Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lights in my window

In this season of long, cold nights, various versions of "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" have been spending a lot of time on my turntable.

"I'll Keep My Light in My Window" was co-written and first performed by Leonard Caston, who had been a member of the 60s-era Chicago soul group the Radiants before joining Motown. There, he had his greatest success working with Eddie Kendricks; Caston co-produced Kendricks's biggest hit, "Keep On Truckin'" and co-wrote and co-produced the untoppable "Girl You Need a Change of Mind", among other things. Caston and his wife, Carolyn Majors, cut one LP, a self-titled flop that included their recording of "I'll Keep My Light in My Window".

The song was co-written by Terri McFaddin, who had collaborated with Caston on some songs for Kendricks and later went on to co-write Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots".

I don't know how the song became a staple; as far as I can tell, no version of the song ever charted. Nonetheless, it's been recorded many, many times, both by gospel artists (e.g., the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar, etc.) and secular ones (Diana Ross, Eruption, etc.). Here are five of my favorite versions.

Caston & Majors: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (Motown, 1974)

This is the original version. I found the arrangement a little cluttered at first, but it's a grower.

Ben Vereen: "I'll Keep My Light in the Window" (Buddah, 1975)

This was the first version I heard, thanks to Chi Ali. I love the guitar part. This version was arranged by Tony Silvester from the Main Ingredient and the ubiquitous Bert "Super Charts" DeCoteaux.

The New York Community Choir: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (RCA, 1978)

The New York Community Choir was a group that included Phyllis Joubert and Benny Diggs; both made a bunch of great music that bridges the gap between the church and the disco. There are three versions of this recording: a truncated album version, a punched-up disco 12" version and this one, which is my favorite.

Free Life: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (Epic, 1978)

Free Life were protégés of Earth, Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey. Bailey co-produced their album and wrote or co-wrote several of their songs.

The Temptations: "I'll Keep My Light in My Window" (Gordy, 1984)

This was from of those eras where the Temptations were lacking not just in fashion sense but also in star power-- they had no Eddie Kendricks, no David Ruffin, no Dennis Edwards, not even a Damon Harris. Even so, their vocal and the arrangement are great.

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Blogger Joe said...

the marvin-and-diana version has to be the gold standard but woah i am digging ben vereen-- no clue he made cut any records. is the rest any good?

December 19, 2009 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I like the arrangement of the Diana & Marvin version but it doesn't really work for me. I feel like Ross is incapable of conveying the warmth it takes to put the song across.

Nothing else on the Ben Vereen album caught my ear. He cut another LP that recycles many of the tracks from Off-Stage, but I've never listened to it:

December 20, 2009 at 11:48 AM  

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