1971 / 153 Views

The Motown music machine ruled the airwaves in the 60's with light but substantial pop music that set the trend for the music that followed. Berry Gordy avoided any kind of controversy in the songs that were released until 1968 when social issues began to influence the message songs like "Love Child" from the Supremes, "Cloud Nine" by the Temptations and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye proved that it was possible to broach difficult topics without compromising the popularity of the song. It did involve changes to the classic Motown formula that actually raised the bar for pop and soul music. Norman Whitfield was not afraid to tinker with the formula and after The Temptations recorded "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and it hit big, replacing Smokey Robinson as producer from 1966 to 1974. His experiments brought even more critical and commercial success to the label. Working with established groups was confining to him as his vision for each song was diluted to incorporate input from the band members. In 1971, he put together a band he named The Undisputed Truth with Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans and immediately put them to work. Since they were new, Whitfield could do whatever he felt was necessary to get his vision out there and the band would have to go along for the ride. Billie and Brenda met as members of The Delicates in the early 60's and brought to Motown by Bobby Taylor. That band broke up in 1970, and the women did back up vocals for other Motown artists. Joe Harris was in an early incarnation of the Ohio Players and left that band to join Brenda and Billie to be produced by Whitfield. He created a new genre called "psychedelic soul" which he perfected on the Temptations, and had them record the first version of "Smiling Faces Sometimes", but that version got passed over in favor of the Undisputed Truth. After they recorded it, the song was released and the ominous tale of distrust complete with a "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" Marvin Gaye vibe and it peaked at #3 pop. At the time, the smiley face icon was plastered all over the place and Whitfield used this trope to get his message out there and it was easy to see that it reflected the mood at the time and made a statement about the Nixon era. It was a massive hit, and the band was unable to find another smash, so Brenda left and was replaced by Diane Evans. Then Diane and Billie left and a flurry of replacements did nothing to solidify the direction the band was taking. In 1976 the disco influenced "You + Me = Love" became a club hit, peaking at #5 disco and #48 pop. Then the band faded away, but Joe got the band back together with Brenda Evans and recruited Belita Woods (Brainstorm) in the early 90's. Billie Calvin passed away on June 23, 2007 from heart disease. They will always be remembered for "Smiling Faces Sometimes", a song that seems to fit the mood for the world today..that is the power and legacy of Motown and Norman Whitfield.

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