Gladys Knight & the Pips sing Norman Whitfield’s “Friendship Train”

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.


Gladys Knight & the Pips Perform “If I Were Your Woman” on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1971

Here’s a clip* of one of my favourite vocalists, Gladys Knight, performing her hit “If I Were Your Woman” on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1971. The song was taken from the LP If I Were Your Woman. Dig those green outfits!

(Feb 2012 – *the clip has since been removed – once again, because it’s not actually a part of history at all, but privately owned property.)

(Feb 2014 – booyakasha! Well, it’s a clip of a clip anyway:)

Knight and her bandmates the Pips had been signees of the Motown label in the 60s, but never quite made the upper echelons of the label’s line-up. In my view, they stand out from the crowd quite a bit in terms of Gladys’ powerful, and very sexy, delivery, which stands in opposition to, say, Diana Ross who is a more middle of the road vocalist in a pop vein. I wonder if the difference in style had anything to do with their relative lack of success while at Motown. I strongly suspect so. The group would score their biggest hit after they left the label, with their immortal “Midnight Train to Georgia” in 1974.

Knight’s vocals and her arrangements were decidedly entrenched in a Southern tradition – gutsy, passionate, and earthy, with a strong whiff of the funk running all the way through. I always wonder if they wouldn’t have done better on Stax for their 60s sides, or at very least Atlantic. Yet, they had a good working relationship with the Funk Brothers, who often pushed Gladys’ performance in the studio by stepping up their own, knowing that she would rise to the occasion – and Gladys would always oblige by meeting them, note for note.

For me, Gladys Knight is among the giants in soul, male or female. She carved out an individual sound to match any of her contemporaries.

Enjoy the clip!