In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends.
- Anton Ego
Regular readers will have noticed that I’ve started giving marks out of ten for each side reviewed on the site. This was inspired entirely by a much better blog than mine, and has been surprisingly good fun.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t partly an attempt to generate debate and even controversy, but not in a vain way – I’m not precious about any of my opinions, I’m fully aware how little they matter in the grand scheme of things, and am happy to see them strongly disagreed with. I know I like some unusual records (which take the place of “the new” from Anton’s quote above; unappreciated Motown gems need friends!), and I know I’ve given some fairly energetic beat-downs to others; in every case, I’ve had my say, and I stand by it, but my feelings won’t be hurt by disagreement.
Dissent is encouraged.
If you don’t agree with a mark, please don’t get offended – either leave a comment, or if that’s too much hassle, you can alternatively click the “thumbs down” icon to disagree with the review. All dissenting opinions will be published, so long as they don’t get gratuitously personal.
THE MARKING SYSTEM
The marking system has ten increments, and they all get used.
One. The lowest mark available (not zero, or we’d have had a good sprinkling of those!). This means I really dislike something. It’s gone beyond me not wanting to listen to it again – I’m actively warning other people about the dangers of doing so. Awful.
Two. Still pretty damned bad, but possibly missing some of the aggravating features of a true 1. A poor record, but not so poor that it deserves to have the strongest possible condemnation attached – in short, not poor enough to stand beside the very worst.
Three. Dismissive, but less rudely so. This still isn’t very good, but there may be redeeming features here: a great vocal buried in the production, some fine musicianship, a clever hook wasted on an otherwise dismal song – or perhaps the record is just pedestrian, boring without ever actually becoming outright bad.
Four. The most misunderstood mark on the site. A 4 is not a vicious panning, it just means “below average”. Where a 3 is usually a bad record with redeeming moments, a 4 is a usually a decent record with some severe, honking flaws.
Five out of ten is my halfway point (yes, I know this is not mathematically correct!), and is the mark I’ve chosen to represent “average”; it’s the embodiment of okay. The record may veer between sublime brilliance and shocking crapulence, or there may not be anything wrong with it at all – it’s perhaps just not that good a song. This is just about the lowest a record has to score to end up in my ever-growing Motown shuffle playlist (serving as something like a Top 500), although entry isn’t guaranteed; still, anywhere 5 and above, and a record’s doing alright.
The second most misunderstood mark on the site. 6 is good. 6 is above average – this is a good record, and would grace the playlist of any radio show (including my own). If I gave it a six, it’s likely in that personal top 500 I mentioned. It’s good. It’s just – in my opinion – not quite good enough to realistically count itself among the ranks of the truly great Motown records, which is where the green numbers start.
Seven is high praise. A really good record; definitely features in my top 500, possibly my top 250 on a good day. A cut above the regular quality of a Motown groove, this is very good stuff and deserves your attention.
Especially good, knocking on the door of the Best Motown Tunes Ever Club (and sometimes being allowed in), there’s almost nothing about this record that could conceivably be made any better. Hearing this come on the radio makes you stop and listen. A classic.
9 means I love something, plain and simple. Any record with a nine could probably have been a ten on any given day; anything I’ve marked this high, I consider to be among the very best stuff Motown ever produced. A quite brilliant record; you can take anything with a 9 and make a case for it being Motown’s best record of all time. (A case of varying strength and credibility, maybe, but a case nonetheless).
Top marks. These are my personal favourites. There are lots of great, great Motown records that won’t get into this club, having to settle for an 8 or 9, because these are my personal choices. On the one hand, I wanted to give credit where it’s due and reward my “best of the best”. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be handing 10s out like confetti (or, more accurately, like “long service” medals); I thought about the recent-at-the-time-of-writing Motown 50 compilation CD, and asked myself what my own fifty favourite Motown tracks would be – and having agonised for weeks and weeks over that playlist, swapping things out, putting things back, listening to it everywhere I went, those fifty favourite tunes became my fifty 10s. And that’s how many there’ll be when this is finished: exactly fifty.
The point is, the tens are my top 50; some are obvious oldies radio fodder mega-hits, and some are obscure B-sides or cuts from long-forgotten acts (and in one case, both). Hopefully you’ll be intrigued by a few of my picks, even if you roll your eyes at some others – but rest assured, they’re all there solely because I love the record in question.
(And if anyone wants to play “Motown Junkies 10/10 Bingo” by trying to identify the remaining 10s ahead of time, please feel free!)
The marks aren’t really meant to be relative, but rather an indication of what I was feeling at the time – hence me sometimes saying things like “record X is better than record Y”, but giving them both the same mark.
Giving records marks has been a fun experience, and I hope readers get a kick out of it too.