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 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.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.