Time was when Motown compilations were ultra-predictable. Over the last few months, however, things have started to change. Some compilers (lucky enough to be allowed to select from the fabulous Motown vault) have dared to be different; have thought beyond ‘Baby Love’, ‘Tears Of A Clown’, ‘Superstition’ and the dozens of other well-worn chestnuts and come up with collections that collectors really want… witness Kent’s recent ‘Girls of Motown’ set. Now, blow me, hot on that one’s heels comes another excellent Motown compilation that offers something totally different.
Here compiler, the redoubtable Johnny Chandler, was tasked with selecting 30 or so cuts that showed the funkier side of Motown (yes, Motown could do funk… the studio band weren’t dubbed “The Funk Brothers” for nothing!). Johnny could’ve gone for the obvious – the aforementioned ‘Superstition’ for example –but he hasn’t. He’s opted for some real left fielders and the album’s that much the better for it.
Yes, there’s a few very well-known tracks here (The Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ for example) but by and large, here almost every new track throws up a surprise beginning with the very first cut – Gordon Staples ‘Strung Out’. Featuring fabulous Paul Riser strings, I can’t think of any other Motown collection on which this has appeared. And so it goes on. There’s things like Martha and the Vandellas’ ‘Easily Persuaded’, Gladys Knight’s ‘Feeling Alright’, The Commodores’ ‘Rapid Fire’ and the Ruffin brothers with ‘Lo And Behold’… all great stuff and though they’re 30 or 40 years old they still sound fresh simply because we don’t get to hear them that often. Other featured artists include Willie Hutch, Edwin Starr, Marvin Gaye, Shorty Long, Syreeta, Bottom & Company, The Undisputed Truth and the ever-welcome Barbara Randolph… her offering is a gritty version of ‘Can I Get A Witness’.
Nit pickers might argue that some of the selections don’t quite fit the “funky” remit. The Four Tops’ shiny, smooth ‘LA is My Town’ and Odyssey’s beautiful ballad ‘Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love’, for instance, aren’t the kind of funk that, say, Sharon Jones would recognize as funk … but, hey, they’re worth hearing again. Two great songs on a great and welcomingly different Motown compilation… more please!