McDonald's 'Motown' A Tribute To Classic R&B

Excerpted from the magazine for

It's nice to be wanted. Just ask Michael McDonald.

After departing the major-label arena several years ago, he has found his way back home again: to a major label, to the music that marked his childhood and early adult years and, most impressively, to the pop charts.

With his remake of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," McDonald returns to the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart after 10 years.

The track, which holds the No. 20 slot this week, is the lead single from "Motown," McDonald's tribute to the classic R&B songs from the famed Detroit label. The album came out June 24, appropriately enough, on Motown.

"Motown," which debuted at No. 78 on The Billboard 200 in the July 12 issue, marks McDonald's first appearance on that chart since 1990's "Take It to Heart." Released May 6 in the U.K., the album debuted at No. 29 on the album chart and has sold more than 50,000 units.

"This is a little more excitement than we're used to," the low-key McDonald says. First and foremost, he gives credit to the material: "The songs are undeniable. And Simon Climie's production really brought something special to the remakes."

Coupled with the "emotional angst" that McDonald says he goes through whenever he enters the studio, tackling some of the world's best-loved and best-known songs was enough to give him pause.

"I don't know that I really thought that I could bring anything new to the songs -- but someone's going to do this record, and damn it, I wanted to give it a shot," he says. "I figured if I wasn't the right guy, everyone would know it and we'd be out a plane ticket and they'd send me home."

Climie and McDonald deliberately stayed true to the originals while recording outside of Nice, France. "There were moments at first when we were trying to keep them all in the original keys, but we [ultimately] lowered 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me.' It was just stratospheric," McDonald says.

McDonald will be the focus of a "Soundstage" episode that will begin airing on PBS stations July 24. He began a U.S. tour June 28 in Virginia.

"Motown" is the first in a three-album deal with Universal Music International. McDonald is already looking forward to his next project. "It could be an album of new material or it could be another album of covers, if this is really successful," he says.

McDonald is appreciative of any audience and says that he long ago quit being concerned about which musical hole he fit into.

"I used to worry about things like that-about being perceived in a certain way," he says. "I've come to learn that music speaks for itself. No matter what anyone else thinks, if someone appreciates what you do, whether it's 10 people or a million people, it's all good -- because the only reason you make music is to have someone appreciate it."

Excerpted from the July 26, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

To order a single copy of the issue, visit The Billboard Store.