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Posthumous Mary Wilson track is a Surpeme find
The team behind Mary Wilson's newly released song "Why Can't We All Get Along" is happy it's finally coming out, nearly two decades after it was recorded.
They're just sorry the late Supremes co-founder, who died Feb. 8 at age 76, is not around to hear it.
"It's an emotional situation for me," Richard Davis, who co-wrote and co-produced the socially conscious track, says by phone from Los Angeles. "I have a lot of respect for Mary. She was just a different type of person. There was a wonderful honesty about her. It was the perfect song for her, and she was the perfect person to sing this song."
"Why Can't We All Just Get Along" appears on the new, expanded edition of Wilson's self-titled 1979 debut album, out on Friday, April 16. It's the only track to emerge from sessions, done mostly in Detroit in the early 2000s, for a full album that co-writer Angelo Bond says was conceptually about "her life ... her experience within the music business." Lush, slow and soulful, "Why Can't We All Get Along" is universal in its approach, echoing Motown mate Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and other socially conscious expressions as Wilson sings, "The world is on the edge/Blind and confused/We blame one another/But we all stand to lose."
"I think it's very timely, even though we cut it a period of time ago. It's a song that's sorely needed in society right now, in general," says McKinley Jackson, who handled musical arrangements during the sessions at The Disc studio, attached to the Detroit Recording Institute in Eastpointe. Jackson also played most of the instruments, along with Amp Fiddler.
That's music to the ears of the Detroit-based Bond, who took the title from the late Rodney King's plea to end rioting in Los Angeles during March 1991 after he was brutally beaten by police there. In the wake of recent incidents and 2020's Black Lives Matter protests — and in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial alleging the murder of George Floyd Jr. last May in Minneapolis — Bond is confident "Why Can't We All Get Along" is as resonant now as when it was written and recorded.
"That was my soul dealing with that thought, can't we all get along?" says Bond, who also co-wrote Freda Payne's 1971 anti-war hit "Bring the Boys Home" and "Power" for the Temptations in 1980. "Many of the songs I've written, I try to deal with something that can stand the test of time, very philosophical. I just want to write to make the world a better place. I really get sad when I think about the condition of the world today, that ('Why Can't We All Get Along') still means so much."
The Wilson sessions that produced "Why Can't We All Get Along" stemmed from a relationship between Davis and Wilson. The Detroit native worked at Wayne State University's Center for Urban Studies before joining brothers Brian and Eddie Holland — who along with Lamont Dozier wrote many of the Supremes' biggest hits — to handle administrative duties with their songwriting and production. He moved west with them during the early '70s and continues to work with the Hollands.
Davis and Bond also were friends, and it was while discussing new material that they decided Wilson would be best to sing it. "We brought up some other names, but when we said Mary, we both were like, 'Yes, she's the one!'" Davis recalls. "So I met with her ... in L.A. and she said, 'Why me?' And I told her it was her authenticity. I said, 'You can carry the message ... and people will believe you.'" At the time, in fact, Wilson was serving as a cultural ambassador for the United States, appointed by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, and the songwriters' sentiments rang true with her.
"She said, 'I have a diary with all that in it — it's like you got into my diary and recited it back to me,'" Davis remembers. "We both started laughing. But it was true. We were articulating her perspective on life and the commitment she had made and the work she had done."
Davis doesn't remember why the sessions never became an album for Wilson, but he held onto the tapes. Wilson, meanwhile, had begun talking to Universal Music Enterprises chief Bruce Resnikoff about both the 60th anniversary of the Supemes signing to Motown as well as making a new solo album. She mentioned the shelved sessions — and "Why Can't We All Get Along" in particular.
"As we discussed various music and releases scenarios together, she couldn't stop thinking about ... 'Why Can't We All Get Along,'" Resnikoff says. "It's a timely and relevant song, and she wanted to release the track to help spur social action and inspire hope."
Wilson's longtime publicist, Jay Schwartz, adds that, "She had been talking about this song for the last few years but especially this past summer, when the George Floyd incident happened, and the Black Lives Matter movement. She wanted the song to become the anthem for that." The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Schwartz says, further fueled Wilson's desire to get the song out.
In addition to "Why Can't We All Get Along," the "Mary Wilson: Expanded Edition" album features seven bonus tracks, including three special mixes of the single "Red Hot" and four songs — three previously unreleased — from a 1980 session in Europe with Elton John's producer Gus Dudgeon. The "Mary Wilson" album, which came out two years after the 1977 dissolution of the Supremes, was released by Motown and produced by Hal Davis. "Red Hot" peaked at No. 95 on Billboard's Hot R&B Songs chart at the time, while a remix hit No. 85 on the Disco chart.
It would be 13 years before Wilson's next solo album, "Walk the Line." There are talks about re-releasing that in some fashion as well, but no details have been revealed. There's been no determination about future release for other songs from the early 2000s sessions, either, though Resnkioff says, "we will be doing a lot more with Mary's material as she had wished."
Beyond music and activism, Wilson also wrote three books and curated a collection of the Supremes' gowns that has been exhibited in museums around the world. "Working with Mary was always delightful because she was a delightful person," Jackson says. "It was exciting to have her back (in Detroit). She was very eloquent, very sensitive, very kind and, actually, very regal — but not pretentiously.
"She was aware of herself in terms of her legendary status, iconic, but she would never present that to you. She was just a really nice person."
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