Listen to this song by soul goddess Gladys Knight, accompanied by her faithful Pips. It’s her take on Norman Whitfield’s “Friendship Train”, which the group covered while they were still signed to Motown, scoring them a #17 on the charts. The song was also a hit for the Temptations, also under Whitfield’s care at Motown.
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Norman Whitfield passed away last year, yet he left behind a number of immortal classics like this one, co-penned by fellow Motown writer Barrett Strong, and produced by Whitfield as well. And Gladys Knight does it justice and then some, with her exuberant delivery and clear commitment to the material which marks her as a first-tier American singer in any tradition and style.
She’d released a version of Whitfield’s most famous song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” before Marvin Gaye’s more recognized version. And it was clear that both Knight and Whitfield were interested in pushing the stringent stylistic boundaries on which Motown was based. “Friendship Train” is a soul answer to psychedelia in some ways. It shares a similar optimism, and childlike approach to the more complicated issues of the day, much like that of psychedelic rock.
As such, its charming, and infectious, and shows Whitfield’s keen eye for pinpointing the zeitgeist and writing a song around it that doesn’t seem like a means to simply market to an audience. Instead, it entertains. And Gladys Knight’s take, along with the Temptations’ version, show that Whitfield’s approach was easily delivered by the right talent.
For more Gladys, check out the Gladys Knight official website.
And to learn more about Norman Whitfield, read this overview article about Norman Whitfield.