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Monday, July 11, 2005

It takes two

A while back, I wondered aloud which songs one would pick if one were trying to create a single CD (80 minutes max) that captured the essence of Motown. I set out a first draft of such a playlist, and readers chimed in with some helpful suggestions. After some further tweaking, I've settled on this. If you could program just one disk's worth to tell the Motown story, here's what it would contain:

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Ain't No Mountain High Enough
The Four Tops, Reach Out (I'll Be There)
Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stop! In the Name of Love
Martha & the Vandellas, Dancing in the Street
Marvin Gaye, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
The Temptations, My Girl
Mary Wells, My Guy
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, I Second That Emotion
Stevie Wonder, Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours
Gladys Knight & the Pips, I Heard It Through the Grapevine
The Marvelettes, Too Many Fish in the Sea
Edwin Starr, Twenty-Five Miles
Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Shotgun
Shorty Long, Function at the Junction
Martha & the Vandellas, Jimmy Mack
The Jackson 5, I Want You Back
The Supremes & the Temptations, I'm Gonna Make You Love Me
Marvin Gaye, I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Stevie Wonder, My Cherie Amour
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Baby, Baby Don't Cry
The Temptations, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
Stevie Wonder, I Wish
Smokey Robinson, Being With You
Diana Ross & the Supremes, Someday We'll Be Together

This left out so many good songs that it wasn't hard to compile a second CD that ought to be included if there were room for two disks:

The Temptations, Get Ready
The Four Tops, Baby I Need Your Loving
Diana Ross & the Supremes, Where Did Our Love Go
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, The Tears of a Clown
The Temptations, Ain't Too Proud to Beg
Junior Walker & the All-Stars, Shake and Fingerpop
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Ooo Baby Baby
Martha & the Vandellas, Come and Get These Memories
The Four Tops, Standing in the Shadows of Love
Diana Ross & the Supremes, You Keep Me Hangin' On
Jimmy Ruffin, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
Martha & the Vandellas, Nowhere to Run
The Velvelettes, He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'
Junior Walker & the All-Stars, What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)
Martha & the Vandellas, Honey Chile
The Marvelettes, Don't Mess With Bill
Gladys Knight & the Pips, I've Got to Use My Imagination
The Temptations, Papa Was a Rolling Stone
Edwin Starr, War
Marvin Gaye, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
Stevie Wonder, Living for the City
Gladys Knight & the Pips, Midnight Train to Georgia
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Your Precious Love

This was a fun project, given how much great music I've been listening to to make the choices. The Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, was nothing short of awesome. Hard to believe that the vast majority of these great recordings had the same musicians playing behind all the singers. Hats off especially to those gentlemen.

Before the summer's out, I'm going to try to get a similar list or two together for the other soul powerhouse, Stax/Volt. That will take a little deeper research, but hey, for this kind of punishment, I'm a glutton.

Comments (7)

Smokey's song "Tracks of My Tears" is one of the great works of art in any field. By failing to include it here you have let down your country and the Portland Development Commission has won.

You know, I had "Tracks of My Tears" on the first draft. But after listening to it a few times in with the rest, I couldn't help hearing in my head the awful, awful cover that Johnny Rivers made of it. I'm going to stick with the five Smokey numbers I settled on, even though now I'll always be looking over my shoulder.

Maybe I need a management coach...

There is no more soulful tune in creation than Tracks of My Tears. Shame on you for mentioning Johnny Rivers in the same breath. Secret Agent Man, OK, but Johnny couldn't carry Smokey's suits to the cleaners.

How did you not include
Psychedelic Shack - the Temptations
The Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me- Gladys Knight and the Pips (1974)
I'll Be There- the Jackson 5

If the point is to "tell the story of Motown," what did Berry Gordy think of "Tracks of My Tears"? From the Songfacts website: "Motown head Berry Gordy considers this Robinson's best work."
Forget the rhyme with "cute" and "substitute," which so impressed Pete Townsend that he wrote an entire song called "Substitute." Bob Dylan called Smokey "America's greatest living poet," and there has to be a good reason. How about the bridge when Smokey sings:
"(Outside) I'm masquerading...
(Inside) My hope is fading...
(Just a clown) Oh yeah, since you put me down,
My smile is my make-up I wear
Since my break-up with you..."

I love that the last word of the last line doesn�t rhyme with anything, yet the rhyme scheme is so strong you don�t notice. That�s brilliant.
And if you need to reconnect with the song, watch the movie �Platoon.�

I had to stop at one Jackson 5 number. It hurt too much to think about that family for more than a few seconds.

Bill, you've made a convincing case. Now can you tell me which song to remove from my lists to make room for "Tracks of My Tears"? Don't ask me to pull off Shorty Long or the Velvelettes... how about we trade a Smokey for a Smokey?

Ouch, you mean I can't just criticize? I have to take some responsibility? This blogging world is more pressure than I thought! Okay, I would recommend losing "Being With You." It's a little lounge-y for a definitive Motown classic. After my last posting I was walking down the street and I thought back to seeing Smokey Robinson in one of the concerts at the zoo.
For me to be born outside this country and get to see someone this legendary will blow my mind forever. This is why I love America. Motown was one of the great accomplishments of the human species.

Great suggestion. I am taking it as a friendly amendment and will make the switch. I had "Being With You" in there to show that Smokey had aged well, but you're right, it's out of the Motown genre. And by my "aging well" reasoning, you'd have to include "Billie Jean," which I am definitely not going to do.

With "Tracks" in, though, there may have to be some reshuffling of the order of things. I really liked the flow on that first disk and may have to move some things around to avoid bunching the Smokey numbers.

Given his songwriting and singing talents, I think Smokey was the greatest act to come out of Motown, followed very closely by Stevie Wonder. Amazing guys. I have never seen Smokey, but I have caught Stevie twice, and it was goosebumps the whole show, both times. The Madison square Garden show in the early '70s, highlighting "Innervisions," was the best concert I've ever attended. Even ahead of several incredible Springsteen shows.

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