I was honored that I was invited by the historical media site Timeline to write this piece on Detroit music in the year of rebellion, 1967.
[I lost my links to the music due to some kind of cyber wonkyness, I’ll work on it when I get a chance]
Playlist: One of Detroit’s music royalty gives us her soundtrack to the Long Hot Summer of 1967
Marsha Music’s family owned Joe’s Records on 12th Street
By Marsha Music
Iwas 13 years old in the summer of 1967. I listened to a whole lot of music on our kitchen radio and on my portable record player in my middle-class home in our then affluent neighborhood of Highland Park, a suburb within the city of Detroit. But when it wasn’t a school day, my younger siblings — usually my brother Darryl Battle — and I spent our days at our father’s record shop a couple of miles away, over on 12th Street; a way different, way more gritty, vibrant commercial avenue, packed with shops and busy with commerce.
It was teeming with Detroiters and music blared from the radios of the giant cars of the 60s, driving bumper to bumper up one-way 12th Street, and from the speakers wired into my father’s storefront. Monday through Saturday he played the music of the times — from Motown and other Detroit record companies, Jazz and Stax and Chicago’s Curtis Mayfield, Rock & Roll groups of England and America. On Sunday mornings, Daddy played old-time Blues and Gospel.
In 1967, the Billboard Top 100 chart was replete with this diverse sound, a reflection of the lush, late-60s pop tunes of the times — the music that we played on turntables and stereos all over town. Detroit was a city in the maelstrom of social turmoil, with music that was both a counterpoint to and an expression of the tremendous social upheaval all around. Here’s a few of the Billboard Top 100 hits for ’67 that meant something to me and mine….
Ode to Billie Joe — Bobby Gentry
All of us hip, cool black kids — and our parents too — turned into country singers, knowing every word of this mysterious song.
To Sir With Love — Lulu
The poignant words of love in this song matched the pride we black folks felt — with Sidney Poitier as the brilliant black high school teacher in England.
Windy — The Association
This breezy, lyrical tune was the perfect song by which to wash dishes – near the kitchen radio – or drive on the new freeways all over Detroit.
For What it’s Worth — Buffalo Springfield
Amidst all the love and light, this was the somber soundtrack of protest, rumbling under the surface of Detroit’s “Model City” reality in 1967.
Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone — The Supremes
But even embroiled in the social turmoil of 1967, Detroit was at an apex of creativity, and the Motown record company dominated the charts. The Motown sound had become embedded in the musical firmament of Detroit, and this plush, layered ballad was the next level of girl-group genius.
Reflections — The Supremes
This love ballad exemplified the new 60s sound that Motown was trying on for size — kaleidoscopic, mysterious, psychedelic — the sound of a new era.
I Was Made To Love Her — Stevie Wonder
In the turbulence of social struggle, Stevie could be counted on to come up with a ballad of class division — a boy in love with a girl on the other side of the tracks; a reflection of Detroit’s evolving black community.
The Happening — The Supremes
If any Motown song could be described as a crossover hit, it would be this — a tune made for a movie soundtrack, a record for which we couldn’t figure out what dance to do — but marked by the sheer pop ebullience of the internationally successful Supremes.
You’re My Everything — The Temptations
Full of joy, bombast, and a calypso refrain like the clattering of horses, this was a complex love song of symphonic strings and the counterpoint of Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin at the soaring bridge. It made for great slow dancing — or “The Social” as we called it, at parties in basements and cabarets all over town.
Jimmy Mack — Martha and the Vandellas
These hometown girls had handclaps and easy lyrics. The song was originally recorded in 1964, but as Reeves told the Detroit Historical Society, Motown shelved it because they felt it was too light hearted with Vietnam raging in the country’s consciousness. By early 1967, when the song was released, the tide had turned in the nation’s approval of the war, and the lyrics “Jimmy Mack, when are you coming back” took on a whole new meaning.
Your Precious Love — Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Most famous for their soaring track “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” this darling duo combined their fast flirtatiousness in other classic love songs. “Your Precious Love” is perhaps one of the greatest — and both were hits in 1967. Marvin and Tammi, who both lived in Detroit neighborhoods, were models of Detroit pop and soul for the teens and young adults of those days.
Baby I Need Your Loving—Johnny Rivers
Motown dominated the charts that year and their influence reached far beyond their own artists. This Johnny Rivers cover was huge in 1967, but it didn’t make us forget the original by the Four Tops; still one of the greatest of all the Motown songs, with Levi Stubbs’ lead, operatic, bravado.
(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher — Jackie Wilson
Detroit’s own Wilson hit the Billboard Top 100 in ’67 with this track recorded in Chicago. Although not a Motown company hit, the spirit of Detroit was alive — as it was Motown’s Funk Brothers band playing background.
I Never Loved A Man — Aretha Franklin
Aretha was just 14 years old when she made her first record, a gospel hit produced by my father, Joe Von Battle. Luckily for us all she went on to record much, much more, on the secular and gospel charts, including this 1967 anthem of adoration.
Baby I Love You — Aretha Franklin
She was not a Motown artist per se, but nonetheless she personified Detroit in everything she sang. This was one of her three Billboard hits in 1967. Ms. Franklin’s songs were played from every backyard BBQ to nightclub to radio station in Detroit. I remember them as the songs of all of the “grown women” in my life. It was a time of spangled tops, wide bell-bottoms, long “fall” wigs and the new Afros — an embellishment of black pride.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T — Aretha Franklin
More than anything, Aretha reached deep into the community’s soul with a clarion call of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. She, like her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, before her (all of whose sermons and songs my father recorded), delivered blended messages — preaching the twin gospels of romantic love and social justice; reaching well beyond the borders of ’67 Detroit.
Cold Sweat — James Brown
All of these amazing hits notwithstanding, the most cataclysmic change in music during those days of rage was ushered in by James Brown. He was never on a Detroit label, but his influence in the city’s black community was indisputable. In a stunning departure from his old bluesy R&B, “Cold Sweat” marked an existential shift towards a tight rhythm music that would be called funk, articulating the intensity of the long, hot summer.
Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud) — James Brown
My brother Darryl and I would spend hours dancing to James Brown in our father’s record shop. Then, in 1968, after Detroit’s uprising, our record shop was gone, but we still danced to James Brown as he exploded with the post-rebellion attitude of “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud),” a statement of pride that especially resonated in post ’67 Detroit.