More Motown Classics Gold

There is a certain irony that Universal Music has now devoted two entries in its mid-priced double-CD series of hits compilations called "Gold" to "Motown Classics" because, during the period under consideration, 1962-1971, despite Motown's demonstrated commercial success, company president Berry Gordy, Jr., never once submitted a recording to the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) for gold certification. Maybe he didn't want his artists knowing how well their discs were selling, or maybe he just didn't want any outsider examining the company books, but no Motown records went gold in the '60s, no matter how popular they might have been. Nevertheless, many of the singles included on Motown Classics: Gold, released in 2005 (actually a retitled reissue of the 2000 collection Motown: The Classic Years) no doubt sold well enough to be gold records, and at least some of the ones included on this follow-up did, too. Compilation producer Harry Weinger might have opted to explore Motown's second decade in the second volume, but instead he has investigated the first one more fully. Of course, that means the results are necessarily less impressive, but the Motown hits catalog is so large that the fall-off is not very great. Every one of the 40 tracks included here hit the Top 40 of the Billboard pop and/or R&B charts, and a handful even became number one pop hits. The selection is studded with firsts: writer/production team Holland-Dozier-Holland's first big hit, Martha & the Vandellas' "Come and Get These Memories"; Diana Ross' first solo hit, "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)"; and Michael Jackson's first solo hit, "Got to Be There." The roughly chronological sequencing gives the listener a sense of the development of the Motown sound. For example, the bunching together of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On," the Temptations' "(I Know) I'm Losing You," and the Four Tops' "Standing in the Shadows of Love," all Top Ten pop and R&B hits released in October and November 1966, shows the label at its '60s peak, each song treating romantic discord with the importance of world war. And "Love Child" and "Cloud Nine," released within a month of each other in the fall of 1968, show Motown's turn toward gritty social consciousness (even if Stevie Wonder chirps "For Once in My Life" in between). Presumably, the reissue specialists at Universal have the same kind of charge with regard to Motown as their counterparts at Sony BMG have for Elvis Presley, to keep churning out an endless stream of reissues to keep the revenues flowing indefinitely. This material has been packaged many, many times before, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been handled well here; it has. Combined with the first volume, there are four hours of prime Motown hits of the '60s and early '70s, and pop music doesn't get much better. ~ William Ruhlmann

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