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Wick's Review

Created Jul 27, 2012 01:51AM PST • Edited Feb 29, 2020 07:04PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    Motown rocks ‘cause of the Funk Brothers: snare rhythms, funky bass, tasty guitar, everything percussive, all from the band behind Smokey and Marvin and Diana and Stevie. Need I say more? Didn’t think so.

    Let’s get it on. The movie informs us right up front that the Funk Brothers “played on more #1 hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys. Combined.” Hitsville baby!!

    Standing in the Shadows of Motown – an awkward but accurate title – profiles the dozens of stellar musicians who backed the Supremes, the Miracles, the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Pips, the Vandellas, the Contours, the Isley Brothers… Wow, I’m outta breath.

    Dozens yes, but one dozen stood out, starting with – yep – James Jamerson, the greatest bassist … ever. Next come band leaders and piano players extraordinaire Joe Hunter and Earl Van Dyke, he of I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch). Then Robert White, he of the My Girl lead guitar line that lives in rock Valhalla. “Benny” Benjamin and “Pistol” Allen on drums, because the Motown Beat drove the Motown Sound. Jack Ashford on tambourine & vibes and “Bongo” Brown on, er, bongos.

    They’re not all black. They were all brothers, an Italian the white filling in the Oreo Cookie Guitar Section.

    Consummate professionals and literal soul mates, they rattled off epochal pop compositions in single takes. “The only thing that changed was the changes,” said one. Changes. David Bowie must’ve taken notice.

    This movie finally gives the Funk Brothers their due, pairing them in a 21st century concert with second tier singing stars such as Joan Osborne, Ben Harper and Chaka Kahn, all the better to see their musical brilliance. The effect is elevatory, revelatory and celebratory.

    The youngsters bask in the Funky glow. The white girl hits all the notes. A sister later comes in cold and draws out the soul. When Bootsy Collins belts out Do You Love Me? it’s serious party time.

    Tom Scott steps in for the Junior Walker sax on Shotgun. “Put on yo’ red dress. And then you go downtown.” Sin never sounded so good.

    Ben Harper sings Ain’t Too Proud to Beg after getting intro’ed by Jack Ashford, Mr. Tambourine Man. Get the funk yet?

    Two hours of uplift is rarely so guaranteed. Then again, no pop production unit ever produced guaranteed joy like the Hitsville house band. Why should anything change?

  3. Perfect 5.0

    Funk Brothers

    • Joe Hunter (band leader, 1959-1964)
    • Earl Van Dyke (band leader, 1964-1972)
    The Oreo Guitar Section
    • Robert White (1959-1972)
    • Joe Messina (1959-1972)
    • Eddie “Chank” Willis (1959-1972)
    • James Jamerson (1959-1972) – the Greatest!
    • Bob Babbitt (1967-1972) – the white guy who had to sit in for the Great Jamerson right before Dr. King was assassinated. Think about it.
    Drums, the core of the Motown Rhythm
    • William “Benny” Benjamin (1959-1969)
    • Richard “Pistol” Allen (1959-1972) – his bass drum said PISTOL. Top that Ringo.
    • Marvin Gaye (1959-1962) – gets no play in The Shadows of Motown. Fair ’nuff.
    • Uriel Jones (1963-1972) – Wikipedia says Uriel’s “hard-hitting, funky sound” is best heard on Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Marvin’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Smokey’s I Second That Emotion and Stevie’s For Once In My Life. Dammnnn…
    • Jack Ashford (1959-1972, tambourine and vibes) – voluble guy provides most of the narration.
    • Eddie “Bongo” Brown (1959-1972) read girlie magazines instead of music. Didn’t matter.

    All get their props in Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Super funky.

  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Perfect 5.0
  6. Female Costars Perfect 5.0
  7. Male Costars Perfect 5.0
  8. Really Great 4.5

    The film mashes up a 2000 concert by the surviving Funk Brothers with documentary footage of their Detroit heyday.

  9. Direction Very Good 3.5
  10. Play Really Great 4.5
  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 1.7

    Hard drinking and club living. Papas, don’t let your babies marry musicians.

  15. Sex Titillating 1.7
  16. Violence Gentle 1.5
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.9
  18. Glib 1.1

    Motown honcho Berry Gordy and Production VP William Robinson, Jr. – aka Smokey – adapted Detroit manufacturing techniques to the production of hit records. The Funk Brothers were hired help, production workers extraordinaire. Only in America.

  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.2

    Actors recreate some 60s scenes.

  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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