The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 5: 1965

Far from losing momentum in the wake of their massive mass-market breakthrough in 1964, Motown continued to build upon strengths in 1965 as the six-disc box The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 5: 1965 illustrates. The Supremes, the Temptations, and the Four Tops all turned into stars in 1964, but in 1965 they entrenched themselves into the white mainstream, with the Supremes even appearing on the cover of Time magazine. The Supremes were everywhere in 1965, acting as the face of Motown, racking up chart-toppers with "Stop! in the Name of Love," "Back in My Arms Again," "Nothing But Heartaches," "I Hear a Symphony," and "My World Is Empty Without You," each one a piece of pop-soul so elegant it seemed effortless -- and with enough elegance to get the group a headlining spot at the Copacabana that year. So powerful and perfect was this blend of pop style and rhythmic R&B that it became the dominant sound of Motown, with Brenda Holloway (who had the wonderful "When I'm Gone") and many of the new acts -- the Elgins, Chris Clark, Barbara McNair, Tammi Terrell -- working this sound, fueled by the house band of the Funk Brothers and often written and produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland. The formula may have been flourishing, but it's not quite right to say that it was the only sound at Motown in 1965 -- the label was too magnificent and monumental for that. There were still lingering echoes of the label's earlier, grittier R&B, not to mention the oddities that Berry Gordy's various subsidiaries released. It's a bit of a shock to realize that as late as 1965 not only did Howard Crockett still pop up on Mel-o-Dee, but Dee Mullins showed up with lean, driving country straight out of Bakersfield, as if Gordy gave the country market one last hurrah by serving up a Buck Owens soundalike. These forays outside of R&B aren't that common, as the other active subsidiaries pursued jazz, but this is funky, groove-oriented jazz that fits well alongside the other Motown sides here (especially when it's Earl Van Dyke & the Soul Brothers grinding out instrumental versions of the label's earlier hits), particularly the pile-driving Junior Walker & the All-Stars singles here, highlighted by their breakthrough, "Shotgun." As thrilling as the Junior Walker & the All-Stars singles still are, the harder edge of that group and longstanding Motown staples the Contours -- whose "First I Look at the Purse" is as good and funky as Motown ever got -- feels a bit like the remnants of the label's early years, as Motown's music began to get smooth and stylish around this time. Some earlier acts like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder were able to negotiate this transition by deepening their own signatures with grace, often producing big hits while doing so: this year, Marvin had the irresistible, irrepressible "Ain't That Peculiar," which Smokey & the Miracles matched with "Going to a Go-Go," but they also had the silky "Ooo Baby Baby" and "The Tracks of My Tears." Martha & the Vandellas also had a hallmark year highlighted by "Nowhere to Run," perfectly balanced between the harder edge of the early Motown singles and the style of this era, a claim that also held for the Temptations and, especially, the Four Tops, whose two big hits were "It's the Same Old Song" and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)." These are the songs that dominate The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 5 just as they dominated 1965 -- there are lost gems here, but not as many as you might think, as almost everything the label released in this glorious year turned into a big hit. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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