“I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – “Aint Too Proud to Beg” – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – “Baby Love” – “My Girl”
Chances are after reading any of those song titles, you can immediately play the song in your head. The lyrics may escape you, but you definitely know the tune. Standing in the Shadows of Motown examines the history and influence of The Funk Brothers, the men behind the music of Hitsville, USA.
Early on in the documentary, several people in a record store are questioned about their knowledge of Motown. Everyone has a favorite singer or group, yet no one knows who is responsible for the instrumentals. So is the fate of the thirteen men who made up The Funk Brothers.
The film blends archival footage, interviews, and cuts from a reunion concert featuring new vocalists performing classic hits with The Funk Brothers. The film succeeds not only in capturing a living history of a group that created more hits than Elvis, the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles combined, but also winning the group the recognition it deserves.
In a particularly moving portion, author Allan Slutsky recalls a dinner with guitarist Robert White. As they were ordering, “My Girl” came on over the PA. White became very excited, and started to ask the waiter “Do you know who…,” but trailed off before he finished the question. Slutsky asked White why he didn’t finish telling the waiter that he was responsible for that memorable opening guitar line, and White sadly admitted that he didn’t think anyone would believe an “old fool” like himself. This tale is later juxtaposed by The Funk Brothers emerging to a standing ovation at their reunion show – something White didn’t live to see.
The cuts from the reunion concert show a band still on top of their game. The best performances feature Gerald Levert (LeVert, LSG) and most surprisingly Joan Osborne (of “What If God Was One of Us” fame, sans obnoxious clip-on nose ring). Also appearing were Meshell Ndegeocello, Bootsy Collins, Ben Harper, Montell Jordan, and Chaka Khan.
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a must-see for any music lover, and will be enjoyable for anyone who loves the Motown sound.