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Grammy fever

Grammy feverThough overlooked for “Album of the Year” for this year’s Grammy nominations, it is my opinion that Phil Collins should win the award hands down for his latest masterpiece, Going Back. A collection of Motown and soul covers from the ‘60s, Going Back offers 18 classics, which sound remarkably identical to the original aside from the vocals. Collins, 59, does a virtually flawless job of recreating these timeless songs in a collection that will likely serve as his final album.

No longer able to play the drums or piano after suffering severe nerve damage following an operation to repair dislocated vertebrae in his neck, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer had to play drums by taping the sticks to his hand. As admirable as this is, mixed with his superb vocals that are obviously unmarred by age, much of the credit to the five-star quality of this album goes to his backing band. The biggest reason the Motown classics on Going Back sound so much like the originals would be that they are played by three of the original members of the legendary Funk Brothers, who served as Motown’s house band during its heyday. Playing on every single Motown hit from 1959-1972, guitarists Eddie Willis and Ray Monette along with bassist Bob Babbitt, play on Going Back as stellar as the did in their prime. The role of the Funk Brothers is described in Paul Justman’s 2002 documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown, based on Allan Slutsky’s book of the same name. The opening titles proclaim the Funk Brothers as “having played on more number-one hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.”

Going Back also features a fabulous horn section. Known as the PC Horns, this quintet of English musicians adds a superb and incomparable brightness to the studio album as well as to the live show that promoted the record. They consist of trombonist John Aram, trumpeters Guy Barker and Tom Rees-Roberts, tenor saxophonist Graeme Blevins and Phil Todd on baritone saxophone, flute and piccolo.

Going Back is an even bigger treat for me than the average Phil Collins fan. In addition to being a lifelong Collins fanatic, I have also been a constant follower of the Motown and soul era of the ‘60s. Being a huge Smokey Robinson fan, I especially enjoyed his rich renditions of “Going to a Go-Go.” I remained in seventh heaven when he paid tribute to another of my all-time favorite artists, the late great Dusty Springfield. He offered two covers of hers, “Some of Your Lovin’” and “Going Back,” which he modernized to sound more like a song from his own repertoire. Among more album highlights were covers of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave,” and “Jimmy Mack” as well as The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Girl (Why You Want to Make Me Blue).” Also among the more memorable performances were covers of Kim Weston’s “Take Me In Your Arms” and Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight,” “Blame It On the Sun,” and “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer,” which will remind true fans of the master vocalist Phil Collins is when it comes to love ballads. The former Genesis front man offered his own spin on a few other non-Motown classics such as Curtis Mayfield’s “Talking About My Baby” and “Do I Love You?,” a song originally recorded by The Ronettes, which were equally as pleasurable as the Motown songs.

While the Going Back CD is one not to be missed, its supporting DVD, Going Back: Live at Roseland Ballroom NYC, is an even better purchase. While the CD offers 18 songs in just over 57 minutes, the DVD offers nearly two hours of soul classics, many of which were not featured on the album such as Martha and the Vandellas’ “Nowhere to Run” and “Dancing in the Street,” Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” and “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” and The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”

As I mentioned before with the CD, Collins’s horn section was phenomenal, too, as were his back up singers who looked as sharp as they sounded. With the men in purple jackets and women in purple sequined dresses, they were featured in front for many songs, proving they each had dancing talents that matched their singing ability. The bandstands and retro-looking stage set of the historic dance hall added to the show’s presence as well.

Collins did manage to work in one of his own hits which non-coincidentally a Motown original, “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the Supremes cover that served as a top ten smash for Collins in 1982. This hit, performed during the encore, was the biggest crowd pleaser by far. The closing rendition of the Temptations staple, “My Girl” was a close second.

I must confess my partiality to the DVD because I was present for its filming. If you don’t believe me, pause the DVD at 13:42 of its duration on the close-up of Collins and look to the right. You will see the shadows of three heads. I am the center one (the flat head with the long neck), my wife Emily is on the right with my friend Stevin to the left of me. That might not be enough proof to convince you, but it’s all the tangible evidence I need to say as was present at the greatest musical moment I have ever experienced. All the thrilling memories of almost turning over in my wheelchair on 52nd Street and almost meeting Phil by passing him during a sound check, but being unable to speak in time. Even if you weren’t there, the musical magic of Phil Collins’s Going Back, both on CD and DVD, can be felt and are available in stores and online now.

by Zach Cooley

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