By Madeline Bocaro ©
I found these links between the wonderful gospel, pop, R&B, disco and rock songs I was listening to today…
The gorgeous gospel tune ‘Piece of Clay’ with its incredibly beautiful guitar intro is from Marvin Gaye’s album You’re the Man. Though the album was recorded in 1972 as the intended follow-up to What’s Going On, it was not released until March 2019 in posthumous celebration of Gaye’s 80th birthday.
‘Piece of Clay’ lyrically urges us to relinquish our desire to mold other people according to our own wishes. The song was co-written by Gloria Jones and British-American lyricist Pam Sawyer. Gloria, born in Cincinnati and raised in L.A. formed her first gospel group at age fourteen with keyboardist Billy Preston, who would later work with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Jones later became the wife of Bowie’s close friend and musical colleague Marc Bolan of T. Rex. She gave up her own solo career (which was on the rise) to collaborate with him. Tragically, Gloria was driving Marc’s Mini when it crashed into a tree on September 16, 1977. Marc died instantly at the age of 29.
‘Piece of Clay’ – Marvin Gaye
The song seems to be an inspiration for David Bowie’s ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ on his soulful 1975 Young Americans album (with a young Luther Vandross on backing vocals).
Listen to the vocals during the fadeout; “Somebody, somebody…”
‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ – Bowie
Gloria Jones had recorded the song ‘Tainted Love’ (written by Ed Cobb) as a solo artist in 1964 (released in 1965). This version failed to make an impact until the early 1970s, when ‘Tainted Love’ was played in the ‘Northern Soul’ themed nights in UK clubs, whose denizens revered obscure American soul recordings.
‘Tainted Love’– Gloria Jones– Original Version
Gloria re-recorded ‘Tainted Love’ in 1976 but it again failed to chart. This version was released on the album Vixen produced by her boyfriend Marc Bolan.
‘Tainted Love’ – Gloria Jones (Vixen) 1976
‘Tainted Love’ later became a huge hit for the British band Soft Cell in 1981. It shot to No. 1 on the UK singles chart, becoming the best-selling single of 1981 in the UK, and made the Top 5 in thirteen countries. Gloria Jones joined Soft Cell’s Marc Almond on stage to perform the song in September 2007 at a Marc Bolan celebration concert at Shepherd’s Bush Empire .
‘Tainted Love’ Soft Cell
Gloria established and currently administers The Marc Bolan School of Music for children in Sierra Leone. She is featured in the documentary film 20 Feet from Stardom about the backup singers who are the unsung heroes of many glorious records of the 19506, 60s and 70s.
Pam Sawyer is also a co-writer of The Supremes’ Motown hit ‘Love Child’ (the No.1 song in 1968 which broke The Beatles’ nine-week reign at the top with ‘Hey Jude’) followed by the ‘sequel’ song which continues its story, ‘I’m Livin’ In Shame’ – (a No. 2 hit for the Supremes in 1969).
The Supremes premiered ‘Love Child’ on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1968. The idea was to deliberately avoid another song about love. Hence, the story of a girl avoiding pressure to sleep with her boyfriend in fear of having a child out of wedlock, as she is a ‘love child’ herself. The lyrics speak of growing up in rags without a father – in shame, guilt and depravation. The backing vocals tunefully echo back the words ‘tenement slum’ and ‘scorned by’ (society) as Diana sings her woes. The pop melody is deceptively uplifting despite its sad lyrics.
‘Love Child’ – The Supremes 1968
The story continues on the next Supremes single, ‘I’m Livin’ In Shame’ is the sister-song to ‘Love Child’ (which also debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show in January 1969). In this tear-jerker of a song, the ‘love child’ grows up to denounce and deny her childhood of poverty. She fabricates a new elitist identity in college, erasing her mother from her life (with a lie about her death on a trip to Spain).
Upon learning that her mom has now passed on for real, she is overcome with deep regret and shame. Once embarrassed by her mom’s haggard appearance and simple ways (a result of poverty) the singer now clearly understands her mom’s lifelong struggle. She regrets forever lost opportunities to show her love and appreciation. She also laments that her mom will never see her grandchild – all in the guise of a lovely pop tune.
‘I’m Livin’ In Shame’ – The Supremes 1969
Gloria Jones and Pam Sawyer teamed up again, this time with Burt Bacharach, Hal David and producer Clay McMurray to co-write Gladys Knight & the Pips’ No. 1 R&B hit ‘If I Were Your Woman’. Gloria recorded her own gorgeous version of this poignant song on her album Share My Lovein 1973. The powerfully poetic lyrics of longing add to the soulful desperation of the song.
The Marvin Gaye/Diana Ross duet ‘My Mistake (Was to Love You)’ was another Sawyer/Jones collaboration.
‘If I Were Your Woman’ – Gladys Knight & the Pips 1970
‘If I Were Your Woman’ – Gloria Jones (Share My Love) 1973
Pam Sawyer also co-wrote (with Marilyn McLeod) Diana Ross’ fourth No. 1 single ‘Love Hangover’ in 1976. This ballad which morphs into a disco song was almost given to Marvin Gaye. The song’s sexually suggestive backing vocals are inspired by Donna Summer’s hit ‘Love to Love You Baby’ (1975) written by Giorgio Moroder who later pioneered electronic dance music with his production of Summer’s groundbreaking ‘I Feel Love’ in 1977. The bass line to ‘Love Hangover’ foreshadows The Rolling Stones’ pseudo disco song ‘Miss You’ (released May 1978). Stones bassist Bill Wyman says that he patterned his riff after Billy Preston’s playing on the song’s demo.
Pam Sawyer also wrote for Lulu, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and The Young Rascals.
‘Love Hangover’ – Diana Ross 1976
‘Miss You’ – The Rolling Stones (Some Girls) 1978
Also see my story about the David Bowie/John Lennon song
Read more stories in my featured category: ABOUT A SONG…