Edwin Starr, Involved, Gordy GS-956, 1971
Berry Gordy really didn’t like controversy, especially when it got in the way of business. So, if southern shops wouldn’t stock a record with a black person on the cover, early Motown records came with simple drawings. An Isley Brothers album even came out with a smiling young white couple on the cover. So when The Temptations producer Norman Whitfield and his writing partner Barrett Strong wrote an anti-Vietnam war song, there was no way the company would put it out as a single. After all, the supposed be-all, end-all goal for Motown was to get its biggest acts booked onto shows like Ed Sullivan and clubs like The Copacabana. A song like War was not what those audiences wanted to pay to hear.
Whitfield persisted and The Temptations’ version of War was released as an album cut on their album Psychadelic Shack. The Temps added it to their live act and people around the company to release it was a single. With a sure-fire hit on their hands, Motown turned to Edwin Starr to release it as a single so as not to turn off parts of The Temptations large fan base. Starr came to Motown when the small Detroit company he recorded for, Golden World, was bought by Motown. Berry Gordy needed a second studio, and by buying up the competition, he would deny his world class backing musicians the chance to “call in sick” and record over at Golden World. The song exploded and the relatively unknown Starr quickly had the #1 song in the world.
War was such a big hit that this the second album that Starr put out that features it. With little to no chance that he would ever get booked at The Copa, Starr got to record all of Whitfield’s more socially conscious records, and the very War-like follow up, Stop The War was a fairly decent chart hit. But this was kind of it as far as Edwin Starr and chart success goes. It’s sad but true that he got stereotyped as an anti-war protest singer. That’s a really tough place to be when the war ends, as the US involvement in Vietnam quickly did. I’m sure the leather fringed vest he wore here didn’t help.
Cost: $3, $440 Remaining