Gladys Horton (1945-2011), a singer who at age 15 co-founded the group that would become the Marvelettes and whose cooing, urgent vocal style set the tone for all of Motown's girl groups in the early 1960s, died in Sherman Oaks, CA, while recuperating from a stroke. She was 66. [Pictured, center: Gladys Horton]
While growing up in a Detroit suburb in 1960, Horton and classmate Georgia Dobbins formed a singing group by enlisting members of their high school glee club. Though the group finished fourth in a school talent contest, they were given an audition anyway at the newly formed Motown Records. Asked to come up with an original song, the group returned with Please Mr. Postman. But when Dobbins was prohibited from singing in nightclubs by her father, Horton became the group's sole lead vocalist.
Signed to Motown, the Marvelettes' recorded Please Mr. Postman—which in late 1961 became the label's first No. 1 hit on the Billboard pop chart. The Marvelettes had a total of 23 pop hits before disbanding in 1969.
Despite seductive looks, enormous charm and a relaxed stage style, Horton, like all of Motown's female lead singers, soon had to take a back seat to the more successful Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Early on, Horton's passionate, honey-hoarse voice helped establish the magic formula for Motown's future girl groups. That female vocal sound was part cocky demand, part vulnerable plea—a combination that simultaneously expressed teens' angst and sassy confidence. What enabled Horton to stand out was her breathless delivery, which packed urgency and made her sound as though she were singing while running after a bus.
For Motown, in the early days of the label's national breakout, the Marvelettes were pioneers of a new smooth, urban sound and polished look that appealed to both black and white audiences on a mass scale. Their songs were sophisticated musically but the lyrics' message caught the baby boomer demographic right at the point of maturity, ringing a universal bell.
All of Horton's hits had a finger-snapping beat powered by a snare drum and rubbery bass, distinctly merging the swing of r&b with rock 'n' roll's big beat. Songs like Playboy, Don't Mess With Bill, Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead and My Baby Must Be a Magician exemplified this infectious groove.
Here's Gladys Horton and the Marvelettes singing my personal favorite, Don't Mess With Bill...
More Bullitt. Last week during my series on Bullitt, I was asked who was playing in the jazz quartet during the cafe scene. Now we know. Thanks to reader Nick Rossi, the group was called Meridian West, featuring Julie Iger Roseman (flute), Larry Vogt (guitar), Nat Johnson (bass) and Al Pimenttal (percussion). For more detail about this scene in the movie and the cafe, go here.
Here's the scene itself from the movie Bullitt (1968)...
And for fans of the Bullitt soundtrack, here's the Moment String Quartet playing Lalo Schifrin's theme...
Roy Eldridge. New York's WKCR-FM will air its annual Roy Eldridge birthday broadcast running from today through Monday. You can access the show on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Smigly. This whimsical YouTube cartoon series is illustrated by Allen Mezquida, who also plays the superb saxophone you hear on the soundtrack. More Smigly installments are available at YouTube...
Elliot Lawrence. Drew Techner, son of trumpeter Joe Techner, sent along an audio link to the Elliot Lawrence big band at New York's Paramount Theater between May and June 1950.
CD discovery of the week. Alto saxophonist Grace Kelly is joined on her new album, Man With the Hat, by Phil Woods. Kelly is musically mature beyond her 18 years, holding her own with the veteran scorcher Woods. There's bop, Brazilian and ballads here, as well as Kelly on vocals. A clean, smart package with liner notes by Dan Morgenstern. Kelly offers wisdom in a saxophone sound that complements Woods. You'll find this album at iTunes or here.
Guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg's Shadowless is one of those fusion albums you can listen to without gritting your teeth. There's a soft, sensitive quality to everything Kreisberg plays. The title track is particularly joyous and introspective. An album that will make you think and reflect. You'll find it at iTunes or here.
Graylen Epicenter by saxophonist David Binney is a fusion work that pulses with future-forward energy and is relentlessly spirited. Vocal tones are added innovatively like another instrument, in some cases singing in sync with Binney's saxophone. It's all quite fascinating. You'll find it at iTunes or here.
David Binney also appears on Donny McCaslin's Perpetual Motion, a thrashing fusion album that takes you on an interesting journey. The music here beckons but never intrudes, giving you a chance to listen to the lines and textures being developed. You'll find it at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week: In October 1953, Mel Torme recorded this one in New York for Coral. The band was led by Neal Hefti and included a Latin rhythm section. Not quite sure if Mel is supposed to be a mike, jumping bean or derby-sporting rocket. Also I'm not getting the album's title. Makes about as much sense as "Colorful images make the best films."