Norman Whitfield, a producer and songwriter whose work propelled Motown Records into more ambitious musical territory, died Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 67.
In the late 1960s the New York-born Whitfield helped push Motown beyond the sweet melodies and puppy-love tales of its early days into edgier, more expansive sounds. Incorporating rock elements and psychedelic textures into his work, he helped groups such as the Temptations keep pace with the ’60s musical revolution.
With collaborator Barrett Strong — himself in a Detroit hospital recovering from a stroke — Whitfield cowrote many of Motown’s biggest hits, including its single most successful song, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” recorded by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
Whitfield’s post-Motown years in the 1970s most famously included the 1977 hit “Car Wash” by Rose Royce.
As a commenter on the Idolator thread noted, “He produced and co-wrote “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Superstar,” “Just My Imagination,” “Ball of Confusion”” — those credits alone leave so many people in the dust it’s not even funny. And that’s without even specifically mentioning “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Cloud Nine!” It’s one of those monumental resumes that’s so huge, its impact so broad, that all you can do is almost stare slack-jawed.
For that reason and due to a work crunch, I won’t have too much to say here — it takes a better commenter than I — but if you’ll allow me a couple of YouTube clips:
Just scraping the surface here. RIP, Mr. Whitfield — it’s one hell of a legacy.