We need our little and not so little indulgences every once in a while, right? I did a little post-Christmas splurge and bought The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6, a box set containing every A- and B-side of every 45 single Motown released in 1966. It’s … amazing. This is part of the ongoing effort by Hip-O Select to release every Motown single on year-by-year CD sets spanning the company’s 1959 to 1972 period in Detroit. Each set is neatly packaged with a hardback book and an actual 45 rpm single (the ’66 one has The Four Tops’ “Reach Out”). Originally I was just planning on getting the ones covering the late sixties — but now that I can actually see what a fantastic job they did, I want them all! At a hundred bucks a pop, that might take a while.
Listening to this stuff in order, it’s interesting to hear how Motown slowly evolved during 1966. Often they’d have a stretch of really strong, classic singles followed by another stretch of obscure oddities or songs without that telltale “Motown” sound. Therefore you have plenty of Supremes, Vandellas, Temptations and Stevie Wonder alongside MOR singers like Billy Eckstine and Barbara McNair or a garage rocker from The Mynah Birds, a group which counted both Rick James and Neil Young as members. You can also tell that whenever an artist would have a hit, it would usually be followed with another single attempting to sound as much like the previous song as possible. This particular one contains Wonder’s “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby” (“Uptight” part II) and The Marvelettes’ “You’re the One” (“Don’t Mess With Bill” redux), two tunes nearly as enjoyable as the hits they emulated. 1966 also saw the arrival of The Isley Brothers and Gladys Knight & The Pips, two A-list R&B acts who suddenly found themselves B-listers amongst the other Motown talents. We can’t forget the fabulously underrated efforts of Kim Weston, The Velvelettes and The Elgins, either! One thing that surprised me is that they used mono 45 mixes here, so the sound is not quite as full as what I’m used to. I’m something of a liner notes geek, and the annotations accompanying this set are really fantastic — each single has a great story behind it. A great set for a great Motown year; now I gotta save some dough for ’67 (which, incredibly, was an even better year for them).