Friday, 5 February 2010

That Motown Sound

A cottage industry that was churning out 110 Top Ten hits like nobody's business between 1961 and 1971; whose productions possess a timeless-yet-nostalgic quality that reduces music snobs and casuals alike to a quivering heap; that was Motor City's largest export after automobiles (and certainly the more culturally significant); to which generations of musicians and songwriters are indebted; the soul/R&B Mecca-Eden and the driving force behind the Northern Soul 'pre-rave' phenomenon in the UK...
What pop music witchcraft is this?
That's a question which I as a lowly music fan am not qualified to answer, but here's a succinct passage poached from that ever-questionable academic resource the Wikipaedos:

Motown’s music was crafted with an ear towards pop appeal. The company specialized in a type of soul music it referred to with the trademark "The Motown Sound". The Motown Sound was typified by a number of characteristics: the use of tambourines to accent the back beat, prominent and often melodic electric bass guitar lines, distinctive melodic and chord structures, and a call and response singing style that originated in gospel music. In addition, pop production techniques such as the use of orchestral string sections, charted horn sections, and carefully arranged background vocals were also used. Complex arrangements and elaborate, melismatic vocal riffs were avoided; Motown producers believed steadfastly in the ''KISS principle'' ("keep it simple, stupid"). Read the rest as you listen, fascinating stuff!

Great, but it doesn't satisfy my affinity for pointless comparative analysis... Ever seen a classic Martin Scorsese movie, noticed his tendency to big, upbeat orchestral soul? That's one aspect of Motown Records. In fact even in the incredibly unlikely case that you've never even heard of Motown, you will definitely have come across at least one of the songs included here during your lifetime; it will take a cattle prod to the withered memory bits o' your brain - as if you're revisiting a long-forgotten childhood... via the gift of ECT.

It's just that 60s magic to some extent, that is: the clean-but-not-over-processed-to-tawdry-shit analogue production, the guitar sound, the characteristic effects and instruments of the era; but it's also the Motown THING. Is it in-house session musician icons the Funk Brothers, the stock songwriting teams (which included flagship singers like Gaye, Robinson and Wonder)?; or is it simply the perfect combination of time, place, passion and inspiration? Probably... What do I know.

So, not to be missed. Should you even consider yourself something of an expert on the classic single-oriented era of Motown, this'll still knock you for six - 38 tracks! But it goes by in a flash, there is plenty of space for the less familiar stuff and each song retains an unmistakable identity. Despite the classic Motown remit outlined above there is considerable variety - check out the gritty, psychedelic garage stomper below!... The total euphoric effect of all this is something like a whirlwind. They truly had pop music down to a science.

...But there's one catch which I have to apologise for. I acquired this in 2007, and it served as my official introduction to a bedrock of popular culture that had somehow been omitted from my upbringing. Unfortunately the mp3s are in 128kbps. I've scoured the blogosphere and online retailers, but nothing matches the title... this first-class delight of a compilation is likely some blogger's one-off. To some people this won't make a difference, but to the rest of you I would still implore you to take the dive.
On the plus side, the occasional dodgy high-ends in the sound neatly replicate the experience of listening to the songs through a transistor radio on the kitchen table in 1966, or dusty old vinyl. If you can find a collection on a par with this in better quality... you are a better man than I, and you should share the wealth in the comments box forthwith.
cheers, J x

Partario Wun
Partario T'u

(Tracklisting in comments)

1 comment:

Molecules said...

1. No Matter What Sign You Are - Diana Ross & The Supremes 2. Come And Get These Memories - Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
3. Pin Point It Down - The Fantastic Four
4. Helpless - Kim Weston
5. Which Way To My Baby - Dennis Edwards
6. What Is A Man - The Four Tops
7. Love A Go Go - Stevie Wonder
8. Got To Have You Back - The Isley Brothers
9. In My Lonely Room - The Supremes
10. Love's Gone Bad - Chris Clark
11. Blackmail - Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers
12. On the Avenue (In the Neighborhood) - Jimmy Ruffin
13. When I'm Gone - Brenda Holloway
14. The Day My World Stood Still - Chuck Jackson
15. When Love Comes Knocking - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
16. Breakaway - The Lewis Sisters
17. Truly Yours - The Spinners
18. Just A Little Misunderstanding - The Contours
19. There's A Ghost In My House - R Dean Taylor
20. The Stranger - Gladys Knight & The Pips
21. The Soulful Shack - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
22. I Got A Feeling - Barbara Randolph
23. Heaven Must Have Sent You - The Elgins
24. Share A Little Love With Me - The Monitors
25. Miss You Baby (How I Miss You) - Marv Johnson
26. You Made Me Feel Like (Everything Is Alright) - Syreeta
27. I'll Keep Holding On - The Marvelettes
28. Suspicious - The Originals
29. Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone - The Temptations
30. This Old Heart Of Mine - Tammi Terrell
31. A Bird In The Hand - The Velvelettes
32. My Love For You - Tommy Good
33. Running Back And Forth - Edwin Starr
34. Take This Heart Of Mine - Marvin Gaye
35. Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone - Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
36. Till You Where Gone - Frank Wilson
37. When I'm Gone - The Funk Brothers
38. I Don't Know Why I Love You - David Ruffin