Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas - 'I Should Be Proud'

You know when you've got your headphones on and listening to music on shuffle, not really listening, more like shutting out the world? Walking to work or wherever in your own little world, songs coming on and you can hum along to them or sing along under your breath (or even out loud) without really paying any attention. Well I was doing that this morning when I actually heard the first line of the song and thought 'eh?' and started listening to the words and the voice and the music. I've heard the song before but never really listened.

I watched the Motown show on ITV on Sunday evening and, even though it was more of an extended advert for the Motown top 40 CD than anything else, it was great to see clips of the musicians from the '60s and see the remaining stars talk to camera. It was great to see Otis Williams from the Temptations (the greatest ever boy band), Mary Wilson from the Supremes (who I saw sing live at Wembley the night Michael Jackson died), Abdul Fakir from the Four Tops (I really wish I'd heard Levi Stubbs sing live) and, of course, Martha Reeves. I've been privileged to see Martha Reeves and The Vandellas perform a few times and I've even met Martha.

Seeing Martha made me think that it's a while since I've listened to her so pulled all my Martha songs into a playlist to listen to randomly on my way to and from work. Those great classics like 'Dancing In The Street', 'Jimmy Mack', 'Nowhere To Run', 'Heatwave' and so many more. And then, suddenly, I heard the line 'I was under the dryer when the telegram came' and I thought 'what?'. Did I hear that right? That caught my attention and kept me listening to the words and Martha's voice, raw and direct. It's the opening line to 'I Should Be Proud', a song I've heard before but never really listened to.

The song tells the story of the lead character receiving a telegram while she's under the hair dryer to say that her husband is missing in action in Vietnam. That's then followed by another saying he's dead. The refrain is that she should be proud of him and that he was fighting for her but her retort is that he didn't need to fight for her, he was fighting for the evils of society and, eventually, that he was a victim of those same evils. It's quite brutal and direct in its honesty and, I think, that's what stunned me on the sunny and quiet backstreets of Westminster. Where did this pain come from and this big fuck off to those supporting the Vietnam war? It was almost emotionally draining.

It's not the most subtle or sophisticated of songs but it grabbed my attention and made me listen and think and that's what all good songs should do. Well done to the young Martha for being brave enough to sing a song like this back in the day. If I ever have the chance to meet her again I'll ask about that song.

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