The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 2: 1962

Picking up where the first volume of Hip-O Select's monumental The Complete Motown Singles series left off, Vol. 2 covers 1962, when Motown was beginning to gain momentum but had not yet turned into the hitmaking machine it would be in just a short year. The label and its various subsidiaries were beginning to gel, beginning to polish what would become immediately identifiable as the Motown sound, but all the pieces weren't quite in place yet. Not only was there a lot of trial and error, there still was a lot of fumbling and imitation, with the label trying to hitch its wagon to big hits on other labels, like Little Otis' "I Out-Duked the Duke," which failed to be anywhere near as big as Vee Jay's smash single, Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl," which it answers. Such novelties aren't a hindrance on a set like The Complete Motown Singles, however -- it's the reason why sets like this exist, to document both the good, bad, and ridiculous in a label's evolution. And if 1962 was anything for Motown, it was a year of evolution, as Berry Gordy was trying to figure out how to have the biggest pop hits he could. Consequently, there still were novelties and oddities, but there was also a concerted effort to have MOR vocal pop hits. Marvin Gaye is famous for favoring this supper club-styled singing at the beginning of his career, but The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 2 illustrates that he wasn't the only one in the roster, and that kind of middle-brow respectability also seeps into the handful of jazz sides that Gordy recorded over the course of the year. Add to that some tentative attempts at crafting the blend of pop and soul that became the label's signature the following year -- they're pleasant, but not necessarily memorable because they lean a little too heavily on the pop side of the equation -- and this four-disc set can sag in momentum a little bit, as on the second disc, where a hit doesn't arrive until the end of the CD. But that momentum sags only a little bit, because when the hits do come, they're brilliant and there are also many hard-driving, stomping R&B gems buried throughout this set. Like on the first volume, the hit singles that have grown overly familiar -- on this installment they include the Marvelettes' "Playboy" and "Beechwood 4-5789," Mary Wells' "Two Lovers" and "You Beat Me to the Punch," Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "Hitch Hike" -- blaze brighter than they have in years, since they stand out against the MOR inclinations of a large part of the set. But the forgotten gems also stand out too, and there a bunch of them, including fiery sides by Gino Parks and Henry Lumpkin and the first single by Stevie Wonder. If there aren't quite as many lost treasures here as there were on the first volume, it's because Gordy was beginning to learn how to run Motown like an efficient, well-oiled machine. Since he was still learning, it means this set isn't as consistent as those that are right down the road, but given the wealth of terrific music here and the loving packaging -- once again, the box is designed as a hardcover book including great track-by-track liner notes by Bill Dahl and Keith Hughes -- it's hard to imagine anybody who got the first volume not being tempted by this fine sequel. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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