Sunday, 24 March 2013

SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES - MAKE IT HAPPEN (TAMLA 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

The most underrated Miracles LP of the '60s, Make It Happen featured a spate of great songs, including three or four that really should've been hits (plus one that only became the group's biggest hit three years after release). Opening with "The Soulful Shack," a grooving dance number that would've fit perfectly on the previous year's Away We a Go-Go, the album featured plenty of near-misses, including a pair of delightful good-times dance songs, "My Love Is Your Love (Forever)" and "It's a Good Feeling," plus a great choice for a cover, a tender version of Little Anthony & the Imperials' "I'm on the Outside (Looking In)." The hits really did shine more than any of the other songs, though, marking yet another leap in the level of Smokey Robinson's compositional sophistication. "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage" is a brilliant twist on a romantic novelty in the Motown mold (with a production that deftly references the British Invasion), while "More Love" is the most sincere lyric and most emotive performance in the group's catalog, a song of reassurance occasioned by several miscarriages suffered by Robinson's wife (and fellow Miracle), Claudette. The capstone, however, was the last song, "The Tears of a Clown," originally written as an up-tempo instrumental groover by Stevie Wonder and his producer, Hank Cosby. Robinson's lyric is witty yet sublime, and his lead vocal is one of the best performances of his recording career. One of the biggest misses by the notoriously hit-conscious Motown organization was failing to release this as a single before it became an album hit on British radio in 1970, three years after it first appeared. It shot to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, and prompted Motown to re-release Make It Happen under a new title, The Tears of a Clown.[allmusic] Here

ISLEY BROTHERS - THIS OLD HEART OF MINE (TAMLA 1966) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

A powerful set by the Isley Brothers, who tasted success with "Shout" and "Twist & Shout" before joining Motown. Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier produced the lion's share of tracks, and wrote most of them with the aid of Eddie Holland. An infectious "This Old Heart of Mine" took off -- its throbbing beat, memorable melody, and inspired vocals are as irresistible now as they were in 1966. The urgent "Take Some Time Out for Love," with its wailing vocals, made a little R&B noise; a creation of Robert Gordy and Thomas Kemp, it's one of two tracks not handled by Holland-Dozier-Holland. The other is the insightful, biblically titled "Seek and You Shall Find," done magnificently by Ron Isley, who sings the positive lyrics with understated fire. "I Guess I'll Always Love You" is a midtempo gem sung by Ron in his natural register, as he does all these songs; the sweet falsetto he used almost exclusively in the '80s and '90s is nowhere to be found. Isley versions of "Nowhere to Run," "Stop in the Name of Love," "Baby Don't You Do It," and "I Hear a Symphony" are comparable to, if not better than, the originals.[allmusic] Here

GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS - EVERYBODY NEEDS LOVE (SOUL 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

In 1966, Gladys Knight And The Pips signed to Motown Records’ Soul subsidiary, where they were teamed up with producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield. Knight’s tough vocals left them slightly out of the Motown mainstream, and throughout their stay with the label the group was regarded as a second-string act. Between 1967 and 1968, they had major R&B and minor pop hits in America with ‘Everybody Needs Love’, ‘The End Of The Road’, ‘It Should Have Been Me’ and ‘I Wish It Would Rain’, but enjoyed most success with the original release of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, an uncompromisingly tough performance of a song that became a Motown standard in the hands of its author Marvin Gaye in 1969. Gladys Knight And The Pips’ version topped the R&B chart for six weeks at the end of 1967 and also reached number 2 on the US pop charts. .............................
A decent debut album that didn't quite establish a musical idenity for the group, despite the inclusion of the classic "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and the wonderful, definitive version of the title track. (Mary Wells' little-known original ranks a close second.) The big drawback, however, is a bowdlerized (i.e. censored) version of "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me." The editing not only severely damages the song's "story structure" (Berry Gordy had a firm belief that a song should tell a story), it undermines the erotic awareness Knight brings to the material.[allmusic] Here

FOUR TOPS - REACH OUT (MOTOWN 1967) Jap mastering cardboard sleeve

Though it's one of the best Four Tops records of the '60s, Reach Out still feels weighted down by a few vain attempts at adult pop crossover. It certainly starts out right, with the glorious "Reach out, I'll Be There," the group's second pop/R&B chart-topper. After a faithful cover of the Left Banke's "Walk Away Renee," though, listeners are forced to sit through trite versions of "If I Were a Carpenter," "Last Train to Clarksville," and "I'm a Believer" to get to real highlights like the dramatic, impassioned "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and "Bernadette." There is room for a great lesser single ("I'll Turn to Stone"), but the flip side finds the Four Tops taking on "Cherish," which could've worked well but didn't. Reach Out still did better than any other original LP by the group, almost breaking the Top Ten.[allmusic] Here