News

Motown No. 1's sound and look good in new boxed set

Brian McCollum
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Fans of Motown have certainly had plenty of compilations, reissues and other treats to sink their ears into over the years. But they've never had one quite like this.

"Motown: The Complete No. 1's" is a handsome, festive boxed set that will look as good on living room shelves as it sounds in stereo systems.

As a centerpiece of the Motown 50th anniversary campaign, the set arrived in stores Tuesday, just in time for holiday gift-buying - a perfect present for Detroit ex-pats and music fans across generations. The set has a list price of $169.98, but is available at retailers such as Amazon.com for about $125.

The real allure is the packaging. Rivaling the snazziest sets from specialty labels such as Rhino, "Complete No. 1's" comes in a display-worthy mockup of the Hitsville house, the West Grand Boulevard headquarters where so many of these songs were created. Inside are 10 discs featuring 191 chart-topping tunes, from the Miracles' zippy 1961 hit "Shop Around" through Erykah Badu's slinky 2000 smash "Bag Lady."

For hard-core collectors, there are more comprehensive Motown collections out there, most notably the "Complete Motown Singles" set, a 12-box series that amasses nearly every release from the Detroit-born label, from the obscure on up.

But for most folks, the new box will offer a satisfying survey of Motown music. Producers kept the criteria expansive: Yes, all these songs were chart-toppers, but the definition of "chart" is deliberately broad - if a single hit No. 1 in Norway, it's here. (Some of the discs even include bonus tracks: If a song reached No. 1 when covered by a non-Motown act, the original Motown version is included.) That allows the inclusion of worthy chestnuts that aren't necessarily regulars on oldies radio, and keeps the set from languishing as just another greatest-hits collection.

The set bears the tasteful, informed touch of Universal Music's Harry Weinger, the Motown archivist who has done more than anyone to keep the label's legacy thriving in the new millennium. The vast majority of these tracks are remastered stereo mixes, drawn from Universal's ongoing digital restoration project.

The collection's four-decade scope could be the one drawback for some listeners. Those who are enamored of Motown's classic period, with songs by such touchstone acts as the Supremes and Temptations, aren't necessarily clamoring for the modern acts who populate several of these discs, such as the Boys and the already forgotten Profyle.

But if too much stuff is the only problem, then it's not a bad problem to have. "The Complete No. 1's" is custom-made for musical memories - and a timely reminder why Motown matters so much, especially in its hometown.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image