he sampled Pete Rivera’s voice – for “Fade,” a track on the hip-hop superstar’s seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo. “It’s pretty cool,” said Rivera after learning about this. “Whenever I do [the song] now, I dedicate it to Kanye.” On “Fade,” West also sampled the Undisputed Truth’s version of “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” which was featured on their 1975 album, Cosmic Truth. You could say that everyone wins.