Various: Motown 50 (Universal)

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The Four Tops: Reach Out (I'll Be There)
Various: Motown 50 (Universal)

It would be very easy to acclaim this -- 50 of Motown's greatest hits over three discs to celebrate the classic soul label's 50th anniversary. Wow, what's not to like, huh?

But then you listen to it: the copy that has arrived for Elsewhere consideration (and presumably the one in New Zealand stores) isn't the UK edition but something else. Possibly the French edition?

The UK version opens with sensible, exciting, evocative trilogy of seminal Motown tracks: Marvin Gaye's I Heard it Through the Grapevine; Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' Dancing in the Streets; Baby Love by the Supremes . . .

After that it's the Four Tops, Temptations, the Isley Brothers, Smokey and so on. And if that ain't the sound of Motown nothing is. Well, here comes nothing.

The version I have opens with, get this: the Jackson 5's I Want You Back and I'll Be There, then Michael Jackson's Ben. After that Marvin's seminal What's Goin' On just seems misplaced, especially when what follows that slice of timeless, politicised soul is Michael again with Ain't No Sunshine, the Jacksons again . . .

This is an insulting, if not downright idiotic, running order which relegates great songs like the Supremes You Can't Hurry Love, the Four Tops' I'll Be There and Marvin's Let's Get It On way down the end of the first disc.

These are the 50 best Motown songs as voted for in an on-line poll (did New Zealanders vote for this version? If so we might need to consider whether universal sufferage is such a good idea.)

Nothing really wrong with those Michael/Jackson tracks of course . . . although c'mon, Ben and Rockin' Robin? They don't appear on the UK version, but in Britain they do get Jnr Walker's sax-classic Shotgun, the Commodores' Brick House and other essential Motown tracks not on this edition.

The running order of this version looks like it was compiled by a 12-year old, the UK version was pulled together by an adult who understood the social and political history of this label which rose from the black, working class streets of Detroit.

So a Motown collection without cornerstone songs My Guy, Please Mr Postman, Being With You, You Can't Hurry Love, Jimmy Mack, Bernadette . . . ?

Conclusion: Voting is over-rated. (Did people really vote Ben as the third most popular Motown song ever? Really?)

Poor selection, an even worse running order. 

Oh, and I also had this to say on Charlotte's Morning Glory show on 95bFM, just in case you missed The Point. 




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Chris Gaskell - Jan 19, 2009

I thought it was just me - but you've nailed it Graham, the track selection is appalling. How can the Jackson 5's forgettable tracks be rated above classics like Tears of a Clown?
On the positive side, the packaging is pretty special!

Shaun - Feb 13, 2009

No accounting for taste, eh?

I remember my first year at university at Otago (1986), and the two most played (in fact almost consistently played) songs on the juke-box (yep!) in the main common room were "American Pie" and Marvin Gaye's "Heard it through the Grapevine"!

I agree Graeme and Chris- there is actually quite a lot of great stuff in this collection, but disc one in particular, especially at the start, is akin to having mild tinnitus.

Some of it is fun- I had an enjoyable drive with my 9 year old and 15 year old as we headed to a fishing spot near Naseby, bouncing on the dirt road with me doing my best Stevie Wonder impressions (the singing, not the driving); and my son hearing for the first time Martha Reeves "Dancing in the Street"- having, sadly, only previously been exposed to the embarassment (video especially) of the Bowie/ Jagger version of the early '80's.

As I type this, I am listening to "Mercy, Mercy" by Marvin Gaye- merciful release indeed from some of the more dire tracks on the 3 disc album (Lionel Richie and Diana Ross "Endless Love"- aargh!)

So, as others have eloquently said, some great stuff, but I defy anyone to play any of the three discs more than once through without hitting the skip button.

ps Although for me it took a while to load, it is worth listening to the bFM link Graeme has posted above- the poor man was near apoplectic with rage over this one!

Gavin Hancock - Nov 9, 2009

You're so right about this compilation, Graham. Motown had the opportunity to create the ultimate collection but instead they fucked up again. The same thing happened with the 40th anniversary. The public know nothing about music...for once the record company should've had complete control over this project. I don't think Motown have done anything special with the catalogue for the half century...a sign of the times with suits running the labels?

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