Motown - The Complete Motown Singles Vols 1-6

The Soung Of Young America comes to England

The Complete Motown
Singles Vols 1-6

Until now, each Complete Motown Singles set has
been released Stateside only. Faced with a choice
of losing out or forking out, importing each one
would have been costly. Now, however, they have
officially reached these shores. Over 27 CDs in
hardback book presentation packs, with detailed
sleevenotes and a reproduction 7” of a key single
from the period, the first five volumes take the
Motown story from 1959-65: from being Berry
Gordy’s homegrown operation to one of the biggest
labels on the planet.

At the same time, Volume Six is released,
adding a further five CDs and picking up the label in
a key year, 1966. Taking the company’s expansion
in his stride, Gordy didn’t (or at least pretended he
didn’t) know how many buildings Motown’s
operations now took over. The previous year had
seen ‘The Sound Of Young America’ printed on each
LP sleeve and 1966’s addition, ‘The Motown
Sound’, further compounded that success. Gordy
even started a line of Supremes bread.

Riding high off the success of 1965, as Eddie
Holland attests in his sleevenotes, the Holland-
Dozier-Holland hit machine showed no sign of
stopping. Outstripping their in-house competitors by
far, H-D-H notched up 32 credits in the year, with
Smokey Robinson trailing at 15. With all this came
a maturity. Sound and lyrics darkened (see The Four
Tops’ Standing In The Shadows Of Love), while the
label began branching out into a few different things.
In the right light, Rick, Robin & Him sounded a little
like a more soulful Jefferson Airplane; Gladys Knight
& The Pips joined, adding a rootsier, more gospelinfused
sound; and then there was the Rick James/
Neil Young-led Mynah Birds with a slight rock bent.

But amid all this, 1966 was the year for
individual successes. Chart-wise, when This Old
Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) hit No 12 on the
pop chart, The Isley Brothers enjoyed their biggest
hit to date. The Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There
hit No 1 in both the US and UK, and The
Supremes’ Supremes A Go-Go LP (with the No 1
single You Can’t Hurry Love) became the first
Motown LP to stay at the top spot for over a week.

Perhaps most importantly, however, were
Norman Whitfield and Stevie Wonder’s leaps.
Showing that no one was outside of Gordy’s
encouraged in-house competition, Whitfield’s
production work on the Eddie Holland co-write,
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, took The Temptations out
of Smokey Robinson’s hands and into his own. His
expansive, dramatic productions capitalised on the
relative failure of their previous single, Get Ready,
and Whitfield repeated the trick the same year with
Beauty Is Only Skin Deep and (I Know) I’m Losing
You. He would shoot up in the ranks of Motown
producers and, of course, come to invent
psychedelic soul with The Temptations.

Comparatively, Wonder’s success may have
seemed minor, but its echoes would transform the
company. Following Nothing’s Too Good For My
Baby, Wonder made a seismic shift in direction
when he convinced Berry Gordy to allow him to
release a cover of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind.
Wanting nothing to do with ‘hippy idealism’, Gordy
was dead against it. Wonder had made the song a
favourite in his live shows, however, and was
adamant that it be released. A duet with writer/
producer Clarence Paul, it made the US Top 10,
UK Top 40 and hit the top spot in the US R&B
charts. Maybe a small victory at the time, it showed
Gordy that his label need not be confined to the
black soul market. With one single, Wonder paved
the way for his run of early 70s albums and Marvin
Gaye’s What’s Going On – a series of releases that,
in the new decade, marked Gordy’s label out as
something very different indeed.

1967 would see the Detroit riots, Summer Of
Love, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Jimi
Hendrix, a move towards enlightenment through
mind-expanding drugs and a shift of goalposts for
music makers everywhere. For Mowtown, perhaps,
1966 was the crystallisation of the label’s
ambitions, hopes and dreams.

5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars 5 stars

Universal/Motown | various cat nos

Reviewed by Jason Draper
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