Ho Ho Ho we’re nearly there, you’d better not be bad, you’d better not dare! It’ s December 23rd and Day 23 of my ABC of Motown Advent Calendar. Which brings us to the letter W. This was a tough letter for me I had four songs in mind before I finally selected a song with a real message, it’s “War” by Mr Edwin Starr.
Edwin was born Charles Edwin Hatcher in Tennessee in 1942 and sadly died aged just 61 in 2003 at his home in Bramcote in Nottinghamshire. I never knew he lived in England, but apparently he moved here in 1973. Ironically his death came just a couple of weeks after the start of the war in Iraq. He started his singing career in the late 50s with a doo wop group called the Future Tones. He later signed to the Ric-Tic label where he had his first big hit with “Agent Double ‘O’ Soul’ in 1965 which reached number 21 in the US charts. He became a Motown artist in 1968 when Motown took over the Ric-Tic label.
“War” started life as a Temptations album track, but Starr’s version was his biggest hit by far when it was released in 1970 hitting the top of the US charts and going to number three in the UK. Motown and the Temptations were very reluctant to release such a controversial song by one of their most popular acts. But Norman Whitfield who wrote the song with Barrett Strong kept pushing for its release. Eventually Motown offered a compromise and said that it could be released if Whitfield recorded it with another act. He chose Edwin Starr who was seen by many as a second string Motown artist. But for many others, including me, he was seen as a fantastically powerful vocalist.
Edwin made the song his own and it became his signature song. Many other artists (including the Jam, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen) have covered it but none have reached the power and impact of Starr’s version. The Undisputed Truth supplied backing vocals on the song and once again those Motown stalwarts the Funk Brothers played the music in another excellent Whitfield production. Incidentally the Funk Brothers also played on the original version by the Temptations.
Enjoy Edwin’s version followed by a Baby Bollox remix of the Temptations original and some covers of this great song, ending with a live perfprmance featuring both Springsteen and Starr. It’s sad to think that the message still resonates today more than 40 years after it was released.