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Can’t Forget the Motor City

My exploration of Hip-o Select‘s Complete Motown Singles box sets brings me to volume 2, which covers the year 1962. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one too much, since at this point Motown was still a scrappy Detroit-based R&B label — interesting, but not quite the legendary hit machine it would become in 1965-69. Whatever it lacked in hits is gained in context, however. At four discs, it is somewhat shorter than the other TCMS sets — but I think that conciseness works in the set’s favor. Listening to all 112 tracks in order paints a picture of a small but upwardly mobile, positively African American enterprise guided by the sure hand of founder Berry Gordy, Jr. Gordy personally wrote and produced many of these tracks, both well-known and obscure. His touch adds a lot of quirky personality to these sets that would be smoothed out in the years to come.

By 1962 many Motown songs were crossing over to the (white) pop charts, but by and large it peddled energetic R&B to a primarily black audience. Gordy was also branching out to jazz, country and gospel with new sub-labels Workshop Jazz, Mel-o-Dy and Divinity — examples from which pepper this set, but never overwhelm as on the ’63 and ’64 volumes. Mostly it was R&B ballads and dance tunes, however, simply produced but with just enough of a “spark” to give it mass appeal and an enduring quality. Probably the best examples from this year came via trio of pleasant, Latin-influenced hits that Smokey Robinson crafted for Mary Wells — “The One Who Really Loves You,” “You Beat Me To The Punch,” and “Two Lovers.” 1962 was also the year that Marvin Gaye transformed from a limp Nat “King” Cole wannabe into a bona fide R&B star. His “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” is one of the more infectious tunes here, along with “Do You Love Me” by The Contours (later popularized on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack). It was also a good year for The Marvelettes, who had a good run of wistful, quintessential Girl Group turns led by raspy-voiced Gladys Horton (“Beechwood 4-5789”). It’s also interesting to hear early, non-hit sides by The Supremes and The Temptations here; Gordy obviously knew that both groups had talented vocalists that deserved wider exposure. The effort would pay off in spades later on.

We all know that well-known “Golden Oldies” drive projects like this, but the obscurities and one shots on these sets are also, suprisingly, worth hearing. The 1962 set in particular has a lot of great, gritty R&B sides by the likes of Hattie Littles, Gino Parks and Henry Lumpkin that never caught on simply because that style of music wasn’t too hip in 1962. There’s also a few goofy novelties here that are worth mentioning. “Hang On Pearl,” about a guy frantically trying to save his drowning girlfriend, didn’t do much for singer Bob Kayli but it’s a hilarious tune all the same. “Exodus” by Hank & Carol Diamond is an earnest if kitschy jazz ditty that has a strong whiff of Happy Hour at the Holiday Inn. Another intriguing novelty was “I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues,” the debut single from a precocious blind youngster called Little Stevie Wonder.

These are cool sets, beautifully packaged and worth it for the detailed track-by-track liner notes alone. The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 2: 1962 came out in 2005 in a limited edition run of 8,000; later years have already gone out of print, but new copies of this particular volume can still be had via Amazon Marketplace at this link.

2 Thoughts on “Can’t Forget the Motor City

  1. Wow a very Well written write up!An interesting read too!@ thumbs up from me!Trish

  2. A well written and fun to read write up!2 Thumbs up from me!Trish

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