Thursday, October 16, 2003

Motown madness

A while back, after I finished putting together a three-CD compilation of the history of power pop, Jay challenged me to put together a definitive Motown collection. Eventually, I did, but I forgot to tell Jay about it. Last night, I was burning an Mp3 disc to take to work and ran across the files, so I threw them on. I thought I might as well post the tracklist right here so Jay'll know I didn't just blow the whole thing off, and so that anyone else who's interested can see what I picked.

Here are the guidelines I set out for the project (although I did end up bending my rules a little). First, I wanted to make it a chronological compilation, so that it would trace the development of the Motown sound. Second, it should contain only one song per artist. After all, it'd be all too easy to fill up a disc with several songs by the Temptations, the Four Tops, and the Supremes, and I wanted to throw a spotlight on a few lesser-known artists. Here's the tracklist I came up with for this single-disc compilation:

1. Mary Wells - My Guy
2. Brenda Holloway - Every Little Bit Hurts
3. Junior Walker - Shotgun
4. Kim Weston - Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)
5. The Contours - First I Look at the Purse
6. Martha and the Vandellas - Nowhere to Run
7. Shorty Long - Function at the Junction
8. The Four Tops - Reach Out (I'll Be There)
9. The Isley Brothers - This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)
10. The Marvelettes - Don't Mess with Bill
11. Jimmy Ruffin - What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
12. Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - Ain't No Mountain High Enough
13. Marv Johnson - I'll Pick a Rose for My Rose
14. Marvin Gaye - I Heard It Through the Grapevine
15. Diana Ross & The Supremes - Someday We'll Be Together
16. The Originals - The Bells
17. Edwin Starr - War
18. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - The Tears of a Clown
19. The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back
20. The Spinners - It's a Shame
21. Stevie Wonder - Superstition
22. The Temptations - Papa Was a Rollin' Stone
23. Holland-Dozier-Holland - Why Can't We Be Lovers
24. Gladys Knight & The Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia

I ended up leaving some things off because they didn't fit the overall feel of the compilation, instead concentrating on the glory years of the label, beginning with the emergence of the classic Motown sound and ending roughly around the time Motown moved from Detroit to LA in 1971. For example, I left off Motown's first number one single -- "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes, from 1961 -- because it's got more of an early girl-group sound (but the group did get represented later). I also left off the Commodores' "Brick House" from 1977 and Rick James' "Super Freak" from 1981 because they just came too late for what I was looking for. And of course, when we're talking about Motown's all-time most successful artists, we've got to mention Boyz II Men, but I just can't bring myself to put them on, even if they are the most commercially successful R&B artists of all time, since they're everything I hate about modern R&B. I guess "End of the Road" would be the song to include, if you had to pick one, though, given that it's one of the biggest hits in the history of pop music, spending 13 weeks at number one and breaking Elvis Presley's record (11 weeks for the double-A single "Don't Be Cruel"/"Hound Dog"). But still -- they're such a bunch of wusses.

Now, as for the rules I broke, you'll notice straight off that Marvin Gaye actually appears on the disc twice. That's because his duets with Tammi Terrell were of such significance that the duo really needs to be recognized as a separate entity. (And it goes without saying that he deserves to be recognized on his own. The man gave us What's Going On, after all, which is widely considered one of the greatest albums ever.) Also, I sort of cheated in that the last two songs were recorded after their artists had left the Motown label. But given that Holland-Dozier-Holland was the production team behind such a ridiculously high number of Motown hits, it's safe to say they embody the Motown sound, so they deserve to have their only hit single as a group represented here. As for Gladys Knight and the Pips, you just can't not pick the Grammy-winning "Midnight Train to Georgia", their only number one. Anyway, they'd only left Motown (where they'd labored for years) only the previous year, so I think it's permissible. It makes such a good closer too.

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