The latest Ace/Kent/ Motown collection focuses on Marv Johnson. Johnson, of course, was Motown’s first hit maker. He provided Berry Gordy with his first Tamla hit – 1959’s ‘Come To Me’. The single was so successful that Gordy’s fledgling set up couldn’t cope with demand and the track and subsequent Johnson recordings were licensed to the much bigger United Artists. By 1964 the UA hits had dried up and Marv was back in the Motown fold proper where though he recorded regularly he never really hit pay dirt – especially in the USA. In archived interviews the singer bemoans his treatment at the label, claiming he was never given proper promotion or top line material to work on. Whatever, this lovely 26 tracker allows us all to make up our own minds about what went on. The set chronicles all the work he recorded at Motown between his return in ’64 and his departure in ’71.
The corner stone of the collection is Marv’s UK-only album – the eleven track, ‘I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose’ – named, of course, from his biggest British hit. Like that song the material is best described as “Motown lite”. That’s to say it’s all pleasant, inoffensive pop-soul of the kind peddled by that other UK fave, Jimmy Ruffin. Absolutely nothing wrong with it, save that it just lacks substance and bite – some might even say soul. The 15 remaining tracks on the album consists of the rest of Johnson’s output between 1964 and 1971 and include half a dozen mono mixes of his released singles. The rest were never released by Motown in Johnson’s time with them – though the best (stuff like ‘SOS (Girl In Distress)’ and ‘Let’s Talk It Over’) did find their way onto much later UK ‘Cellar Full Of Motown’ compilations. The most interesting (and arguably best) unreleased track is 1964’s ‘There Goes The Lonely Man’. It sounds like a Temptations’ out take and – surprise, surprise – the wonderful sleeve notes reveal that the Tempts were the backing vocalists on the recording.
When he left Motown Marv Johnson did some writing … his biggest success was the co-authorship of the Dells’ ‘Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation’; then in the 80s he did some work with Ian Levine’s Motorcity Records. He died aged just 55 in 1993, disappointed that he’d never really been given the plaudits he deserved for his part in Motown’s history. This new collection, hopefully, might help to remedy the situation, albeit posthumously.