Classics: The Temptations feat. Rick James – Standing On The Top (Gordy)
Strange as to how many of us may feel whenever some favorite artist(s) of his/hers come(s) to explore different territories. Some (including yours truly) would find it exciting. Meanwhile others (the majority of us as a matter of fact) would find it disturbing. The Temptations standing as another illustration to this, from the moment they left Smokey Robinson to work with Norman Whitfield as their producer. With the obvious aim to be standing on the top…
Mind you, they’d made their reputation to many as a Doo-Wop/Soul group. Therefore seeing them evolving in a new environment was seen like a mess by many of their fans. Meanwhile, it would be a way to hopefully be standing on the top for others.
Rick James pretty much boosted Motown by the time of his arrival. At a period when many of their licensed artists seemed like havin’ reached their limit. At a period when Stevie Wonder had obviously lost himself in a ‘Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants’. It is to say how the perspective of working with James as a producer was seen as a potential remedy.
Standing on the top at the time, James would provide The Temptations with one of their grooviest jams ever. Carrying all the ingredients one could find on his arrangements. Meanwhile incorporating the horn riff which had contributed to the fame of the memorable ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’.
A quick look back at Rick James‘ teenage years suffices to understand the main traits of his character. Betwwen quirkiness, rebellion and harshness. The whole with an obvious flamboyance hiding some undeniable sentimentalism…
The Buffalo, NY native started singing as a teenager in local Doo-Wop in R&B groups in his hometown. He deserted to Toronto, ON to avoid being drafted after entering the U.S. Navy. There, here embraced fusion. Creating a group – the Mynah Birds – whose line-up included Bruce Palmer, Neil Young, and Nick St. Nicholas. The military authorities ended up finding his trace with the help of Motown which warned them after they’d discovered he was a fugitive. The label execs telling James they wouldn’t release any material from him in these conditions. Eventually convincing him to come back and work with them after straightening out his legal issues. James surrendered himself to the FBI in May 1966.
After his release from Portsmouth Naval Prison in August, 1967, he returned to Toronto where he endured another detention. And by 1968, he finally got back to work. Producing and writing songs for Motown acts such as The Miracles and The Spinners among others. He relocated to California in 1969, playing in various Rock bands. As many experiences which would be for much on the consistency of his grooves. Then in the establishment of his reputation as the King of Punk Funk!
He eventually released his first single – ‘My Mama’ – back in 1974 on A&M in a Rock mood. Returning to his native Buffalo, NY 2 years after, he formed the Stone City Band, delivering ‘Get Up & Dance!’ for Polydor that same year. They then signed a contract with Motown’s Gordy Records imprint, beginning soon after the recording process of their debut-album in NYC.
The latter, titled ‘Come Get It!’, saw the light back in April 1978. The singles ‘You And I’ and ‘Mary Jane’ contributing to help it reaching a double-Platinum status.
A workaholic, James released 2 albums in 1979, ‘Bustin’ Out of L Seven’ and ‘Fire It Up’. Launching his first headlining tour, he invited the then-upcoming artist, Prince, as his opening act. And also Teena Marie for whom he’d produced the ‘Wild And Peaceful’ album, featuring the memorable ‘I’m A Sucker For Your Love’.
That Fire It Up tour would have some consequences though. Leading to James developing a bitter rivalry with Prince after he accused him for ripping off his act…
1980 followed and James dropped another 2 albums. One along with the Stone City Band – ‘In’N’Out’ – which features the unsung although firing ‘Little Runaway’. And the other – ‘Garden Of Love’ – on his own. Embedding gems such as ‘Big Time’ and ‘Mary Go Round’.
Another year on and James would deliver ‘Street Songs’, his biggest selling package of all time. Spanning classics such as ‘Give It To Me Baby’ and ‘Fire & Desire’ featuring Teena Marie. Not to mention ‘Super Freak’ which MC Hammer notoriously sampled 9 years after on ‘U Can Touch This’.
Two more Gold albums stepped into the light by the likes of ‘Throwin’ Down’ and ‘Cold Blooded’. Respectively including gems such as ‘Dance Wit’ Me’ (featuring Roy Ayers on vibes) and ‘Standing On The Top’ along with The Temptations. Not to mention ‘She Blew My Mind (69 Times)’ and… ‘Cold Blooded’. This in a period when James produced extra hits for the Mary Jane Girls. From ‘All Night Long’ to ‘Candy Man’, and ‘In My House’. Meanwhile, a compilation of his – ‘Reflections’ – saw the light in 1984 featuring the infectious ‘You Turn Me On’ and ’17’. The outstanding ‘Glow’ most likely marking the end of his heyday. He would nevertheless briefly get back to the charts along with Roxanne Shanté on ‘Loosey’s Rap’, from his 1988 ‘Wonderful’ album on Reprise.
The 90’s pretty marked the beginning of a long agony for the singer. From his ever growing addiction to drugs to regular stayings in jail for various assaults.
On the morning of Aug. 06, 2004, Rick James‘s caretaker found him dead in his Burbank home. He had died from pulmonary and cardiac failure. This, in addition his various health conditions of diabetes, and a stroke, pacemaker, and heart attack, following a reluctant drug abuse. He was 56…