Thumbs up for a new home.
- One moment, he was riding the R&B sales and airplay charts in direct competition with Motown’s top names. The next, Edwin Starr was under contract to Berry Gordy’s business, working with producer Norman Whitfield, and hoping for greater things in his career. It took a while: his debut single on the Gordy label in 1967 was “I Want My Baby Back,” co-written with Whitfield by Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations and the group’s guitarist, Cornelius Grant. Released that October, it didn’t trouble the charts, and Edwin had to wait another 18 months before “25 Miles” walked him into the Top 10 on both the R&B and pop best-sellers.
- Standing in front of Motown’s headquarters on Detroit’s West Grand Boulevard must have been a peculiar moment for Edwin, considering that he got his first break courtesy of Ric-Tic Records, a competitor. He had signed to the smaller company thanks to local DJ LeBaron Taylor, and his first 45 there, “Agent Double-O-Soul” proved to be a Top 10 R&B rider in the spring of ’65. What made Starr attractive – his strong voice apart – was that he wrote his own material, including that first success. The next year, he repeated the chart feat for Ric-Tic with “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.).”
- During 1966, both those records were Top 40 hits in the U.K., which was where Edwin was performing when he heard the news that Ric-Tic had been bought out by Motown. “I was touring in England at the time and knew nothing about it until one of the Temptations told me,” he later explained to Richard Pack in Soul Survivor magazine. “I went away a Ric-Tic artist and returned a Motown one.” (For even more about Edwin’s career, read here.)
- Even though Starr took a while to get settled at Hitsville, when success arrived, it bettered his Ric-Tic peaks. There was “25 Miles” – as noted, a crossover smash – and the following year, what became Starr’s signature song, “War.” This was a Number One hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970, capitalising on America’s increasing disenchantment with the Vietnam war. (For more about the record, read here.) Thereafter, the singer and Norman Whitfield maintained a strong relationship. “He can do more with music than any producer/arranger I’ve seen,” Starr said. “War” was the first of three consecutive Top 10 R&B hits for him at Motown, followed by “Stop The War Now” and “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On.”
- “War” and two post-Motown Starr singles were also Top 10 hits in Britain, so it was no surprise that he emigrated there in the 1980s. He became a regular on the U.K. tour circuit, such was his popularity with “Northern Soul” fans and mainstream audiences alike. Edwin also remade “War” for a local label, as well as a powerful tribute-in-song to the late Marvin Gaye. Now, if there had only been a photo of the two singers together in front of the Motown building…