Motown Anthems

14 Nov


Every music collection worth the name needs to have some Motown in it and this four CD collection (Universal Music 5341396) is a great way to do it since it contains 98 tracks – about 90 of which are belters!

Motown always seemed to function  primarily as a label for hit singles and, until I bought this, the only other item I had was another compilation (Diana Ross and the Supremes if you’re interested). Until I picked up this ,  I couldn’t really imagine myself buying a full CD by any other single Motown artist (with the possible exception of Stevie Wonder).

That’s my mistake really because thiscollection is a powerful reminder of how, particularly in the 1960’s and 1970s, Motown was almost certainly the dominant label for black American artists and released dozens of classic hit songs.

There can’t be many people of my age in the UK or North America who wouldn’t recognise the majority of these tracks even if we didn’t buy them at the time! In addition to artists already mentioned, there are songs by The Temptations,  The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight and many more.

There were two real revelations for me though; Firstly, listening to this made me realise that my collection is woefully deficient in music by Marvin Gaye. How on earth had I managed to neglect Let’s Get It On  and What’s Going On? for starters?  The second eye-opener was how much I’d undervalued the Commodores and Lionel Richie (who I’d tended to dismiss as too smooth and over-produced by half!).  I even managed to listen to early Michael Jackson and Jackson5 without being reminded of the grotesque, self-obsessed damaged figure he later became.

By the mid-1980s, Motown had rather lost its way and  the (relatively few) tracks from later years don’t do much for me. On the other hand, some of the earlier stuff by artists who didn’t go stellar was great to hear again (I’d have been hard-pressed to identify the The Marvelettes or The Contours for example).

This collection brought home two other things as well. The first was the business acumen of label boss Berry Gordy jr. in knowing what would sell to his audiences for so many years (it was perhaps moving the company from Detroit to LA that started the decline as it lost touch with its roots). No less important was the reminder of the genius of Lamont Dozier, Edward Holland jr. and Brian Holland who wrote so many of the songs!

I picked up a secondhand copy of Motown Anthems for a fiver and new copies seem to be available on the net for less than a tenner. You could do a lot worse than giving  it to yourself or a friend for Christmas!



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