Marvin Gaye - At The Copa
There was once a nightclub on New York’s East 60th Street that represented the top of the entertainment world in the 1960s: Jules Podell’s Copacabana. It was the home of adult pop music, where you could hear Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and other crooners in a setting of dinner, dancing, cocktails, little black dresses and pinky rings. Where Ed Sullivan might be at the front table and Nat King Cole was booked for the following weekend.
To Motown founder Berry Gordy, the Copa was a destination. The mere concept – that a roster of black artists from inner-city Detroit who had a few teen hits would perform there, release albums recorded there and be accepted and return there – was a revolutionary thought. And it happened. The Supremes were the first, in July 1965, and issued a Live At The Copa album that year.
Next was Marvin Gaye. He wanted to be the Motown crooner, to sit on a stool and purr love songs like Perry Como, Nat and Sinatra. When he got his shot, over the first two weekends of August 1966 – during a dry hits period – Marvin was game but ambivalent: he chafed at the choreography, prepared little stage patter, wavered a bit during the first set. But reviews were generally good, and Motown sent an eight-track reel-to-reel tape recorder the second weekend to record five shows. Marvin Gaye At The Copa was slated to be released in early 1967, with catalog number Tamla 273, and Motown’s art department mocked up a cover.
It never happened. The shows were never mixed down for staff review. Marvin never returned to the Copa. Until right now.
Hip-O Select’s edition of Marvin Gaye At The Copa represents the best of those shows. Since Marvin didn’t do the exact same set every night, now you can feel like you went to every one. Newly and painstakingly remixed by legendary mixer Tom Moulton, the Select version runs twice as long as what the original LP may have been. Marvin is amped from the opening number, getting the audience involved during “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” and making the ladies swoon during the sexy Brazilian number, “Laia Ladia (Reza).” (Listen for one very vocal young woman.)
His ballads are breathtaking, especially “Night Song,” taken from Sammy Davis Jr.’s Broadway show Golden Boy. He takes on Sinatra, re-interpreting “Strangers In The Night,” which then was a #1 hit for the Chairman. The Motown Medleys are also a lot of fun, as they include (brief) live versions of his songs he rarely did live and hits by other Motown artists. The Copacabana Orchestra, conducted by Motown’s Maurice King, kicks butt from start to finish.
Marvin Gaye At The Copa is presented in a stunning digi-pak, mocked up as if it were 1967. The accompanying booklet is full of newly discovered color images taken during the opening night performance. It also includes a detailed essay by Detroit native Ben Edmonds, author of Whatþs Going On and the Last Days of the Motown Sound.
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