The music of Motown means a hell of a lot to a hell of a lot of people. So how do you compile a definitive best of for the label's 50th anniversary without leaving swathes of the listening public in the cold?
Well Universal Music - of whom Motown is now a subsidiary - think they have the answer. Instead of drafting in the experts with their own agendas and subjective opinions or using potentially flawed statistics like record sales or critical acclaim, they set up a four week online poll to choose the top 50 Motown songs of all time and let the people do the talking.
A big part of the fun of this concept is finding out how your predictions of the most popular tracks compare to those of the voters. The top three - I Heard It Through The Grape Vine, Dancing In The Street and Baby Love - yield no major surprises. But The Velvettes' Needle In A Haystack, The Temptations' Get Ready, and The Elgins' Heaven Must Have Sent You are refreshingly high (at 5,6 and 8 respectively) and the funky side of the label (in the form of Stevie Wonder's Superstition and Rick James' Super Freak) is well represented. All this gives the project a distinctive flavour far removed from the humdrum Marvin-Smokey-and-Diana-heavy, weepy bargain bin comps of the past.
The only problem with such a democratic approach is the sequencing of the tracks. Tuning into to a listener's poll on the radio keeps the excitement building because it runs in reverse order. Motown 50 starts at number one, counting up the chart, so the Cd may feel a little front loaded and the music doesn't always flow in the way a chronologically or aesthetically selected collection would. Then again, this is Motown we're talking about so there isn't much of what you could call filler and once you tire of the ranking you can always hit shuffle instead. Furthermore, the final disc includes a series of unlikely (and occasionally brilliant) cover versions should you wish to take the road less travelled for a while.
Cd compiling for the American Idol generation? Perhaps. In the end this compilation is what it is - a diverting concept and crowd-pleasing party album in one. --Angus Taylor
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MOTOWN LABEL Motown 50 (2008 UK 61-track 3-CD album set comprising a collection of the 50 most popular Motown hits [chosen via a UK and International online poll] including I Heard It Through The Grapevine Baby Love I Cant Help Myself [Sugar Pie Honey Bunch] You Cant Hurry Love The Tears Of A Clown My Guy Signed Sealed Delivered [Im Yours] Aint No Mountain High Enough What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted All Night Long [All Night] and more; plus a selection of