Music

Various Artists: Motown 1's

Jason MacNeil

Various Artists

Motown 1's

Label: UME
US Release Date: 2004-04-20
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Although the label Berry Gordy started up was a factory more so than a collection of artists, Motown left its mark on American music. What's sad is that, for a lot of people, they came to know several of these songs through film soundtracks like The Big Chill instead of hunting for these tunes on their own. While any press is good press, or so they say, the idea of that soundtrack album being the definitive collection is ridiculous. It's the tip of a very deep, multiple cruise liner sinking iceberg. The latest disc from the label tackles the issue head on with 26 songs that were Number One hits for the talent and the label. The only downside might be having Michael McDonald as a tacked on tune, but we'll save that for later. Some people might prefer double-disc Motown albums, but this one here isn't too shabby either.

Opening with 1961's "Please Mr. Postman" from the Marvellettes, the pop staple has one envisioning a lead singer with the three supporting female singers doing various choreographed moves that would bring a smile to your face. "You better wait a minute, wait a minute", the song goes as hand claps are brought in over piano. "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" ensues with its fun-loving, good time flavor. Performed by Martha & the Vandellas, the track has a bigger chorus with horns accentuating the verses. The next two songs are basically peas in the same pod. "My Guy" by the Supremes' second-in-command, Mary Wells, ambles along with a mix of jazz and pop, bringing the song to life with her hushed tone. "My Girl", performed by the Temptations, is one of the band's signature tunes that works just as effortlessly and is just stellar as it was back in December, 1964.

The album takes a noticeable "boogie" turn for the next eight to 10 songs, as the beats are up-tempo and a rich, sing-along feeling is embedded in each. Whether it's the one two punch by the Supremes during "Where Did Our Love Go" and "Stop! In the Name of Love" (cue the hand gestures) or the rollicking "Shotgun" by Jr. Walker & the All Stars, which gives Lee Dorsey's "Ride Your Pony" a run for his money, it's a turn for the better. The pace continues on the lovable "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" courtesy of the Four Tops. The transition into more of a '70s sound also starts here during the mid-to-late '60s, although Little Stevie Wonder's "Uptight" is rounded out by horns, guitar, backing harmonies, and everything but the kitchen sink. Then there is "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (cue The Big Chill kitchen sequence) by the Temptations, still just as catchy as it was back then.

One item worth noting is how each of these songs are basically snipped nearing the three minute mark. They could have easily gone on for four minutes, but the radio commandment of three minutes maximum is quite audible. The late Marvin Gaye's appearance on four tracks makes up part of this breakthrough, although "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" with the late Tammi Terrell obeys the guideline. The Jackson 5's (you know, the group that laid the groundwork for Tito's career) "I Want You Back" seems to miss the mark on this record, but it's still a pre-requisite for the label and any hits package. Perhaps the last true early-Motown-sounding tune on the record is the gorgeous "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

To change with the times, the party tunes give way to what most wanted to happen after the party, namely heading back to your place or hers and dimming the lights. This is nowhere more clear than "Let's Get It On" by Gaye, which still has the desired effect. The '70s rear their head on the latter tunes, especially the disco anthem "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston and "Endless Love" by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. And then there's DeBarge and Boyz II Men. But to wrap this up with Michael McDonald? Please. He's about as Motown as Lawrence Welk. It leaves a bitter taste after what is an otherwise very sweet 80 minutes of music.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image