VARIOUS ARTISTS: ‘The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 11B: 1971’ (Label: Hip-O Select)

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VARIOUS ARTISTS: 'The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 11B: 1971'

In terms of singles releases, 1971 was a bumper year for Berry Gordy’s Detroit-based Motown company – so much so that the year had to be divided into two 5-CD volumes for Hip-O Select’s superlative retrospective series, ‘The Complete Motown Singles.’ Volume 11B – the penultimate instalment in the stupendous series – takes up the story from the second half of 1971 and significantly, comes with a vinyl copy of ‘Gotta Be There,’ the 45 that launched 14-year-old Michael Jackson’s solo career, on the front cover. The detailed liner notes – informative and insightful as previous volumes – reveal that Berry Gordy had big misgivings about releasing the Hal Davis-produced song as Michael’s debut 45 because it was a ballad following in the wake of three previous slow numbers issued as singles by the Jackson 5. Also, Gordy, apparently, didn’t like the mix and set about remixing it himself. Reluctantly, perhaps, he eventually sanctioned the release of ‘Gotta Be There’ – it wasn’t a chart topper but it climbed to an impressive #4 on both the R&B and pop charts in the States. More importantly, the record represented the first small step of a performer who would eventually go on to become a global icon and be hailed as the ‘King Of Pop.’ Jackson wasn’t the only solo debutante in the second half of 1971. Thelma Houston – a big-voiced gospel-reared singer from Leland, Mississippi, who had previously recorded at Dunhill – signed to Motown’s west coast imprint, MoWest, and impressed with her revamp of Chris Clark’s ‘I Want To Go Back There Again.’ Singer/songwriter, Valerie Simpson, also got the green light for her solo debut 45, ‘Can’t It Wait Until Tomorrow,’ in 1971 after toiling in the shadows for several years writing and producing for the likes of Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross with her partner Nick Ashford. Of course, 1971 was the year that mystic soul poet Marvin Gaye released his epochal album, ‘What’s Going On,’ a self-produced record that put a spanner in the Motown works as far as the company’s assembly line production ethos was concerned. On this volume you’ll find Marvin’s haunting urban lament, ‘Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler),’ the third single – and an R&B chart topper too – culled from ‘What’s Going On,’ along with tracks by Motown A-listers Diana Ross (‘I’m Still Waiting’), the Four Tops (‘MacArthur Park’), The Supremes (‘Floy Joy’), Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (‘Bless You’), Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (‘Satisfaction’), the Jackson 5 (‘Sugar Daddy’), Gladys Knight & The Pips (‘Make Me The Woman That You Go Home To’) and Stevie Wonder (‘If You Really Love Me’). Besides all the familiar big names, there were single releases by second tier acts like Bobby Taylor (‘Hey Lordy’), funky rock band Rare Earth (‘Hey Big Brother’), Norman Whitfield’s psych-soul protégés The Undisputed Truth (‘You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth’), The Originals (‘Keep Me’), soul siblings Jimmy and David Ruffin, Chuck Jackson and ex-Spinner, G.C. Cameron (the furiously funky ‘Act Like A Shotgun’). Also present is the addictively infectious ‘Funky Rubber Band,’ a hit for the late Richard ‘Popcorn’ Wylie, who briefly returned to the Motown fold in 1971 (he was one of the original Funk Brothers in the company’s early days). There are plenty of obscure, long-forgotten acts represented on the compilation too, which illustrate Berry Gordy’s quest for diversity, newness and experimentation – like white rock groups The Messengers, Lodi and The Rustix; pop-rock combo, Sunday Funnies, and soft-rock group My Friends. You’ll also find male-female duos Stoney & Meatloaf (the same Meatloaf that would go on to find fame and fortune with ‘Bat Out Of Hell’) and Tony & Carolyn, the latter a Carpenters’-style easy listening twosome. Northern Soul fans will recognise cult soul singer, Virgil Henry, who’s represented here by his collectable single, ‘I Can’t Believe You’re Really Leaving.’ All in all, then, this is a fabulous and varied collection of music enhanced by the addition of vivid archive photos, an absorbing essay (by Dr. Andrew Flory), riveting track-by-track commentary and a personal reminiscence by former Motor Town DJ, Scott Regan. Marvellous!
(CW) 5/5