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Archive for May 24th, 2013

Review: The Four Tops/Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, “50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection” – Part 2: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas

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Martha and The Vandellas Singles CollectionWere there a time capsule emblazoned with the word “MOTOWN,” meant to convey the sound and style of the once-and-always Sound of Young America to future generations, its central artifact just might be Gordy single G-7033, from 1964.  Sure, The Supremes might have had more success, and The Temptations and The Four Tops might have had more endurance.  But the ultimate Motor City anthem could very well be “Dancing in the Streets,” performed by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.  And that’s just one of the 82 tracks present on 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection: 1962-1972.  This new 3-CD box set from Motown Select/UMe (B0017485-02, 2013) captures a decade of Motown magic from Martha Reeves and the girls via the group’s complete singles discography (in their original mono presentations), a smattering of alternates and foreign language singles, and most enticingly, an entire disc of previously unheard Vandellas gold.  This disc alone sets Martha and the Vandellas’ volume apart from the other 50th Anniversary Singles Collections recently issued for Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations and The Four Tops.

William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye’s song “Dancing in the Street” became more than just a hit single; in the ensuing years, it’s become a cultural touchstone, forever associated with the civil rights movement.  Yet, as revealed in the liner notes, Gaye originally pitched the song to Martha Reeves as a sensual ballad: “Marvin was singing it as if he was singing it to a girl,” Reeves recalled, “so romantic and in a mellow tone.”  Reeves’ instincts were to take the song to a more urgent, forceful place, and her final vocal was informed by an undercurrent of anger when she found that her original recording wasn’t captured on tape.  Yet such is the stuff that legends are made of.

“Calling out around the world, are you ready for a brand new beat?  Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street!”  Thunderous drums and iconic, exultant horns set the stage for Reeves’ performance of a lyric that’s direct as can be, yet imbued with a subtext that may or may not have been known to its authors.  The song could have been just another party-time ode – “All we need is music/Sweet music/There’ll be music everywhere/There’ll be swingin’, swayin’, and records playin’, dancing in the street!” et cetera.  But – much as Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s “Love Train” would years later – “Dancing in the Street” played up its universality.  This dance craze wasn’t just limited to Detroit.  Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans – all were name-checked in the song.  “It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there/So come on, every guy grab a girl, everywhere around the world/There’ll be dancin’ in the street!”  At a time when divisiveness at the forefront of the news, Reeves was extending an invitation to all, no strings attached, and with a casual air: “It’s just an invitation across the nation/A chance for folks to meet.”  It’s “just” an invitation – black/white, male/female, young/old – such was the ethos at Motown, being shared by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in a peaceful, exuberant way on the world’s stage.  A Top 10 hit on both the Pop and R&B surveys, “Dancing in the Street” was a message of empowerment being delivered by a young African-American woman (and future Detroit councilwoman) as a message of pride and joy to all in just 2-1/2 minutes, contained on a little slab of black vinyl.

Of course, that’s just one of the songs here.  Hit the jump to dig deep into many more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 24, 2013 at 11:25

Review: The Four Tops/Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, “50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection” – Part 1: The Four Tops

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Four Tops Singles CollectionHappy Friday! We’ve got a special double dose of Detroit for you today: reviews of two of Motown Select’s latest releases – singles box sets devoted to The Four Tops and Martha & The Vandellas, respectively. First, Mike can’t help himself when it comes to the Tops…

Is it right to call one of Motown’s most beloved vocal groups – with over a dozen Top 20 hits and production credits from three of the greatest names not only on the Detroit label, but in all of pop-soul music – underrated?

For reasons I’ve never been able to identify, The Four Tops seem like they’re always gunning for the second tier of male-led vocal groups in the Motown legacy, far behind the gritty diversity of The Temptations and the angelic beauty of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. A dive into Motown Select’s brand-new package honoring the Tops – 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1964-1972 (Motown Select/UMe, catalogue no. TBD) makes it hard to understand how you can undervalue a group like this.

The Four Tops are perhaps most noteworthy for their consistency, both in terms of musical prowess and band aesthetics; Levi Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Obie Benson and Lawrence Payton were the classic lineup that remained unchanged until Payton’s passing in the 1990s. (Today, only Fakir is still alive, and is still active with the group.) Any tension the band felt had less to do with internal affairs and more to conflicts with their label, leading them away from Motown for a spell in the 1970s. There’s plenty of musical consistency on this triple-disc set, thanks largely in part to the production and songwriting efforts of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. From “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” to the impressive Top 5 run of “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Bernadette,” there’s something like two dozen H-D-H compositions to enjoy here.

And there are surprises for those who know those songs like the back of their hand, from the extra mixes of “I Can’t Help Myself” and “It’s the Same Old Song” to much of the material on the second and third discs of the set. You might have heard “Walk Away Renee,” “It’s All in the Game” or “Still Water (Love),” but these last two discs let fans really dive into the Tops in their post-H-D-H career. (Key finds: the Tops’ collaborations with The Supremes, including rousing takes on “River Deep-Mountain High” and “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” or rousing deep cuts like “Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)” and “A Simple Game.”) The three Italian versions of key Tops hits that close the package are a trip, too.

If you’re leery of buying another Tops compilation, 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1964-1972 may be the one to get, not only for its comprehension but its look. The 7″ x 7″ package is stuffed with track-by-track liner notes (adapted from The Complete Motown Singles series) as well as beautiful scans of rare photos and picture sleeves from all over the world – a definite reward for the eyes as well as the ears (which will love the mono mixes in action here).

I don’t know if you’ve ever thought or felt that The Four Tops were second bananas during the golden years of Motown. But with this set, it’s definitely not the same old song.

You can order The Four Tops’ 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection here!

Click here for Part 2 of our 50th Anniversary Singles Collection review for Joe’s look at Martha & The Vandellas’ set!

Written by Mike Duquette

May 24, 2013 at 11:24