Reflecting on yesterday’s Pop Junkie musical message of goodwill to Barack Obama, there is a song that is probably more apposite than any of my choices. The song is Dancing in the Street, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas’ classic cut (not the Jagger-Bowie abomination). The song came out top in the list of 100 Greatest Motown Songs in the current issue of Mojo – the number one song from the number one label of all time. You can argue the former (Marvin’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine gets my vote) but you can’t argue with the latter. You may have your personal favourite but Motown sees off the lot, and that includes Chess, Stax, Sun, Sarah, Atlantic, Postcard, Parlophone, Pye, Rough Trade, Heavenly and Caff.
This year marks Motown’s 50th birthday and the label plan a whole host of releases, on vinyl as well as CD, to commemorate and celebrate the label that dubbed itself in its 60s heyday as ‘The Sound of Young America’.
1. Golden Lady: Stevie Wonder – Never mind that he hasn’t done anything decent (unless you count Masterblaster Jammin) since 1976, he is an utter genius of the first water. Mojo picked two cuts from Innervisions but this one has always been my fave.
2. Love’s Gone Bad: Chris Clark – A whole slab of pain manifests itself into a floorfilling gem. Check youtube for a great Jackson 5 version too.
3. That’s the way Love Is: Marvin Gaye – A lesser known Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong composition with obvious similarities to the aforementioned Grapevine, but that’s no reason not to give it a listen. Originally an up-tempo stomper by the Isleys, The Temptations also cut a version on the 1969 Puzzle People album.
4. Get Ready: The Temptations – About time we had some movement on these clips, even if it is marginally out of synch. Couldn’t really have much complaint with the Mojo selections, but how on earth did this miss out? One day I’ll tell you about my interview with Otis Williams, not that there’s much to tell, but it’s not every day you get to chat to a Motown god is it?
5. The Happening: The Supremes – I tried to find a decent clip of of the wonderful Love is Here & Now You’re Gone but this will do. Pure pop with a big smile on its face, as jaunty as Tijuana Brass’ Spanish Flea, which is just fine by me.
6. Looking Through The Windows: Jackson 5 – Philly-sounding hit from 1972 and hinting at a new direction for young Michael and his brothers.
7. For Once in my Life: Stevie Wonder – I keep scanning over the Mojo 100 convinced that I’ve overlooked this huge song. He was 17 (seventeen) when he made this.
8. Got to Give It Up: Marvin Gaye – Ditto. It’s stuff like this that gives disco a good name.
9. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You: Marvin Gaye – One immensely talented and beautiful man whose life is falling apart turns his pain into songs like this. Incredible. And I make no apologies for including three Marvin songs. Blame Mojo.
10. If I Were a Carpenter: The Four Tops – I guess The Temptations, Supremes, Jackson 5 and the Four Tops would battle it out for Motown’s best group, but only the Tops could call on the power of Levi Stubbs’ voice. Just awesome, RIP.
11. Look What You’ve Done Boy: The Lollipops – No shame on Mojo not listing this. Unreleased until it surfaced on Motown Connoisseurs vol II. Don’t know anything about them, but I bloody love it. Put it on at a party, turn it up loud and throw your best shapes.
12. Psychedelic Shack: The Temptations – A stepping stone between the Motown pop-soul sound of the 60s and the Philly and disco of the 70s. Better than Sly & the Family Stone in my book.
And we still haven’t heard Reflections or Nathan Jones by The Supremes, You Haven’t Done Nuthin or I Don’t Know Why I Love You by Stevie (and brilliantly covered by the Stones), You Keep Running Away by the Four Tops or the Temps amazing cover of the Left Banke’s Don’t walk Away Renee. It’s all too apparent that not much worth listening to has come from the stable these thirty years past, but there’s enough from the golden era to keep us going for several lifetimes. Happy birthday.