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It’s Like Quicksand, Quicksand (Yeah)

album_tcms3It’s that time of year again, when I splurge on one of Hip-O Select‘s “Complete Motown Singles” CD packages. I recently had a cartooning job that paid off, so some of the newfound booty went toward The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 3: 1963. Some background: I already own the peak volumes in this series, covering the years 1964-70. Now I’m in the process of hopscotching back and forth in time to get the last remaining sets, covering 1959-63 and 1971-72 (the final two volumes in the series covering 1972 haven’t yet been released, despite promises they’d be out in time for Motown’s 50th anniversary — in 2009).

Coming off the wild ‘n groovy 1970 volume, to be immersed in the comparatively quaint atmosphere of 1963 comes as something of a shock. Listening to the 119 single a- and b-sides included on these five discs, I get the impression that Motown was still your basic local R&B label at this point — albeit a label whose energy and ambition speak of being on the verge of greatness. Berry Gordy had his fingers in several pots at once, with subsidiary labels delving into Jazz (Workshop Jazz), Gospel (Divinity) and Country/Novelty music (Mel-o-dy). These off singles, while interesting, make the volume less essential than the others. On the plus side, having the songs presented in strict chronological order gives a clear picture of how Motown was developing, constantly releasing and reissuing stuff until the right formula translates into bona fide hits. A case in point is Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips.” Stevie’s exciting live performance, split in two on the vinyl single, originally had “Part 1” on the a-side for its May 1963 debut. Deejays quickly found, however, that the “Part 2” flip with its “what key, what key?” musician’s ad lib was the more memorable side, so weeks later the single was remixed and re-released to chart topping success.

For me, the biggest development of 1963 Motown was the arrival of the dynamic team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland. The first disc in this set contains the first two a-sides written and produced by the trio — The Marvelettes’ “Locking Up My Heart” and Martha & The Vandellas’ “Come And Get These Memories.” Right away, you get the feeling that with these two tunes they hit upon something special. Their tight rhythms and sing-songy melodies sound especially great surrounded by relatively dull sides from Mary Wells, Kim Weston and The Supremes. Indeed, the paucity of HDH sides seems to hurt the set’s misfire and obscurity (good and bad) heavy first half – until they struck gold again with Martha & The Vandellas’ tremendous “Heat Wave” in July. After that, the jumpy, gospel-inspired sound characteristic of early HDH gets the full treatment with hits from The Miracles (“Mickey’s Monkey”), Marvin Gaye (“Can I Get A Witness”), Mary Wells (“You Lost The Sweetest Boy”), The Supremes (“When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” the tune that broke the girls’ “no hit” curse), and – again – Martha & The Vandellas (“Quicksand”). This is early, exciting Motown at its best, and that alone makes me happy I got this.

2 Thoughts on “It’s Like Quicksand, Quicksand (Yeah)

  1. I just quickly listened to the first few seconds of every track from the 1963 set and can totally get why you would find it jarring going from 1970 back to 1963! Great review, Matt! Enjoy…

  2. Thanks, Dan. Motown changed A LOT during those seven years.

    There’s one thing I’m not sure of that you could help out on – was “Locking Up My Heart” the first HDH a-side?

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