(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
It’s funny, I suppose. When I started doing this blog some six (!) years ago, I did it primarily because I love Motown so much. And I love Motown so much, in large part, because of this amazing mid-Sixties Golden Age run of top singles we’re now riding here. Back in the early days, when I was slogging my way through the often interesting, occasionally regrettable early years of Motown, when my days were filled with writing about records of wildly variable quality by people I often knew little about, one of the things that kept my spirits up while having to review (for instance) a run of eight jazz records in a row, followed by an awful, feeble comedy skit, was the thought of getting here, to the top of the mountain. This, then, is my reward, as it were.
But it turns out that Motown at the start of 1966 was still a bewildering sort of place, just in a different way. Where once upon a time spotting the gold in the pan was easy, financial security and ever-higher artistic benchmarks turned Motown into a fiercely competitive affair, with artists, writers, musicians, producers and even songs all jostling each other and jockeying for position to get some attention, while merely standing out from the crowd was harder than ever.
And while that makes listening to Motown’s 45s of the time a heavenly (if highly-concentrated) listening experience bordering on sheer joy, it brings new headaches for your humble correspondent here. Enduring classic record follows enduring classic record, with no let-up. Big green numbers pile on top of each other at the end of each review, as the Master Index drowns in a tidal wave of top marks, and still Motown doesn’t rest, still the hits keep on coming. How are they doing this? And how am I going to write about it?
Not that I’m complaining, you understand. The thrill of cueing up each successive brilliant record isn’t diminshed by having just heard a bunch of other brilliant records already, because this is Motown at its best and it’s magnificent. The only sadness, if you can even call it that, is knowing I can’t linger as long as I’d like, that soon enough we’ll have to move on, and before too long we’ll be gently, almost imperceptibly at first, rolling (ever-so-slowly) downhill back off the plateau, never quite to return to these mid-Sixties heights again. Oh, I’ve got an advantage over listeners in 1966, of course, in that I know what’s coming, I know there are plenty more masterpieces after this glorious golden era (and indeed, this decade) is done. But at the time, it must have been… well, like I said, bewildering.
And look, now here are the Isley Brothers, making their Motown début, with a song written by Motown’s most exciting and bankable hitmakers, an absolute can’t-miss matchup. How are they DOING this? Continue reading