Classics: Rose Royce – Car Wash (MCA)
Norman Whitfield is to be remembered as one of the key figures in the history of Soul Music, then Disco. A songwriter and a producer, but also a pianist/keyboardist, he is one of the creators of the Motown Sound. Meanwhile havin’ contributed to countless classics including ‘Ain’t To Proud To Beg’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and ‘Cloud Nine’. But also ‘War’, ‘Ball Of Confusion’ and ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’.
The aptly titled ‘Masterpiece’ by the likes of The Temptations standing as of one his signature albums. Displaying experimental Soul elements in a unique futuristic way for the period (1973).
He left Motown 2 years after to create his own label – Whitfield Records – where he would bring Undisputed Truth, producing the unforgettable ‘You + Me = Love’ for them. His biggest success ever remaining the main theme from the Joel Schumacher seminal written film ‘Car Wash’. The latter marking the debut of Rose Royce…
‘Car Wash’ is a pure slice of infectious psychedelic funkiness. Meanwhile the film is an episodic comedy about a day in the lives of the employees and the owner, Mr. B (Sully Boyar), of a Los Angeles, CA car wash. Hitting the screens back in 1976, it gave an interesting display of different facets in a community of multi-racial employees. From Abdullah, formerly Duane (Bill Duke), a Black Muslim revolutionary. To Lindy (Antonio Fargas) whom he sharply criticizes the cross-dressing. To which Lindy coolly replies, “I’m more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get”.
The whole featuring extra appearances by the likes of Richard Pryor, Lorraine Gary and The Pointer Sisters to name but a few.
– Formed in Los Angeles, CA in the early 70’s, Rose Royce (Magic Wand at the time) started as backing musicians with Edwin Starr who introduced them to producer Norman Whitfield. They would soon after act as a studio band for Undisputed Truth whose bandleader introduced singer Gwen Dickey to Whitfield. And Rose Royce was born, makin’ their debut with the memorable ‘Theme From Car Wash’.
The central theme to Joel Schumacher written film of the likes would be the very first of an impressive series of hot jams for the band. Among their classics, ‘Wishing On A Star’ and ‘Do Your Dance’. But also ‘It Makes You Feel Like Dancing’ and ‘Love Don’t Live here Anymore’. Not to mention ‘Still In Love’ or ‘Is It Love You’re After’ among others.
The arrival of the 80’s would also mark the progressive beginning of the end for the band, although they keep on touring regularly in the UK.
– Contemporary Music may not have become what it is without Norman Whitfield‘s contribution. As a matter of fact, he might pretty well be the first producer ever who established a sound / an approach as a trademark…
Hailing from Harlem, NY, he and his family relocated to Detroit where he started working with Motown’s head Berry Gordy. Aged 19, he progressively established himself as in charge of the quality control department. A position which allowed him to determine which songs would or would not be released, prior to join the label’s in-house songwriting staff.
He would find his niche in the production though. When he came to collaborate with Marvin Gaye on the memorable ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ back in 1968. Then with Edwin Starr, 2 years after, crafting ‘War’ for him. But even more when he took over Smokey Robinson‘s role as the main producer for The Temptations back in 1966.
From then on, he took the group to a brand new dimension. What he did was changing the nature of the songs, from love matters to the social issues of the time, such as war, poverty and politics. But also experimenting sound effects and production techniques. Eventually getting the group into a darker infectious sound blending psychedelic Rock and Funk. From this liaison which lasted until 1975, came gems such as ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ back in 1966. But also ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’. Not to mention the memorable ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Law Of The Land’…
Whitfield parted ways with The Temptations coz’ they disliked how he put more emphasis on the instrumentation instead of their vocals. And also because they wished he wrote more romantic ballads for them. This therefore led him to leave Motown and launch his own Whitfield Records imprint. From then, he convinced The Undisputed Truth and Jr. Walker. Respectively producing ‘You + Me = Love’ and ‘Back Street Boogie’ from them. Then Rose Royce who were Edwin Starr‘s backing band while at Motown.
He most likely scored his biggest success ever with ‘Car Wash’ for the latter. A cut which won Whitfield a 1977 Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album. He soon after also composed the theme song for the 1977 motion picture ‘Which Way Is Up?’, performed by Stargard.
Among his biggest productions as well, the mellow ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ by Rose Royce. And also ‘Do Your Dance’ and ‘It Makes You Feel Like Dancing’. Not to mention ‘Is It Love You’re after’. A jam which British producer Mark Moore sampled on ‘Theme From S-Express’ back in 1988.
Whifield underwent treatment for diabetes and other ailments at Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in 2008. He fell into a coma, briefly improved, but sadly succumbed to diabetic complications on Sept. 16, 2008, aged 68.