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Motown Greatest Hits

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There was no ‘punk’ as any MOJO reader might recognise the term in James’s hybrid, which was actually funk-rock-pop; while his image was more Hollywood Pimp. The group did come very close to having an album release on Motown’s Soul imprint – to the point where a master tape was sent to the pressing plant before the plug was pulled. The “Artistry” album was issued in mono and stereo, but the stereo version is much rarer today, so we have decided to go with that for our CD reissue, with one exception. Since we began our programme of Motown releases, the Fantastic Four has been among the most requested acts we’ve been asked to feature. Like all legends, it’s probably rubbish, but listening again to this euphoric heat-haze of an album, it kinda makes sense.

Given the right circumstances, almost everything they recorded could have been hits to match those the company was having with such groups as the Originals, the Undisputed Truth and the Temptations.

Gaye ends with Just To Keep You Satisfied, in which the sweet loving is weighed against “the bitching” and Marvin ends up concluding that maybe he’ll see her “somewhere down the line”. The label had moved to Los Angeles and the core studio musicians – aka the Funk Brothers – who had recorded the distinctive, inventive backgrounds, were largely discarded. For the most part, when these unreleased tracks come out, they are as new to me as they are to my fans. Every bit as fine as the album’s hit ballads, last track A Fork In The Road is no ordinary ‘road’ song. In January 2023 under Chivon Dean's new leadership as president and CEO, Motown has been divested from the Capitol Music Group while remaining under the Universal Music Group.

Pretty much a straight-ahead instrumental soloist, he took an even more direct route as singer, aiming for visceral connection and power. Not only was this James’s strongest set of songs, with powerful arrangements and production by the artist, there was a cohesive vision, too, leaning heavily on ‘in the life’ observation and personal experience – Ghetto Life, Below The Funk, Mr Policeman, Super Freak – and sticky lurve interest from tough funk (Give It To Me Baby) to smouldering slow grooves (Fire And Desire). On side two Walker’s first choruses on Tally Ho reveal a soloist far nimbler than the rest of the album might suggest, while best of the five other tracks is an outstanding band workout, Tune Up – fast, swinging and punchy.

In addition to the tom-tom-crazy title track, the album had two of the group’s most mesmerising ballads, the rightly famed Tracks Of My Tears and the breathtaking, heartaching Ooo Baby, Baby, slightly less well-known but, frankly, better, with Smokey’s bittersweet vocal, at the top of his register, raising twice as many goosebumps. Regardless of country of origin all tracks are sung in English, unless otherwise stated in our description. Certain items can take longer to source than the estimated week, particularly during busy trading periods and may take longer to arrive at our warehouse. But you can’t have one without the other, and for every sceptic of Talking Book’s Marmite opener, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life, there are a thousand suckers for its uninhibited whistleability and emotional boldness. The album comprised an overview of Brenda’s four-year spell with Motown, featuring all of her USA-sides, five B-sides and two tracks from her “Every Little Bit Hurts” long-player.

You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice. If 1972’s Talking Book saw Stevie Wonder merely hinting at the socio-political unrest of early-’70s America, then the following year’s Innervisions faced the darkness head on. Some top notch carnal music would follow, but none would come close to What’s Going On for forceful relevance and game-changing ambition. Legend has it that when the first experimental batch of MDMA powder turned up on the streets of Detroit in the cold early months of 1971, one of the first curious recipients was Temptations producer Norman Whitfield.

In 1972, Wonder’s continuing push towards studio self-sufficiency meant more work for TONTO (“The Original New Timbral Orchestra”), the polyphonic synthesizer created by Talking Book’s “associate producers” Bob Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil that announces the rubbery Maybe Your Baby, and of course, squelches all across the awesome Superstition, but it’s not the only sonic novelty. In fact, no other record sounds quite like Talking Book, an album borne aloft on bubbles, simultaneously light yet sophisticated on the jazzoid You’ve Got It Bad Girl, irresistibly bittersweet Tuesday Heartbreak and the autumnal folkfunk of Big Brother. The bonus titles span Brenda’s Motown career, from 1964’s pop-sounding ‘Mr Lifeguard (Come And Rescue Me)’ to the soulful ‘It’s Love I Need’, completed just a few months before her departure from the company in 1968. The 25 tracks here – more than half of which have never been heard anywhere prior to this CD – should delight everyone who has hoped for this package to happen. A man whose private darkness was deep, he also knew that “only love can conquer hate” was not the whole truth; Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky) sees the famously sweet-nosed Marvin self-diagnosing the drug problem that would later consume him, while Inner City Blues contains the threat, “God knows where we’re heading”.

The promise of Gaye’s sophisticated loving is all in his voice, coarser than the crystalline angeltone he employed on What’s Going On, but no less exquisite, and similarly augmented by a crosstalk of Marvindubs and brilliantly inventive backing vox (the impressionistic, dove-like coos from 3:50 in Let’s Get It On are astonishing). The legendary Motown label was founded on January 12, 1959 and incorporated as Motown Recording Corporation on April 14, 1960 by Berry Gordy, Jr. But Gaye’s own attitude to sex was complicated – his preacher father’s fire and brimstone prudery had planted a seedling of guilt that never withered – and Let’s Get It On would not be the great art it is if it were a mere carnival of zipless erotomania.Motown: A Symphony Of Soul features some of Motown’s best known and loved singles now reimagined with new orchestration by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. She was the best female singer, bar none, to cross the threshold of 2648 West Grand Boulevard, but Gladys Knight was never considered an A-List priority act as far as Motown was concerned, so intent was the focus on promoting Diana Ross’s career.

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