STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN: A Powerful Look At The Musicians Motown Left Behind

The Funk Brothers, we hardly knew ye.

Name a motown song. That was The Funk Brothers. Name another - hey, that's The Funk Brothers, too. Now name ten more: those are all Funk Brothers songs.

So how is it that most people have never heard of The Funk Brothers? They were a large group of session musicians who played the backing music to nearly every Motown Records hit from 1959 to 1972, when Motown moved from The Funk Brothers' Detroit to Los Angeles without a word of warning to the musicians, most of whom learned by arriving at the studio for a recording session and finding a note pinned to the door. Even before this unceremonious parting, The Funk Brothers (whose primary members include Joe Hunter, Earl Van Dyke, Clarence Isabell, James Jamerson, Benny "Papa Zita" Benjamin, Richard "Pistol" Allen, Paul Riser, Robert White, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, Jack Ashford, Jack Brokensha, Eddie "Bongo" Brown, Johnny Griffith, Uriel Jones, Bob Babbitt and Dennis Coffey) remained largely unheralded for their contributions to the internationally growing pop soul movement - until 2002, when Paul Justman directed Standing in the Shadows of Motown, a documentary (based on Allan Slutsky's book) with the express purpose of bringing The Funk Brothers out of anonymity and into the spotlight. 

For some of them, by then, it was too late. Before filming, many of The Funk Brothers' members, including Benjamin, Jamerson, Brown, Van Dyke and others, had died in bankruptcy and obscurity, often due to complications arising from addiction. Motown Records did not treat its less notorious musicians kindly, and the compensation was haphazard and minimal. But, though Standing in the Shadows of Motown never shies from the dismal reality of Motown's business dealings, the film itself is more a celebration of music than an indictment of the music industry. This is a movie that loves motown, acknowledging the corruption of Motown Records but honoring the power of its music, with one of the greatest soundtracks boasted by any film in recent memory. 

"(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" 
"You've Really Got a Hold on Me" 
"Do You Love Me" 
"Reach Out I'll Be There" 
"Ain't Too Proud to Beg" 
"What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" 
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" -
"You Keep Me Hangin' On" 
"Cool Jerk" 
"Cloud Nine" 
"What's Going On" 
Band Introduction/"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" 
"The Flick"
"Boom Boom" 
"(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" 

In The Snakepit: Naked Instrumental Remixes Of The Original Hits
Deluxe Edition bonus CD, 2004

"Funk Brothers In The House"
"Standing in the Shadows of Love" 
"The One Who Really Loves You" 
"Pride and Joy"
"My Girl"
"Love Is Like an Itching in My Heart" 
"Don't Mess with Bill" (Live)
"The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" 
"I Second That Emotion" 
"I Was Made to Love Her"
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" 
"Home Cookin'" 
"For Once in My Life" 
"I Can't Get Next to You" 
"It's a Shame" 
"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" 
"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)"
"You're My Everything" 

The Funk Brothers made music because they loved it, because they were born for it, because it's all they've ever wanted to do. And many of them are still making music together, thanks in large part to the efforts of Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the last act of which is dedicated to the staging of a reunion concert of all surviving members (and with framed photos and chairs reserved onstage for those Funk Brothers who did not survive to participate). On a large stage in front of a wild audience, The Funk Brothers performed the songs we've known all our lives, backing vocals performed by the likes of Chaka Khan, Bootsy Collins, Joan Osborne, Montell Jordan, Ben Harper and more.

As these men stand onstage, playing the hell out of some of the most popular songs ever written, grins on their faces a mile long, it becomes clear that this is where they're meant to be, and whatever they've been doing in the decades since Motown Records moved to Los Angeles is a meaningless detour on the paths they've always intended to take. Standing in the Shadows of Motown is great entertainment, a piercing and well-executed look at a previously undistinguished subject, with clarity of direction and an appealing voice-over by actor Andre Braugher. But the film becomes more than that when we realize that it's the impetus for The Funk Brothers' reunion and current tours, for their long belated recognition and our own appreciation of the men behind the music. It's crucial viewing for any fan of motown, because it allows you to see - and hear! - what you've really been a fan of this whole time.