As far as box sets go, this series is destined to be the king of them all. Most of us recall the three Complete Stax/Volt Singles box sets a few years back. These three sets contained 19 discs with every Stax and almost all its subsidiary labels' A-sides and a handful of B-sides. (The Gospel Truth singles were completely ignored, so there were no Rance Allen or Maceo Woods singles included). Nearly every Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and you-name-it B-side went M.I.A. Not only do these Motown sets include every B-side, but they include ALL subsidiary labels plus first and second pressings which vary from slightly to two different takes. Yes, folks-everything on Tamla, Motown, Gordy, V.I.P., Soul, Rare Earth plus the temporary labels such as Divinity (Gospel), Mel-o-dy (Country), Workshop Jazz, Miracle, plus all the Rock/Pop, Blues, and Jazz recordings Hitsville ever put out. If that isn't enough, each set comes with a replica of a major 45 from that era. (The second volume features Mary Wells' single, "You Beat Me To The Punch").
The second installment includes 45s from 1962. It is this year in which we see the beginning recordings of Martha & the Vandellas and Stevie Wonder. It is hard to believe that Stevie Wonder is the only Motown artist from this period that is still a major entity in which fans still eagerly wait for a new product. His latest offering, "A Time To Love" is one of this year's major highlights.
Marvin Gaye recorded a lovely version of "Mr. Sandman". Until now, folks have had to break out a vinyl copy of Marvin Gaye's Greatest Hits to listen to this gem as this is the only M.G. single that hasn't entered the digital market since it all started. A fast shuffle, the vibraphone gives it a nostalgic, "trad jazz" feel. It is one of the most exciting moments of the 1962 volume. I mentioned "Soldier's Plea" on the first volume. My mistake-it's on this set. The snappy B-side, "Taking My Time" is better and it's no wonder it appeared on the Greatest Hits instead of the A-side. It was written by Anna Gaye and Mickey Stevenson, who took a bit from Cole Porter's "Anything Goes". It works. 1962 was the year Marvin hit pay dirt with "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow" and "Hitch Hike". Listen to the last few seconds of "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow" and observe that it doesn't fade so quickly. Again, that was the mono album track you were used to. Nothing beats the good old 45 mix. The latter was the bigger hit, though. Martha & company were on hand for the backing vocals.
Mary Wells also hit big this year with not two, but three hits all making top 10. "The One Who Really Loves You" (February) was written and produced by Smokey. The distinctive Latin rhythms give it an exotic sway, so the formula continued with "You Beat Me To The Punch" (July) and on to "Two Lovers" (October). Of special interest, "Punch's" B-side, "Old Love" was the first to show the triumvirate writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. It is also one of at least two B-sides that enjoyed a second mix so it appears in two different forms here. Mary was also the first to record a version of Smokey's "Operator". It is featured here in up tempo form, whereas the version Brenda Holloway recorded in 1965 was slow and sultry. Mary is backed on the above five recordings by The Love Tones.
The Downbeats and Saundra Mallett teamed up in late 1965 to release a double A-sided single, a rare fete in the Motown factory. "Put Yourself In My Place" was flipped over and "Darling Baby" became the hit while the two different artists were christened The Elgins. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. The Downbeats' "Your Baby's Back" is a pure late-night party slow dance song, while Saundra Mallet's "Camel Walk" was another dance craze in mid-tempo. The B-side "It's Gonna Be Hard Times" became the mystery album track on the Elgins' "Darling Baby" album in 1966. Martha's girls once again helped out on backing vocals; in fact, The Vandellas were even on the label!
Two singles by Sammy Ward graces this volume. "Big Joe Moe" is a Motown brass bonanza giving trombonist George Bohannon a chance to work his slide a bit. It's also a take on Leiber-Stoller's "Smokey Joe's Café". "Someday Pretty Baby" and "Part Time Love" appeared on the "Switched On Blues" album in stereo form, the latter in extended a five plus minute version. It features Stevie Wonder on harmonica.
The Temptations' legacy continues to the present day; albeit with all new personnel save for Otis Williams, the head honcho. It would be two years before they were to become a household name, though. "Dream Come True" was the first Motown record to feature an Ondioline, an organ-like keyboard and the first record on the Gordy imprint as the Miracle label was discontinued. "Paradise" was a mid-tempo doo-wop ditty with a "Four Seasons" feel. "Slow Down Heart", the B-side, is worth mentioning because it is really the beginning of The Temps perfect blending in a ballad setting. "Mind Over Matter" and "I'll Love You Till I Die" is their recording under the moniker of The Pirates on the Mel-O-Dy label. The latter features a frenzied vocal from Paul Williams and is one piece of Hitsville magic!
Eddie Holland hammered away at an attempt to capture his first success that "Jamie" gave him the previous year. "You Deserve What You Get" was his first earnest effort. "Last Night I Had A Vision" shows Eddie's slowly and dramatically bending notes, a trick not often tried in the R&B market. It was usually left to Gospel artists such as Mahalia Jackson and more "sophisticated" singers. Eddie's a real pro and I'll compare him to just about anyone. Other singles include "If Cleopatra Took A Chance" (featured on his one and only album for Motown), "If It's Love" and "Darling I Hum Our Song". The latter became B-sides for Martha & the Vandellas (Quicksand) and The Four Tops (Something About You), Martha's being the definitive version. "Cleopatra" has a definite Cuban feel, which was common for this era at Hitsville.
The Miracles' bounced back that year with "I'll Try Something New", a Polynesian delight to be sure. He actually wrote the song at a baseball game, showing his mind was more on romance than sports. It became one of his signature songs and to this day is one of the greatest love songs of all time. The B-side, "You Never Miss A Good Thing" comes from the Cookin' With the Miracles album brushing Gospel with traditional jazz. It has one of the strongest melodies and the drama is tense. I didn't even mention "Way Over There" on my review of Volume One, shame on me. Because of The Miracles' growing popularity, the single was given a second chance to chart and chart it did! It was even given a new B-side from their latest album, "I'll Try Something New" called "If Your Mother Only Knew" appearing here in two different mixes. As good as Smokey was and still is, he really doesn't know the market well. "Happy Landing" was released with no result. The deejays flipped it, and "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" took off like a burning mad man. The call-and-response with Smokey as the preacher, and his fellow Miracles the congregation, a new formula began, which continued into 1965.
The Marvelettes followed their previous disappointment ("Twistin' Postman") with "Playboy". It was a return to form and welcomed with opened arms as it hit top ten. It's B-side; "All the Love I've Got" comes from the "Please Mr. Postman" LP and like "Dream Come True" features the Ondioline keyboard. Marvin Gaye supplied the ladies with their follow-up, "Beechwood 4-5789" and this recording established them as The Sweethearts of Motown. "Someway, Somehow" and "Strange I Know" showcases Gladys Horton singing ballads as well as the rest of them.
The Supremes are unarguably the greatest female group of all time and these singles prove it. "Your Heart Belongs To Me" is heard in two different mixes and again the second one was a vast improvement giving it an echo. Like the Mary Wells singles, this one came from the pen of Smokey and is given the Latin treatment. The B-side, "Seventeen" is nothing more than a Brill Building send up, its only distinction featuring the brass section's trombone player going nuts and that Ondioline again. Diana is always fun to listen to and here she pays tribute to the great Buddy Holly, showing she had a lot of vocal tricks up her sleeve. "Let Me Go The Right Way" is somewhere between inner city Baptist and Sanctified and has Diana working hard. She handled it and then some. One can hear the others ably responding with all the fervor of a camp revival meeting to bring it home. "Time Changes Things" was co-written by Freddie Gorman, a former mail carrier who joined up with the Originals in the late sixties. It has that same funky rhythm that Mary Wells' "Old Love" had with the same longing to try it again message. It's great to listen to these two songs in succession.
The Valadiers' struggle with success at Motown was a real puzzle since they weren't a bad group at all. Like The Temptations, the boys shifted from the Miracle label to Gordy. "Because I Love Her" was written by Berry Gordy and has Stuart Avig reaching toward Eddie Holland territory. "While I'm Away" (Ivy Hunter and Clarence Paul) serves as a better follow up to Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam). This could have at least received airplay had it been the A-side. But then, the boss is always right.
Enter Stevie Wonder. "I Call It Pretty Music, Parts 1 and 2" is one fun record. Part 1 is a fast pace blues while the B-side is a slow harmonica driven piece of extravaganza. An extended stereo mix of this can also be found on the "Switched On Blues" disc. "La La La La La" is especially interesting because it will be recognized by many because the L.A. based Latin group The Blendells brought it out of obscurity in 1964 making it a big hit. "Contract On Love" is a beauty in these early days and features the band in good form. The Temptations did backing vocals adding to the festivities. An extended stereo version appeared briefly on "A Package Of 16 Original Big Hits". "Sunset" finally appears in its original full length form here. A slow blues, it has all the makings of a fine standard. It was covered by The Supremes in 1965 on their Country Western & Pop disc, featuring the great Mary Wilson on lead.
Lamont Dozier recorded but one solo record on the Mel-O-Dy imprint. "Dearest One" b/w "Fortune Teller Tell Me" has him in a Brook Benton mode. I really like his voice. It's a shame he didn't sing more songs.
The Contours switched from Motown to Gordy in 1962 and really hit it big with Berry Gordy's tour-de-force "Do You Love Me". Berry had initially planned to have The Temptations record it, but they were at a Dixie Hummingbirds gig and lost out on what could have been their first hit. The follow-up, "Shake Sherry" was every bit as much as a powerhouse, but the public was too fickle to stay loyal. The B-sides, "Move Mr. Man" and "Better Get In Line" were fast-paced show stoppers as well.
Hattie Littles was a true blues singer that deserves a whole disc by herself. She's a throwback to Koko Taylor and Etta James recording far too little for Hitsville. "Back In My Arms Again" (not the same song as The Supremes' 1965 hit) is a slow blues giving the band a chance to show their stuff. "Is It True (What They Say About You)" is faster and moves along like something out of New Orleans. Her other singles include "Your Love Is Wonderful" in two different mixes and "Here You Come".
Gino Parks' "Fire" is a ferocious Gospel-like testimony of how he can't keep his love under control. "For This I Thank You" is a minor key blues and his influence from Sister Rosetta Tharpe is betrayed here. The latter was also featured on "Switched On Blues".
Martha & the Vandellas would have to wait until mid-1963 to hit the chart, but while they were waiting, this wonderful piece came together called "I'll Have To Let Him Go" (Not to be confused with their "I Gotta Let You Go" single from the late 60's). Once again, this melody comes right out of early Jazz, yet the slow introduction is more typical of the Phil Spector singles. Strangely, it was recorded and released before the first incarnation of the group which was originally called The Vells, with Gloria Williams on lead vocals. "You'll Never Cherish A Love So True" b/w "There He Is At My Door" (the second single released by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team) featured cow bells and a funky beat that wouldn't quit. "There He Is" had the Motown brass once again punching the rhythm to death. This same backing track would be used with Martha's lead vocal overdubbed for the "Come And Get These Memories" album. The song also appeared on "Dance Party" and the B-side of "Dancing In The Street". "Cherish" also landed on the Mel-O-Dy label.
Workshop Jazz came into play in 1962 and would only last through the following year. Two singles came out that year: Hank & Carol Diamond's "Exodus" b/w "I Remember You" and The Earl Washington All Stars' "Opus No. 3" b/w "March Lightly". "I Remember You" stands out as a fine cover in a relaxed setting, while both sides of the Earl Washington 45 is stunning. I love Jazz and it's not hard to get me to listen to it. These four tracks swing like mad and shouldn't have any problem finding their way on to a play list on local Jazz stations.
The Divinity label also debuted in 1962 with the Wright Specials. "That's What He Is To Me" b/w "Pilgrim Of Sorrow" is somewhere between The Gospel Harmonettes and the Davis Sisters. It should be noted here that Kim Weston was once a member of The Specials, but by the time they were signed, Weston had dropped out to pursue a secular career.
I regret space does not permit me to touch on everything in this collection, but don't let that stop you. Listen to the clips wherever you can find them. Yes, there are some real dogs in the collection, but there's some great music here too. Find some way to get the funds together to buy these because The Complete Motown Singles series is the most valuable piece of American Music History of the 60's. Not since the Complete Hot Five and Seven recordings of Louis Armstrong and the Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia have vaulted recordings of this magnitude seen the light of day.