Classics: Stargard – Theme Song From Which Way Is Up (MCA)
Which way is up? From its very first notes, you can tell. Norman Whitfield is around although he didn’t produce but just wrote it. This most likely explaining the parental link with Rose Royce and their gems such as ‘Makes You Feel Like Dancin” or ‘Do Your Dance’.
Stargard… In other words, Debra Anderson, Rochelle Runnells and Janice Williams infectiously showin’ us which way is up. With thanks to this syncopated blend of synthetized funk elements adding much to its psychedelism. And its outstanding production work courtesy of Mark Davis…
– A threesome featuring Debra Anderson, Rochelle Runnells and Janice Williams, Stargard saw the light back in 1976 at the initiative of Norman Whitfield. They went straight to recognition the year after with the infectious ‘Which Way Is Up’, the theme song from the Michael Schultz directed comedy of the likes, starring Richard Pryor. A firing gem which served as the main track from their eponymous debut-album in 1978. The ladies delivering its follow-up – ‘What You Waitin’ For’ – that same year. Its title-cut standing in the same vein as ‘Which Way Is Up’, therefore allowing them to score a #4 position in the US R&B charts.
Switching to Warner, they delivered their third album – The Change Of The Gard’ the year after. With its opening cut – ‘Wear It Out’ with production work by the likes of Verdine White (Earth, Wind & Fire) and Mark Davis. Meanwhile Debra Anderson left the band soon after.
Another album for Warner – ‘Back 2 Back’ – followed in 1981. Generating a poor following though despite the presence of the infectious Norman Whitfield produced ‘High On Boogie’. Then Stargard returned to MCA, eventually releasing what would be their final album – ‘Nine Lives’ before disbanding…
– 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.