Marlena Shaw / Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – California Soul(s)


Marlena Shaw (top) Marvin & Tammi (bottom)



Listen – Marlena Shaw – California Soul – MP3″

Listen – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – California Soul – MP3″

Greetings all.

How’s it going y’all?
All is well on this end, despite the likelihood of snow this evening.
We had a great time at my son Miles’ 4th birthday party yesterday, and I even got in some excellent (unexpected) LP digs this afternoon (a nice pile of vinyl accumulated in under 20 minutes), which will yield a number of future Funky16Corners features.
Today’s selections have been sitting in the hopper for about a month now, just waiting form me to get my shit together and put a post together.
The song ‘California Soul’ has been on my radar since my Mom brought the 5th Dimension’s ‘Stone Soul Picnic’ LP into the house in 1969, when I was but a wee lad of seven summers. I don’t think I heard another version of the tune until I was well into my twenties, and then I think it might have been the cover by the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.
I didn’t get familiar with the Marlena Shaw version until DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist used the break in the Brainfreeze mix sometime around 2000. Though I have a grip of Marlena Shaw stuff in my crates, I only managed to score a copy of the ‘California Soul’ 45 (one of the many funky sides that had its price driven into the stratosphere by the Brainfreeze phenom) late in 2007. Oddly enough, there are two versions of the 45 on Cadet, which released it once as an a-side, and then again later in 1969 as a b-side (the one I have).
The tune, written by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson was (I believe) originally recorded by the 5th Dimension, who had a Top 40 hit with the song toward the end of 1968.
It was my main intention to post the Marlena Shaw version – which is in my opinion the finest of all – because the full song, not just the amazing breakbeat with which it opens – needs to be heard.
It pays to note that none of these many versions (there’s also a nice take by the Undisputed Truth) would be possible without the always outstanding songcraft of Ashford and Simpson. They wrote many remarkable songs, but ‘California Soul’ holds a special place in my heart (and ears) because I feel that it’s really a unique intersection between soul and pop music in that it works the whole late-60’s California mythos into an elegantly soulful bag.
Shaw’s version (with some of that Richard Evans magic) is remarkable because it has a propulsive force that is largely absent in the other versions, thanks in large part to the drumming. Though I’m not positive, I believe that the drumming on ‘California Soul’ is provided by Morris Jennings Jr., a favorite of Evans and a major player in the Cadet sound, on records by the Soulful Strings (I think it’s Jennings working the break on ‘Jingle Bells’), Ramsey Lewis and many others. This in addition to Shaw’s undeniably powerful vocal. If you aren’t on the Marlena Shaw tip, this record ought to be enough to send you there.
The drums and handclaps provide the bottom, surrounded with a lush blanket of strings (oh so soulful…), piano and of course Shaw.
In contrast is the much mellower take on the tune by Marvin Gaye and (maybe) Tammi Terrell. Their version was recorded during Terrell’s physical decline (she was suffering from a brain tumor) and released after her death, on their last duet LP ‘Easy’.
The rumor has always been (thanks to claims by Gaye himself) that the vocals on this tune (and many tunes recorded during this period) were not in fact Terrell, but actually Valerie Simpson (something that Simpson herself has denied).
There is – at least to my ears – a different feel in the vocals on ‘California Soul’, especially on the line (my favorite part of the lyric)

‘so the people started to sing, and that’s how the surf gave birth I’m told…’,

where the feel is much more Simpson than Terrell. Whether this is in fact an ailing Terrell, or Simpson (no less than eight of the 12 tracks on the ‘Easy’ LP are Ashford/Simpson compositions) I can’t say for sure. This should in no way diminish the legacy of Terrell as an outstanding vocalist. Though her discography is tragically short, it’s very long on quality. Either way I dig this version, and I hope you do to.
Sometime in the future, if I’m in the right mood I may have to put together an all-‘California Soul’ podcast.
See you later in the week.

Head on over to Iron Leg if you wish to partake in some garage pop…


PS Don’t forget the Asbury Park 45 Sessions return this Friday 1/18 to the World Famous Asbury Lanes!!

PSS Thanks to the folks at NRC Next in the Netherlands for the nice writeup of Funky16Corners!


36 Responses to “Marlena Shaw / Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – California Soul(s)”

  1. Tony C Says:

    One of my favorites of all time Larry. Fith Dimension did’nt make to bad a version of it to.
    Cheers Tony.

  2. Alex S. Says:

    Can’t go wrong with Marlena, amazing vocalist, great songs. Still waiting on the Ikecast, don’t mean to sound rude but i seriously can’t wait for it.

  3. rory Says:

    great track, i have a 45 of california soul by nick ashford which i believe to be the og version. i also like the messengers version also used by shadow and chemist.

  4. funky16corners Says:

    I didn’t know Ashford had recorded it. That would just about have to be the OG!

  5. fleamarketfunk Says:

    cosign on the messengers version, but this track in general is smokin’! marlena, undisputed, messengers, marvin and tammi, the tabulations…it just keeps goin on and on. sorry i missed you at the swap.

  6. langdonauger Says:

    Somewhere on Youtube is a DJ mixing the very smokin’ version by Brenda & the Tabulations. Yeah, whenever I see a stratospherically priced funky little nugget, I know, crap, friggin’ Brainfreeze.

  7. Dave Easson Says:

    Truly the song that got me into this whole scene. I first heard it mixed by David Holmes for BBC Radio 1 in 1997. He later put it on a double CD mix that was released, but the original 2-hour mix is far superior and contains some absolute gems, inculding Ike and Tina’s Bold Soul Sister and JB’s “Shh for a little while” – plus Shaw’s Woman of the Ghetto. I still have 90 mins of it on cassette tape and minidisc and I’m dying to digimatize it somehow.

  8. Tony C Says:

    Dave I have that mix on cassette too.Starts off with Ode to Billie Joe by Nancy Wilson. Awesome stuff!!!
    Scared to play it though in case the machine chews it up!

  9. The Pyrex Scholar Says:

    killing it as always man. great post. the messengers version is my favorite too.

    ive added you to my blog roll.. feel free to do the same!

  10. Dave Easson Says:

    Tony, it’s brilliant isn’t it? Like I say I’ve managed to transfer it to minidisc. Hopefully in the next few weeks i’ll have access to the right equipment to digimatise it but the mp3 file will be massive!

    As the start to a mix tape, this isn’t bad:
    Nancy Wilson – “Ode To Billie Joe”
    Lou Rawls – “For What Its Worth”
    Marlena Shaw – “California Soul”
    Ike & Tina Turner – “Bold Soul Sister”
    James Brown – “Shhhh (For A Little While)”

    (sorry to go on about it Larry!)

  11. funky16corners Says:

    Not a problem. Most of those tracks have been featured here at onetime or another.

    You’ve been added here as well.


  12. frankai Says:

    i learned the tamba 4 version over here ,and i do like the version of the gimmicks ,got it on a mojo-club sampler ,always full of stuff similar to the mixtapesounds ,youre talkin bout.
    my favourite is the marlena shaw one

  13. Dave Easson Says:

    That’s true Larry, and you’ve helped me (and all the rest of us here) get to know a whole lot more about those tunes – and a hell of a lot more.

    Keep it up!

  14. links for 2008-01-16 | NetInfoWeb 2.0: Soul, R&B, Jazz and Blues on the 'Net Says:

    […] Funky16Corners: Marlena Shaw / Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – California Soul(s) The song ‘California Soul’ has been on my radar since my Mom brought the 5th Dimension’s ‘Stone Soul Picnic’ LP into the house in 1969, when I was but a wee lad of seven summers. I don’t think I heard another version of the tune until I was we (tags: music soulsites funky16corners soul soul+music marvin+gaye tammi+terrell marlena+shaw) […]

  15. Pete Gloria Says:

    Marlena’s version has got to be on God’s jukebox, surely…
    Added to the big drums the string riff also gives it a forward kick, I reckon. In every sense of that old-timey expression: swell arrangement.
    Love the flamenco-ish Gerald Wilson version too! ace.

  16. Songs I’ve Downloaded This Week « Someday I Will Treat You Good Says:

    […] Gaye & Tammi Terrell – California Soul (there’s also the brilliant Marlena Shaw version, which I already […]

  17. colin Says:

    thanks so much for posting that. I just got Shaw’s Splice Of Life Lp and know that opening was familiar, but couldn’t place it. I thought it might have been a loop that I had heard on WFMU or something. Don’t think I have commented, but have been a long time fan of your blog and tell others about it. Keep on posting! wish I was closer (in Toronto) and I could hear you spin!

  18. Pete Reilly Says:

    Hi Larry, Great choice of tune as always, and “California Soul” is one of the coolest vibes ever. You know, I never realised there were so many versions, so if you are planning on doing a compilation, I can’t wait!

    It’s a tough call for me as to which version out of Marlena Shaw and Marvin / Tammi I prefer. I’ve always loved Marvin and Tammi’s version (even if it may have been Valerie Simpson on the f/vocal) ever since the fantastic “Easy” album came into the family home in 1970. My elder sister swears that she bought it, but I beg to differ! I came to the Marlena version rather late in the day, I guess, but am struck by the dynamism in her voice, and the sultry, summery feel to her version. Both these recordings are a delight, and are frequently on my playlist in the car, home and when playing out.

    Interestingly, and sorry if some readers know this already, KFC used Marlena’s recording, along with several other Northern Soul tunes, to advertise its yummy (not!) bargain bucket of reconstituted, reshaped chicken licken! I couldn’t find the advert on YouTube, but other KFC ads are there.

    All the best, Pete

  19. Andy Says:

    Been collecting versions of the mighty CS for many years – here’s what I think is a pretty definitive list of 60s and 70s verions (16 in total): Nick Ashford; Marlena; Marvin and Tammi; Gerald Wilson; Brenda & the Tabs: Gimmicks; Fifth Dimension; Smokey Robinson; Som Tres; Tamba 4; Wilson Das Neves; Edwin Starr; Messengers; Undisputed Truth; Bruce Cloud; Jonah Jones. Any others???

  20. funky16corners Says:

    Thanks for the list Andy. There’s a few there (esp the Brazilians) that I didn’t know about. I had the Jonah Jones version in my hands a few months ago and didn’t buy it. I wish I had…

  21. Andy Says:

    Drop me a line with the ones you want and I’ll try to sort you out with MP3s.

  22. Tom Van Hout Says:

    Hi Andy. Stumbled on your blog. What a discovery. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Great selection. Agree wholeheartedly about California Soul. Now that’s a track.

  23. California soul « Tom Van Hout Says:

    […] deeper on Funky16Corners (check the Latin version) and BreathofLife. And read the KickSnare interview with […]

  24. Chris Campbell Says:

    Hi all, I’m looking to ID the artist on an instrumental version of “California Soul”. It’s a very “brassy” uptempo version (*not* Gerald Wilson). It was used in a dance number in an episode of a 1970 TV show called “Something Else”, so it likely came out in 1969 or early 1970.

    Can anyone have a listen and identify the artist?
    [audio src="" /]


  25. funky16corners Says:

    There’s a version by trumpeter Jonah Jones. That might be it but I can’t say for sure.

  26. carlos duarte Says:

    somebody wikipedia this: marlena shaw’s “california soul”: the quite awesome beginning is sampled in adam freeland’s “fear” on tetsuya mizoguchi’s rez, in level 5..

    go here and skip to 4:51 to check out what i mean..

  27. Trifocal Says:

    I mention this only because it seems like it was not yet:

    My first exposure to the Brenda Shaw version was on a Gangstarr track off of their “Step In The Arena” album.

    I just saw a car commercial feature it.

    Now That I’ve heard Marvin and Tammi/Val’s, I think I actually prefer that one…..this year.

  28. Chris Campbell Says:

    Here’s an update on the “mystery” instrumental version I asked about last month. I discovered that it is by Steve Allen (musician/comedian/TV personality and first host of “The Tonight Show”), with orchestra arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson. It’s from the 1969 album “Soulful Brass #2” on Flying Dutchman records. As soon as I get a clean MP3 of the track, I’ll post a link to it, if anyone is interested. Andy, another one to add to your list!

  29. chris from melbourne Says:

    the newish diplo remix is amazing.
    it’s on the latest ‘verve remixed’ thing
    you know how the original has that suspense, that air of expectation? well, diplo kinda uses that as his start point. there’s the threat of a distant house beat in it, fat and heavy, and the suspense is never paid off…you wait, but it never comes. sensational.

  30. keith martin Says:

    As you rightly state whether by marlena shaw or marvin gaye and tammi terrel this is an outstanding track very popular on my radio show saturday nights 6-10pm if i’m honest marvin & Tammi edge it for me, fresh orange juice and sunshine through the window early morning tonic… you are welcome to contact me .

  31. anon Says:

    Marlena Shaw: live @ The Assembly, Leamington Spa.

    January 27th 2009.

    Tickets and info:

  32. Radio Magnetic Says:


    We’ve just put together a podcast featuring interviews and music from Marlena Shaw and Greg Wilson. Follow the link below to hear what ‘California Soul’ legend Marlena thinks about the influence soul and funk has had on today’s music, not to mention why she loves Japan! Also featuring Greg Wilson filling us in on his personal mission to educate the world on musical heritage.


    Radio Magnetic

  33. Marlena Shaw ”California Soul” 7” « My Favourite Sound© 2 Says:

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  34. My Favourite Sound© The Only & Original ♪ Free Edition » Marlena Shaw ''California Soul'' 7'' Says:

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  35. Marlena Shaw ''California Soul'' 7'' • Blog Archive • My Favourite Sound© The Only & Original ♪ Says:

    […] on Funky16Corners blog here. About this […]

  36. Andy Says:

    Thanks very much Chris for the tip off about the Steve Allen / Oliver Nelson version. Just discovered it was the first album released by Flying Dutchmen. http://flying–

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