20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: Gladys Knight & the Pips.
What: The first Motown album by the quartet from Atlanta, who had scored their first Top 10 hit, “Every Beat Of My Heart,” five years before joining the company.
When: Gladys and the Pips – Merald Knight, Edward Patten, William Guest – signed up to Berry Gordy’s business in early 1966, and got down to recording there that April. This album’s “Just Walk In My Shoes” was one of the first tracks cut, and it was issued as a single that same month. The group’s ’60s chart peak was this album’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” recorded in the summer of ’67 and released in September as a single. It topped the Billboard R&B rankings by December, although it was denied Number One on the pop charts first by the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” then by the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye.” (For more about Gladys & the Pips, read here.)
Where: Most of Everybody Needs Love was recorded in 1966 at Motown’s primary studio in Detroit, with seven of its 12 tracks produced by Norman Whitfield. In her autobiography, Gladys recalled being stopped once in the hallway of Hitsville by Whitfield. “I’ve got something I want you to hear,” she remembered him saying. “Follow me.” The producer and his songwriting partner, Barrett Strong, then played her a demo of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” and Whitfield said, “Why don’t you see what you can do with it?” The outcome was Knight & the Pips’ biggest success on record to that date, and the first hit version of a song forever associated with Motown.
Why: Gladys is proud of the group’s part in creating “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” In her memoir, she said that they lived with the song for about a month, “getting to know it and playing with ways to make it our own. We listened to it over breakfast, during lunch and dinner, and in between. We played it in our sleep.” But the sessions which provided tracks for Everybody Needs Love not only involved Norman Whitfield, but also Smokey Robinson (“My Bed Of Thorns”), Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson (“I’ll Be Standing By”), and Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol. One track, “Do You Love Me Just A Little, Honey,” was co-written by Gladys herself.
What else: Gladys & the Pips’ first U.S. chart entry for Motown came with “Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me,” which peaked at No. 98 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 1967. On the other side of the Atlantic, the track was even more popular, reaching the U.K. Top 20 during August. Several months later, the group flew to London to play their first-ever British concert at the capital’s Saville Theatre (for more on that appearance, read here) and to promote their latest release, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Unfortunately, that visit didn’t help: “Grapevine” spent only one week in the U.K. Top 50 at the beginning of 1968, while it was still riding high in the U.S. charts. Go figure.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?