Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
Various — The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 10: 1970. Something I forgot to mention on last weekend’s mishmash was this box set, a holiday gift to myself. You know the drill by now: contained within these six discs are every single a- and b-side Motown (and its subsidiary labels) released during 1970 — 144 songs in all! It took me three weeks, but I’ve finally gotten through the whole thing. My blanket judgement is that overall the company’s output in ’70 wasn’t as good as ’66-69, but there are still a lot of highlights as they adjusted to a rapidly changing musical landscape. Starting the previous year Berry Gordy was on a mission to diversify his company’s output, and here you get the full picture of those efforts with singles that cover not only sweet soul but heavier funk, mainstream rock, jazz, and even reggae (Bob & Marcia’s charming “Young Gifted and Black”). Things also got much more slickly produced this year as epitomized by early efforts of the newly solo Diana Ross and the Jackson 5′s chart-topping bubblegum soul. Lots of hits got notched this year, but the set also contains several fascinating nuggets by Ivy Jo, Kiki Dee, Buzzie and Michael Denton which failed to chart. It wasn’t just the one-off artists having trouble, either — this might be the first year in a while where just about every major artist on the label had a dud single. Despite that, there are a lot of treasures to be had here. This was the best year for the post-Ross Supremes, the Temptations were rolling along with more hot Norman Whitfield-produced funk, Gladys Knight and her Pips were moving in a more adult direction with “If I Were Your Woman,” and Stevie Wonder was becoming a force to be reckoned with both on his own (“Signed Sealed Delivered”) and with others (The Spinners’ “It’s A Shame”). Oh, and I almost forgot Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson’s towering production on Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a diva-tastic moment for the ages. So, yes, I suppose this was a very good set.