Tamla Motown Presents: 20 Mod Classics Vol.2


(Mark Sampson) #1

If ever a better Motown compilation came out on record, I never discovered one. It's rare that a second volume surpasses a first, but this one just managed it – and knocked the spokes off The Big Wheels of Motown and all those worthy single-volume Motown Chartbusters in the process.


The packaging was fairly horrible – a big circular Union Jack design was supposed to conjure up the so-called Mod revival – but it didn't matter a jot, because it was the stuff in the microgrooves that counted. And my, what stuff! Twenty original mono recordings that still leap out of the speakers and demand that you slide all over the floor like those baggy-trousered Northern soul types you see on documentary clips. Forget all the fancy drops and back-flips, those guys'n'gals knew how to move, as David Bowie put it, 'like tigers on Vaseline'.


It was as seemingly effortless as the marvellous music on this album. I've never quite got the hang of it, but there are moments during these two sides when you find that your limbs are doing exactly what the music demands. This is exactly what 'dance music' means.


And this LP is so good because these 20 tracks are all about dancing, pure and simple. As a youth, I was far too cool to appreciate the endless stream of hits from the factory in Detroit. They all seemed to be churned out for teeny-boppers and performed by groups whose choreographed steps appeared as ludicrous as those of The Shadows. In the mid 60s, I took the side of the scooter and mohair brigade in the great Mods v Rockers debate, but mainly for the look. I had little idea that they were dancing to this kind of music.


But then I turned into a student at a time when disco ruled the world and I discovered that music was as much about dancing as it was about listening. How wrong could one teenager be? Perhaps if Berry Gordy had promoted Martha Reeves & the Vandellas over The Supremes, I might have seen the error of my ways sooner – because Martha and her backing singers were the best 'girl group' bar none. They knocked Diana and the girls into a cocked hat and then stomped all over them in their stiletto heels.


The proof of the pudding is here on side 1. Even if they weren't in the Class A 'Quicksand', 'Dancing In The Street' or 'Heatwave' category (all there on Vol 1, and that's not to mention 'Jimmy Mack'), the three cuts here are irresistible. Three gems from the no-frills team of Holland, Dozier and Holland: 'Come And Get These Memories', 'Nowhere To Run' and the glorious 'In My Lonely Room'.


In fact, Holland, Dozier and Holland contribute nine out of the 20 belters assembled – including, 'Mickey's Monkey', which is somewhat surprising since the Miracles usually performed Smokey Robinson's songs. But it seems tailor-made for them and right up there with 'Going To A Go-Go' as their most urgent of dance-floor anthems.


The 20 classics cover perhaps the three most intense years of Motown creativity, from 1963 to 1965. Only Kim Weston's fantastic 'Helpless' from 1966 – another Holland, Dozier, Holland floor-stomper (and covered rather dexterously by Manhattan Transfer of all groups) – sits just outside the period in question.


We kick off with 'Little Stevie' Wonder's rousing 'Fingertips (Part 2)', which never fails to make me wonder what happened to Part 1 and which suggests young Steveland's brilliance to come. Only two years later, on the second side, 'Uptight (Everything's Alright)' is possibly the finest flowering of the period before talent became genius, before Music Of My Mind and all those other platinum self-productions.


Apart from the three Martha Reeves numbers, Side 1 also offers Mickey's simian dance-craze and Smokey's 'I Like it like That', as well as the Temptations' perfect rendition of one of Smokey's most perfect combinations of melody and memorable rhyming couplets, 'The Way You Do The Things You Do' (' The way you smell so sweet/You should have been a per-fume/The way you knock me off my feet/You know you should have been a broom/' and so on).


And if that weren't enough, there's Jr. Walker's evergreen 'Shotgun' (written by a certain Autry DeWalt, who must have had a room at the back of the back room at Hitsville, USA), Marvin Gaye's 'I'll Be Doggone' and a little-known Smokey-penned gem from Brenda Holloway, 'When I'm Gone'.


Smokey Robinson has a hand in two more production-line hits on the second side, which takes his personal contribution – as singer, songwriter and/or producer – to seven in all: the much underrated Contours' 'First I Look At The Purse' and one of Marvin Gaye's finest moments, 'Ain't That Peculiar'.


Lest original and revived Mods should for one second feel short-changed on flipping the disc over to Side 2, we get right back into the groove with another pair of Holland, Dozier, Holland productions: Diana Ross & The Supremes' 'Back In My Arms Again' and the Four Tops' 'I Can't Help Myself', which Lamont Dozier, who co-wrote of zipping up his boots and going back to his roots for Odyssey, would re-visit on Reflections Of..., a marvellous and surprising collection of personal interpretations of his best-loved Motown classics.


If that's not enough for your 'pedal extremities', the same song-writing trio give us two crackers by Kim Weston and leave us with one of the greatest ever Motown smashes, Jr. Walker & The All Stars' '(I'm A) Road Runner' with its indelible honking tenor sax refrain by the younger Mr. Walker himself.


That just leaves enough room for the Velvelettes' splendid 'Lonely Lonely Girl Am I' and the Mk1 Detroit Spinners' 'I'll Always Love You', which is no 'It's A Shame' but quite acceptable nevertheless. For once, it would take a move away from Motown – to Atlantic – and a new song-writing partnership, of Linda Creed and Thom Bell, to bring the band fortune and fame.


At the time I bought this long player – in an HMV Shop sale – it was all about the singers and the songs. Gradually, with repeated listening and dancing over the years, I've come to focus more and more on the house band that propelled these incredible songs. In particular, of course, that stellar rhythm section of Earl van Dyke on piano, Bennie Benjamin on drums and the sublime James Jamerson on bass.


It took a book by Allan Slutsky (who should have been on their roster of musicians with a name like that) and the 2002 documentary by Paul Justman, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, to give them their full due. But 20-so years before, this compilation revealed and still reveals everything you wanted to know about an astonishing team of writers, singers, musicians and producers at the height of their collective powers.


Mono was never more glorious. Let go of your head and let your feet guide you on a journey across your living room dance floor.


(Brian Milne) #2

Pete Carney who was Geno's bass for a while played with the Johnny Mars Band, my then bro-in-law Frank Nazareth was drummer. Since Johnny and his wife, Frank and my sister lived in a house together quite a few of the Ram Jam people passed through when I was down in London and stayed there. Clive and another guy who played sax, they are possibly on the Life on Mars album but unnamed. Small world.


(bryan savage) #3

I was not a huge fan of the U.K. music scene my heart with the us soul scene our little crowd mainly from woolwich and Dartford followed Geno all over,we were very friendly with Geno,s drummer Herbie but got to know Geno had a great night with them all on Eastbourne beach after a gig.


(Mark Sampson) #4

The great Chris Farlowe, eh Bryan? (That's Farlowe with an 'e' not Lisa with a 'z'.) I love to hear him reminisce on BBC4 music documentaries. Talking of Geno, even more respeck if he was a friend of yours. I saw him with the Ram Jam Band when I was a student at Exeter University. We used to have the most wonderful summer balls (Bob Marley & the Wailers headed one such ball) and Geno was down on the bill and playing in the refectory. I went upstairs to see him with a small band of people, because there was some bigger name (huh!) playing simultaneously in the main auditorium, and what a concert he gave. His brief time in the sun might have passed by then, but he still knew how to entertain an audience.


(bryan savage) #5

Mark now there was a club The Twisted Wheel remember seeing Chris Farlow there coming out in the morning to hot soup served up free by the Sally Army. But I was a south London boy so mostly the west end clubs mainly the Scene. But loved the odd trip out into the country Ricky tic in Windsor had many a fun night there with a good friend at the time Geno Washington


(Mark Sampson) #6

Hi Carole, hi Bryan. Clearly you're both keeping the faith! The Twisted Wheel, eh? Stuff of legend. And Bryan, I'd like to shake the hand of any man who has socialised with the likes of Lee Dorsey and Otis Redding. Much respeck! I come close to agreeing with you about Smokey, but can't quite commit myself since I love and admire Cole Porter, Lennon and McCartney, Hayes & Porter, Rodgers & Hart and all those other marvellous songwriters. But Smokey certainly wrote the most eloquent dance music EVER. Love the Dells and the Impressions, too, by the way, but don't know enough Major Lance and need to be educated about Walter Jackson and Wade Flemons. Thanks for sharing those memories (come and get them...).


(Brian Milne) #7

To read up on Randy's Record Shop take at look at: http://www.morethanrivals-thebook.com/2014/07/29/legendary-randys-record-shop/

In the 1970s his mailing catalogue was around 1.3cm (half an inch) and all in tiny 8pt type, so the vastness of it was something else. Ordering and waiting was an adventure in itself. Motown did releases in 'batches', so that there would be say a dozen singles and four LPs on a single day and the same four about four weeks, so we had to lash out for a new catalogue every quarter for all new releases that came in bunches like that. It was all kind of 'cloak and dagger' stuff in the background, announcing a new Smokey Robinson release in order to get it out before Otis Redding, but then delaying the release until after that was out. Think back, they never competed in the soul charts, nor did any Motown and Stax artistes really, their releases were too dispersed.


(bryan savage) #8

I have all these tracks. In a past life I was a club DJ Soul and Tamla were the be all and end all of music,and much to the demise of my ever decreasing bank account they still are. I used to own in excess of 15k soul and Tamla singles but our move to France meant they had to go. Mind I got a great price. Still have 100s of albums and an ever increasing cd collection. In my DJ life I met the likes of Otis,John lee hooker,lee Dorsey and many more. As for artists my loves are for the likes of the Dells,the Impressions,Wade Flemons,Walter Jackson. Major Lance who did some great tracks when with Tamla.
Smokey Robinson in my opinion is the greatest song writer who ever walked this earth. I love my soul. Will do till the day they nail the lid on


(Carole Brown) #9

What a walk down memory lane. Lucky enough to have seen some of these live. The Twisted Wheel in Manchester was the hip and happening for Mow town. I still have to get up and dance when I hear this fab music…


(Brian Milne) #10

The friend I was with (I was using UN expenses to go shopping Stateside) Bill Greensmith who is a well known writer on blues but actually a photographer, already lived in the States by then. He knew B.B. King (and loads of other bluesmen, but B.B. was always his top man) so got into a long rap about blues generally. Antoine, which is what he prefers to be called, had tales by the bucket load plus a lot of New Orleans jazz age on top. In fact, he is from a quite long line of musicians covering various genres and a number of once famous jazz men among them. At the same time, he knew his stuff on Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye too. The place he took us to was a real rough tumbledown shack but they treated us like royalty with him. Whenever he went to Nashville to record, he stayed over at Gallatin where he felt better than the city. Strange little nowhere place with a record shop that sold records all over the world and attracted visitors of all kinds from all over. That place and Dobells in Charing Cross Road were unique. Doug Dobell and Randy Wood were the kind of guys who sold Motown and Stax among what they were supposed to be selling and contributed to making them great because they made them special. Oh those days, now in the twilight I can remember at least. Man there has been some good music though, even 50 years back.


(Mark Sampson) #11

Gosh, what an amazing experience Brian. Fancy meeting Monsieur Domino! Wow...


(Brian Milne) #12

Not read it, name right or wrong. Just know I have probably about 400 Stax 45s all imported from Randy's Record Shop, Gallatin, Tennessee over about 20 years. Randy Wood was probably the most important white record shop for black music in the world. I went there just once, met Randy and had a jaw-jaw about blues and soul, he introduced my friend and I to a large, rotund person calling him Antoine and saying he shoud meet some collectors from England. Antoine was really nice and asked us to join him for a coffee, he went to collect his car to take us there. Randy said that 'Fats' is one of the greatest guys he knew. One Antoine Domine, known in the business as Fats Domino he added. Boy, that was some day. I did not think to get his scribble though. I believe he is still around and singing too.


(Mark Sampson) #13

Half a century, oh my God! The programme + Emperor Rosko's monicker, that must be worth a penny or two these days. Not that you'd want to part with a souvenir like that. I'm sure you must have read Peter Guralnick's marvellous book about Stax Records. I think it was Peter Guralnick.


(Brian Milne) #14

Oh yeah, Little Milton signed up with Sun Records at the same time as Elvis Presley, otherwise he would have been far bigger. Some of his songs and guitar work knock the socks of Bobby 'Blue' Bland. He was a terribly underrated bluesman. As for Live in Europe, I have vinyl and CDs, plus the programme that includes Emperor Rosko's autograph from the London gig. 1967 I believe, woah nearly half a century ago!


(Mark Sampson) #15

Ah, Stax! Now you're talking, Brian. I guess they were a little longer-lasting given the two distinct phases of the label, but as you say quite diffuse. If there was a genuine Stax sound, I guess it was captured on that wonderful Live in Europe album. Glad you mention Little Milton in your despatches. Much underrated, even though he was I suppose a kind of lesser Bobby Bland.


(Brian Milne) #16

The only competition ever has been Stax, which is probably the label on which I have the most 45s. Hundreds of them, I only hope I still have plenty of centres (US ones have a big hole instead of the little record player one, jukeboxes I suppose). Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, The Bar-Kays, William Bell, Booker T. and The M.G.’s, Albert King, Charlie Musselwhite, Jimmy McCracklin, Little Milton, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave,Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and I even have a couple of Delaney and Bonnie albums, especially the one with Clapton on it. Loads more blues and soul too. However, Stax is diffuse without a 'sound' and the real only innovator was Isaac Hayes. Nah, Gordy beat them all with his sound and format.


(Mark Sampson) #17

Alas poor Florence, eh Brian? There but for the grace of Gordy... Quite strange how Diana Ross got all the PR push, because she couldn't even really sing that well. Mary Wells was a wonder and she was effectively forced off the label due to lack of promotion. Still, we come not to bury Berry but to praise him. Even Gamble & Huff's Philly empire never came close to replicating what Gordy established in Detroit. As you so rightly say, 'monumental'.


(Brian Milne) #18

When Berry Gordy set up Motown Records in 1959 he revolutionised black music. When Marvin Gaye recorded What's Going On in 1971 not only did he completely change his sound but a large part of music changed with him. Volumes 1 and 2 of the Mod Classics in 1979 and 1980 repectively was a collection that pretty well carried the history of Holland–Dozier–Holland, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Jr Walker and the All Stars, David Ruffin plus a few solo artistes out of the groups plus those I forget. I never had either but plenty of people did, I had too many of the singles (still do actually, they will eventually be digitalised) to want to have the albums. As you say Mark, it was an 'astonishing team of writers, singers, musicians and producers at the height of their collective powers.' It has never been repeated. Some of the artistes are still at the top of their trade though, real durability because they are quality performers, but some of the ones no longer around are remembered. Sadly, Florence Ballard of the Supremes whose solo career never took off but should have and her early death deprived us, not the only one but someone who released a couple of records I have. They are, were and always will be monumental.