Midnight Train To Georgia — Where to Start with Gladys Knight & The Pips
One of my earliest memory of music, as a publicans son (that’s bar owner for the American readers), there was always music around to play to the customers, most of it not my thing but a few records stood out, lot’s of Motown compilations, and I loved Diana Ross, Temptations and Stevie Wonder but two other records stood out, featuring Gladys Knight and the Pips, the first and last on this playlist, first being Midnight Train to Georgia (1973) still to this day one of my favourite records, it’s a popular one (Billboard number/Grammy hall of fame record) and no doubt even someone with a passing interest in Soul music will have heard it, so let’s dig a bit deeper and discover some pretty cool music together.
in this article:
the motown years
There’s still a demand for Gladys Knight records and many receive re-edit’s or reissues like their legendary 1965 Northern Soul stomper ‘Stop and get a hold of myself’ penned by Van McCoy, flipped with the mid-tempo monster ‘Tell her you’re mine’, you can listen to the latter on the playlist, but best heard on the remastered high quality version by Darren Morris from North Street West Studios, available from Ramrock records new retro label.
The End of Our Road, a song with a familiar theme to soul fans, the break up of a relationship, co-written by Norman Whitfield, one of soul music’s most prolific writers with credits on close to 3000 songs, instrumentation was by the Funk Brothers, Motown’s in-house band, playing on pretty much all of the Motown recordings from 1959 up to 1972.
Next up from the bands time on Motown “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” originally recorded in 1966 by Marvin Gaye, but as was the norm at Motown, the song was shared around the artist roster, eventually in this case as songwriter Norman Whitfield had to pester Motown owner Berry Gordy for months to re-record it with the Pips, their version was released first with Marvin’s recording being released in 68. The version the Hoof is sharing is from Motown’s 2005 remix compilation, by the Randy Watson Experience, a musical project by The Roots members Questlove and James Poyser, if I’m honest the original is the better track, I just wanted to introduce you to this album as there are some pretty cool versions of well known tracks, although it has had some pretty harsh write reviews, each to their own and all that.
Everybody get on board the ‘Friendship Train’, that’s all you need to know, take your seat, find a friend, sing along if you want, just enjoy the ride.
Nitty Gritty recorded in 1969, like many GNATP songs and other acts on Motown, it was actually released on the ‘Soul Records’ imprint which started in early 1964 by Berry Gordy Jr, a sub-label for edgier, jazz-influenced R&B music which had started to attract the name “soul music” it was never considered on the same level as Tamla, Motown and Gordy and wasn’t given the same promotional funds and backing but went on to release some of the best songs of the Motown catalogue.
Another song from 69 written by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, ‘The Stranger’ was like many of the early GNATP songs a big tune in the UK’s northern soul scene, others include ‘If You Ever Get Your Hands On Love’ ‘No One Could Love YOu More’ and ‘Ain’t You Glad You Chose Love’.
‘It Takes a Whole lotta Man For a Woman Like Me’ from 1971 album ‘Standing Ovation’ on Motown, co wrote by the legendary singer, songwriter and producer Johnny Bristol. who incidentally wrote my funeral song (it’s not exactly in my will, but I’ve told the missus I want it playing) Coke Escovedo’s version of ‘I Wouldn’t Change a Thing’.
the buddah years
‘Don’t It Make You Feel Guilty’ from the last album the band recorded on Motown ‘Neither One of Us’, they had actually left for Buddah before its release, so had album and singles from both Motown and Buddah in the charts at the same time, the album and singles were so successful, Motown went on to release three unreleased albums to cash in on their lost act.
‘Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)’ revisiting the theme of relationship breakdowns, was the title track of the above album, it was a Grammy winner (Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal), the same year ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’ won (Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal). Sampled over thirty times and recently appearing on ‘Final Credits’ by Midland, ‘Keep On Wondering’ by DJ Fudge and ‘Nothing Else Matters’ by Dam Swindle. Furthermore the Bill Withers penned ‘Who Is She (And What Is She To You) from the LP gave us the drum loop from ‘Silent Murder’ by Naz. The version featured is the Kenny Dope remix from Motown compilation mentioned above, it doesn’t mess with the original too much, just smoothed it out and tightens the drums up a touch.
‘Make Yours a Happy Home’ and ‘Mr Welfare Man’ are both from the 1974 Curtis Mayfield produced soundtrack of the romantic/comedy movie ‘Claudine’ exploring new themes in black cinema, like inequality, unemployment and welfare, unlike many of the blaxploitation films of the era. For lyrical content and emotion ‘Mr Welfare Man’ is in my rather large list of favourite tracks, Mayfield also recorded song on his 1976 album ‘Give, Get, Take And Have’
‘It’s Up to You (Do What You Do)’ but I reckon you’re going to sing along to the chorus this one, really happy vibes on this track and love that jazz influence, released in 1978 on the b side of ‘Come Back and Finish What You Started’. co written by Bruce Hawes, who also wrote for disco labels Salsoul and Philadelphia International.
Another favourite Gladys track and probably in my top five favourite tracks, no it’s not all full of GNATP tracks, like most peoples it’s ever changing but there’s always a few of them in, this mix of the 1978 song ‘It’s a Better Than Good Times’ by Walter Gibbons described on a recent youtube comment I read as an “orchestral disco groove sorcery” couldn’t have put it better myself.
Walters Gibbons created some of the most interesting and creative remixes of the era, always with an ear for the dancefloor rather than a more commercial reason, this more so than most as at 12 minutes long and totally rearranging the structure of the original record it was never released in its full version, a six minute version only in Canada. There’s rumours of a dance remix album of GNATP and that’s maybe why Walter was asked to do the remix, the acetate version cut at the legendary Sunshine sounds studio eventually found its way to record collectors and was a holy grail for a long time, many acetates of DJ remixes were recorded here, John Morales recorded a pause tape mix of Eddie Kendricks ‘Date with the Rain’ here, which may possibly be the first DIY mix pressed to acetate, these low quality records are really the first white label DJ promos and would be important to DJ culture for the next 40 years, I still know of DJ’s who cut acetates.
Sorry back to the story, other pressings of the record eventually became available, even this version from a compilation album released in 2015 is a slightly shorter version as it cuts the fade out by 20 seconds.
the columbia years
‘Taste of Bitter Love’ from the 1980 album ‘About Love’ was when the Buddah records period ended and the band switched labels to Columbia, but skipping forward to 2002 and going for another version excursion here, would have gone with the Dave Lee ZR version from his excellent ‘Remixed With Love’ series, but as it’s been removed from Spotify, by no means second best this version by UK band D-Influence featuring the vocals of Romina Johnson.
‘Don’t Make Me Run Away’ from 1983 album ‘Visions’ co-wrote by Sam Dees and featuring percussion by Brazilian Paulinho Da Costa, Paulinho performed in Sergio Mendes’ band, then went onto be one of the most in-demand percussionists in the 1980’s. Working with Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson on ‘Thriller, Bad and Off The Wall’.
‘My Time’ from 1985 album ‘Life’ part written again by Sam Dees, featured on the playlist is the Body Slam remix by John Luongo who was to in-house remixer for Columbia, many of his remixes have seen a new audience in recent years with the disco revival, stand out ones being Melba Moore’s ‘You Stepped Into My Life’ and Patti LaBelle’s ‘ Music Is My Way Of Life’.
An unexpected find, as I’ve just discovered this myself, completing the trilogy of train themed tracks, Gladys last recording, it’s on a Boy George and Culture Club track, ‘Runaway Train’ from Boy George’s 2019 album ‘Life’ the later released club mix is featured on the playlist from DJ Marble & Professor Stretch.
Finishing off with emotional sounds of ‘The Way We Were/Try to Remember’ as I explained at the beginning, a record from my parent’s collection, but how I loved this song, yes it’s got nothing of the funk and jazz influences, none of the soul tempo, funk or jazz influences, but I remember listening to this on repeat and I mean that over and over, just the way I was, haha see what I did there.
Although not added to the playlist, I’ve got to give a shout to the Narada Michael Walden produced ‘Licence to Kill’ from the James Bond film in 1989, not many artists have had that opportunity.
Listen on the Spotify playlist above, but included here is a tracklist so you can add your own personal favourites to whatever music server you choose, or use this link to create playlist or want list on Amazon, Bandcamp, Beatport, iTunes, JunoDownload or Traxsource.
Midnight Train To Georgia
Tell Her You’re Mine
The End Of The Road
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
The Nitty Gritty
It Takes A Whole Lotta Man For A Woman Like Me
Don’t It Make You Feel Guilty
Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say)
Who Is She (And What Is She To You)
Make Yours A Happy Home
Mr Welfare Man
It’s Up To You (Do What You Do)
It’s Better Than A Good Time
Taste Of Bitter Love
Don’t Make Me Run Away
My Time (Body Slam Mix)
Runaway Train (Boy Goerge & Culture Club)
The Way We Were / Try To Remember