Album: The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 10: 1970 (Hip-o Select B0011056-02 2008)

This is long. Sorry.

For many the production line of pop-soul hits that characterized the period 1964-67 was the essence of Motown, the pop-soul hit factory. By 1970, both the pop world and the wider world had changed. Motown had changed, too, as writers, producers and artists fought for more control. The result was that the “Motown sound” was fracturing into a rainbow of different musical forms. What had remained constant, though, was the label’s exceptionally high quality control. Just a brief look at the track list of this, the tenth in the exhaustive Complete Motown singles series, shows that the number of classic songs released by the company during 1970 was at least the equal of the perceived golden period.

A company that styled itself as the “sound of young America” had its work cut out in a polarized society ripped apart by racial tension, the Vietnam war, and a degree of radicalization not seen since the 1930s (nor, indeed, since). It required a fine balancing act, and it was one that Berry Gordy achieved with a great deal of panache. A look at the cover of the free facsimile 45 that comes with the box (the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown”) and its “album favorites” ads shows white blues-rockers Toe Fat and soul staples Gladys Knight & the Pips sharing space with spoken word LPs by Martin Luther King, Langston Hughes and Stokely Carmichael on the Black forum imprint (some of whose proceeds went to the Black Panther Party). It’s a stunning contrast to Gordy’s famous discomfort with his musical artists broaching political issues in their songs. Even so, there are a number of those in this collection, some of which were the among the most explicitly anti-Vietnam war songs committed to vinyl during the whole era.

Six discs, 144 tracks, well over seven hours of music – it’s a lot to get through, let alone to try and adequately cover in a review. Disc one kicks off with the first of three singles by the Originals. “The Bells” is a Philly style sweet soul tune, not a million miles from the Delfonics. It was produced by Marvin Gaye, an artist whose appearances on this collection are relatively fleeting. He was hit hard by Tammi Terrell’s death from a brain tumour at just 24 years old and spent most of 1970 in semi-retirement. He would, of course, re-emerge the following year with What’s Going On, one of the truly great albums. His absence in person is made up for by the number of acts who wore his influence like a badge. Former Flamingo Terry Johnson is a case in point. His “Whatcha’ Gonna Do” is a Marvin track in all but name. Another artist who was about to enter the greatest stage of his career was Stevie Wonder, just out of his teens. “Never Had a Dream Come True” is almost like a bridge between the old and new Stevies.

Edwin Starr was one of the few acts afforded the chance to write and produce his own material. “Time” shows a debt to Norman Whitfield’s classic production work, but also has a healthy dose of southern grit. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were an act whose best days were behind them. Even so, “I Should Be Proud” stands up with the best of their records. It was a stinging attack on Vietnam, and sunk without a trace. Reeves believes to this day that pressure from the very top caused Berry Gordy to withdraw it. Certainly it pulled no punches: “And they say that I should be proud; he was keepin’ me free / They say that I should be proud, those too blind to see / But he wasn’t fightin’ for me, my Johnny didn’t have to die for me / He was fightin’ for the evils of society”. The spoken word section is even more bitter “They shipped him home with medals of honor & glory / Even our local paper ran a front-page story / But the whole time gave him praisin’ & said how honored I should be / But I don’t want no superstar, just the good man they took from me”. Released the same day, and suffering almost the same fate was the Spinners’ blunt black pride anthem “Message from a Black Man”, better known these days in its version by the Temptations. Not something that white pop radio wanted to hear. Other highlights of the first disc include Jr Walker’s “Gotta Hold On to This Feeling”, one of the sax player’s last truly great singles. Stu Gardner’s contributions introduce a dash of James Brown style funk, and Gladys Knight’s “You Need Love Like I Do” showcases the perfect fit of her gritty soul vocal and Norman Whitfield’s psychedelic soul production. Joe Harnell’s muzak version of “My Cherie Amour” is pretty dire, and I’m definitely an agnostic when it comes to Rare Earth’s dad-rock interpretations of Temptations’ classics. 

The Four Tops go boating

The Four Tops go boating

Staff writer Ivy Jo Hunter gets a rare place in the spotlight on disc two. His “I Remember When (Dedicated to Beverley)” is a sweet nostalgic ballad that shows off a strong voice. He should have recorded more. Tammi Terrell’s swansong came with the “Onion Song”, released on the day of her funeral. Much of her vocal was in fact recorded by writer Valerie Simpson, but Simpson has always insisted that Terrell definitely does sing on the tune. Diana Ross’s solo career began with a whimper rather than a bang. “Reach Out and Touch” was just a moderate hit, and her first solo shows were such slow sellers that people were actually paid to fill seats. Especially galling when the Supremes, with new recruit Jean Terrell, had hit the ground running with the fabulous “Up the Ladder to the Roof”.

R Dean Taylor ploughed a lonely furrow at Motown. “Indiana Wants Me” was a rare solo hit, but his production work for other acts usually produced results that the company didn’t really know how to market. When he came up with a record as schizophrenic as the Rustix single, it’s not hard to sympathise with them. The A side was a fairly standard piece of funk-rock in the Blood, Sweat and Tears mould, but the flip was a Jacques Brel style torch song. Bizarre, but it’s actually rather good. The Fantastic Four may have been indebted to the Four Tops for their sound, but both of their songs here are strong, as are the contributions by Chuck Jackson, one of Motown’s most under-rated singers.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll hardly need an introduction to “Ball of Confusion”, “The Love You Save”, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” or “War” – four of the greatest Motown singles of any era. Indeed, “Ball of Confusion” would probably make my top ten singles of all time. The Spinners’ “It’s A Shame” deserves to be as feted. Their finest Motown moment, it’s as good as anything they did at Atlantic. With a distinctive guitar riff that introduces and underpins the tune, it’s a record that soars, and never fails to deliver a smile. Less well known is Michael Denton’s “Just Another Morning” which sounds like the Beach Boys doing Northern Soul! Why on earth was that never a hit? The Originals’ “We Can Make It” sounds like the prototype for the bedroom soul ballads of Teddy Pendergrass, Alexander O’Neal etc. And Kiki Dee’s contributions are surprisingly good. If, like me, you only know her from that awful duet she did with Elton John, they’re quite a revelation. She ain’t Dusty, but she’s not bad for a white girl from Bradford (God, that sounds patronizing – sorry!)

There are some more familiar classics on disc four. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was Diana Ross’s breakthrough solo hit. It’s an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production, and is here in three versions – the hit, a short promo and the full six minute epic. It’s brilliant but programming all three in succession is overcooking things somewhat. “I’ll Be There” is possibly the Jackson Five’s finest three minutes. Selling four million copies in the US alone, it was also their biggest hit. The late Yvonne Fair is probably best known for her 1976 hit “It Should Have Been Me”. Her Motown debut “Stay a Little Longer” is an effective Gladys Knight style soul shouter, but is bettered by the Stax flavoured ballad on the B side.

Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths’ “Young Gifted and Black” was a big hit in the UK when released by the Trojan label, but the US public never really took to reggae, and Motown didn’t bother licensing any more tracks in that vein. It’s a fantastic record, but sounds weirdly out of place on this compilation, even though it’s followed by the Four Tops’ “Still Water (Love)”, with its slinky bossa nova/reggae groove. “Still Water (Peace)” is so slow it almost is still! Buzzie was a new name to me until I found out that it was Terry Johnson under an alias. I would’ve bet my life that it was a Whitfield production, but it was actually produced by Johnson himself. He’d obviously been watching the master at close hand. The Ruffin Brothers’ limp version of “Stand by Me” is the only real weak link on disc four.

Tamla-Motown in the UK were pretty much independent when it came to choosing singles. A three year old Miracles track was issued and hit number one. The US company followed suit and were rewarded with a chart-topper themselves. Quite how a song as fantastic as “Tears of a Clown” was missed first time round is a mystery. Other nailed on classics on disc five include the Supremes’ “Stoned Love”, Stevie Wonder’s gospel-flavoured “Heaven Help Us All” and Gladys Knight’s impassioned “If I Were Your Woman”. The Chisa label was set up by South African exile Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine. Masekela’s jazz-funk rendition of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” is pretty special as is the Afro-jazz of the B side. Hearts of Stone are one of the most obscure groups on this set. Undeservedly so, judging from the mighty “It’s a Lonesome Road”. Not sure about the Supremes and the Four Tops’ version of “River Deep Mountain High”. It doesn’t really work – perhaps it’s the lack of Spector’s OTT production that makes it sound a bit flat. It’s not as bad as Allan Nicholls’ overwrought pop-rock offerings, though. He was in Hair. And it shows. Horrible.

Disc six is easily the weakest of the set. Edwin Starr’s “Stop the War Now” basically retreads the ground covered in “War” but to lesser effect. And then there are the Jackson Five’s Christmas tunes. They’re OK as far as Christmas tunes go, but it’s a genre that’s hackneyed and reeks of rampant consumerism. There are some good songs. The Originals’ “God Bless Whoever Sent You” is a fine ballad. The Jazz Crusaders (better known as the Crusaders of “Street Life” fame) weigh in with “Way Back Home”, a jazz-funk instrumental that sounds like the theme to a TV cop show. “Jackson” is just cheese, though. Things pick up in the second half with Diana Ross’s “Remember Me”, another big production number. The Spinners’, Four Tops’ and Jimmy Ruffin’s contributions are all above par, but not among their finest moments. Arthur Adams’ “Can’t Wait to See You” is probably the pick of the final disc – the sort of deep soul ballad that would have sat well on one of Dave Godin’s legendary compilations.

The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 10 is one of the best in the series so far. It’s refreshingly free of cheesy MOR, novelty tunes, godawful country, and generic Motown-by-numbers. As ever, the packaging is exemplary, with 148 pages of sleevenotes, a facsimile 45, and loads of excellent photos. The series is planned to finish with 1972 when Motown finally upped sticks from Detroit, and to coincide with next year’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Roll on volume 11. 

The Supremes have a sartorial nightmare

The Supremes have a sartorial nightmare

Tracks

Disc 1
1. The Bells – The Originals
2. I’ll Wait For You – The Originals
3. The Bells – The Originals (Alt. Mix)
4. Blackmail – Bobby Taylor
5. My Cherie Amour – Joe Harnell
6. Never Had A Dream Come True – Stevie Wonder
7. Somebody Knows, Somebody Cares – Stevie Wonder
8. Whatcha’ Gonna Do – Terry Johnson
9. Time – Edwin Starr
10. Running Back And Forth – Edwin Starr
11. Gotta Hold On To This Feeling – Jr. Walker & The All-Stars
12. Clinging To The Thought That She’s Coming Back – Jr. Walker & The All-Stars
13. I Should Be Proud – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
14. Love, Guess Who – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
15. Message From A Black Man – The Spinners
16. Life Beats – The Supremes
17. Up The Ladder To The Roof – The Supremes
18. Bill, When Are You Coming Back – The Supremes
19. Expressin’ My Love – Stu Gardner
20. I Don’t Dream No More – Stu Gardner
21. Get Ready – Rare Earth
22. ABC – The Jackson 5
23. The Young Folks – The Jackson 5
24. You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You?) – Gladys Knight & The Pips
25. You’re My Everything – Gladys Knight & The Pips

Disc 2
1. I Remember When (Dedicated To Beverly) – Ivy Jo (Promo Version)
2. Sorry Is A Sorry Word – Ivy Jo
3. I Remember When (Dedicated To Beverly) – Ivy Jo (Commercial Version)
4. The Onion Song – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
5. California Soul – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
6. It’s All In The Game – Four Tops
7. Love (Is The Answer) – Four Tops
8. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand) – Diana Ross
9. These Things Will Keep Me Loving You – Diana Ross
10. Dark Side Of The World – Diana Ross
11. Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor (Promo Version)
12. Love’s Your Name – R. Dean Taylor
13. Indiana Wants Me – R. Dean Taylor (Commercial Version)
14. Come On People – The Rustix
15. Free Again (Non C’est Rien) – The Rustix
16. On The Brighter Side Of A Blue World – The Fantastic Four
17. I’m Gonna Carry On – The Fantastic Four
18. Who’s Gonna Take The Blame – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
19. I Gotta Thing For You – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
20. My Baby’s Love – Arthur Adams
21. Loving You – Arthur Adams
22. Two Feet From Happiness – Chuck Jackson
23. Let Somebody Love Me – Chuck Jackson

Disc 3
1. Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today) – The Temptations
2. It’s Summer – The Temptations
3. The Love You Save – The Jackson 5
4. I Found That Girl – The Jackson 5
5. The End Of Our Road – Marvin Gaye
6. Me And My Lonely Room – Marvin Gaye
7. Just Another Morning – Michael Denton
8. Arma’ Geden – Michael Denton
9. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours – Stevie Wonder
10. I’m More Than Happy (I’m Satisfied) – Stevie Wonder
11. War – Edwin Starr
12. Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours (Alt. Mix)- Stevie Wonder (Alternate Mix)
13. He Who Picks A Rose – Edwin Starr
14. It’s A Shame – The Spinners
15. Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music – The Spinners
16. Do You See My Love (For You Growing) – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
17. Groove And Move – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
18. The Day Will Come Between Sunday And Monday – Kiki Dee
19. My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me) – Kiki Dee
20. Everybody’s Got The Right To Love – The Supremes
21. But I Love You More – The Supremes
22. We Can Make It – The Originals (Promo Version)
23. I Like Your Style – The Originals
24. We Can Make It Baby – The Originals (Commercial Version)
25. An Important Message From Barney Ales (Listen Immediately) – Barney Ales

Disc 4
1. (I Know) I’m Losing You – Rare Earth
2. When Joanie Smiles – Rare Earth
3. Stay A Little Longer – Yvonne Fair
4. We Should Never Be Lonely My Love – Yvonne Fair
5. How You Gonna Keep It (After You Get it) – Blinky
6. This Time Last Summer – Blinky
7. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross (Long Promo Version)
8. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross (Commercial Version)
9. Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Diana Ross (Short Promo Version)
10. Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow – Diana Ross
11. Young Gifted And Black – Bob & Marcia
12. Peace Of Mind – Bob & Marcia
13. Still Water (Love) – Four Tops
14. Still Water (Peace) – Four Tops
15. Stone Soul Booster – Buzzie
16. Sandy – Buzzie
17. I’ll Be There – The Jackson 5
18. One More Chance – The Jackson 5
19. Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World) – The Temptations
20. Hum Along And Dance – The Temptations
21. As Long As I’ve Got You – Danny Hernandez & The Ones
22. One Little Teardrop – Danny Hernandez & The Ones
23. Stand By Me – David & Jimmy Ruffin
24. Your Love Was Worth Waiting For – David & Jimmy Ruffin

Disc 5
1. The Tears Of A Clown – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
2. Promise Me – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
3. The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage – Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (Alternate Mix)
4. Heaven Help Us All – Stevie Wonder
5. I Gotta Have A Song – Stevie Wonder
6. You Keep Me Hangin’ On – Hugh Masekela
7. Make Me A Potion – Hugh Masekela
8. It’s A Lonesome Road – Hearts Of Stone
9. Yesterday’s Love Is Over – Hearts Of Stone
10. I Gotta Let You Go – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
11. You’re The Loser Now – Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
12. Stoned Love – The Supremes
13. Shine On Me – The Supremes
14. Stoned Love – The Supremes (Long Version)
15. If I Were Your Woman – Gladys Knight & The Pips
16. The Tracks Of My Tears – Gladys Knight & The Pips
17. Marionette – The Marvelettes
18. After All – The Marvelettes
19. River Deep, Mountain High – The Supremes & Four Tops
20. Together We Can Make Such Sweet Music – The Supremes & Four Tops
21. Coming Apart – Allan Nicholls
22. Let The Music Play – Allan Nicholls
23. Coming Apart – Allan Nicholls (Stereo Promo Version)

Disc 6
1. Stop The War Now – Edwin Starr
2. God Bless Whoever Sent You – The Originals
3. Just To Keep You Satisfied – The Originals
4. Desperate Young Man – The Originals
5. Born To Wander – Rare Earth
6. Here Comes The Night – Rare Earth
7. Born To Wander – Rare Earth (Stereo Promo Version)
8. Holly Holy – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
9. Carry Your Own Load – Jr. Walker & The All Stars
10. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – The Jackson 5
11. Christmas Won’t Be The Same This Year – The Jackson 5
12. Way Back Home – The Jazz Crusaders
13. Jackson! – The Jazz Crusaders
14. Remember Me – Diana Ross
15. How About You – Diana Ross
16. We’ll Have It Made – The Spinners
17. My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me) – The Spinners
18. Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life) – Four Tops
19. I Wish I Were Your Mirror – Four Tops
20. Maria (You Were The Only One) – Jimmy Ruffin
21. Living In A World I Created For Myself – Jimmy Ruffin
22. Living In A World I Created For Myself – Jimmy Ruffin (Alternate Mix)
23. Can’t Wait To See You – Arthur Adams
24. It’s Private Tonight – Arthur Adams

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