Marks Out Of Ten

“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.

1/10
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.

2/10
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.

3/10

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.

4/10

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.

5/10

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.

6/10

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.

7/10

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.

8/10

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.

9/10

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).

10/10

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.

11 thoughts on “Marks Out Of Ten”

  1. Michael Landes said:

    I would like to say thank you for bothering to actually give some kind of intent to the marks. Barring that, simply putting a number to the records is absolutely meaningless, so thanks.

    As to the particular way you’ve decided to go (and there are many many different approaches to this sort of thing) I do have a few comments and thanks for asking 🙂

    First of all, I wonder about the usefulness, or even the meaningfulness, of distinguishing between a “1”, a “2” and a “3”. It’s true that Christgau distinguishes between C-, D+, D, D- and F. but these definitions are almost entirely tongue-in=cheek.

    I’m wondering how someone as reasonable as yourself, who clearly recognizes that one person’s appetizer is another’s poison, can, in good conscience, actually warn people not to bother checking out something out for themselves ( a “1” ), or claim something to be without redeeming qualities ( a “2” ). I’m comfortable with your “3”, but the “1” and the “2” make me uncomfortable.

    Let me give an example or two of the issue, although I’m sure it’s not necessary.
    One of the great early rock and roll records (it could be argued to be the very last
    “rock & roll” hit, being already an anachronism when it came out in 1960) –
    Angel Baby. Now being British, you may never have heard the record I’m referring to as the British version was edited in another of ways. For one, the sound was cleaned up in a most miraculous way. You can actually appreciate Rosie’s siniging in a way that you cannot possibly in the original U.S. release.

    Also, as the original U.S. hit was unacceptably lengthy (I vaguely recall it being about 4 minutes – it was miraculous that it ever got air play in 1960) the wondrous brief intro was excised (a disastrous mistake as it was only a a few seconds and perfection). Also, the saxophone solo in the middle was edited out. Now editing solo this out made perfect sense. By any objective standard this was the worst obligato in the history of rock and roll. Is there a single note in it that is not either stikingly sharp or flat? I don’t believe so. It’s so incompetent it is quite striking. You remember it long after the rest of the record is forgotten. It lingers in the mind like a bruise. Even today I can sing the solo exactly. Not as it was intended to sound, but as it actually was played! So it made perfect sense to edit it out.

    And yet, for me, the tinny, whiny sound of the singer as she sounds on the U.S. record is for me part of the magic of the record. The “incompetent” solo is also
    quite magical for me. Even today I can sing it exactly. Not as it was intended to sound, but as it actually was played! This is not something I get together with my friends to laugh about. It is genuinely one of my very favorite records, above any Motown record. And a large part of the reason has to do with attributes that by any objective measure are flaws that ruin the record. flaws that with good reason were
    excised out of the single, or corrected, for the Brit release.

    All this is just to say that while the negative reviews are, human nature being what it is, perhaps the most fun to write, they are perhaps the least actually useful. I’m reminded that the Cahiers Du Cinema had the policy of only printing positive reviews.
    This was in the fifties and sixties. Their opinion was that only people that liked a movie had anything truly meaningful to say about it. Personally I LOVE talking about stuff I hate. But I stopped doing it long long ago. Now all I say is, I don’t get it, and move on to other topics.

    Your thoughts?

    Like

    • Thanks Michael.

      Firstly, if anyone is ever actually actively dissuaded from listening to something purely on my say-so, well, more fool them, because I’m an idiot. (Luckily, if anything, it often works the other way round, people actively digging out my harshly-panned 1s and 2s to see how much hyperbole was involved far more than my fives and sixes.)

      More importantly, though, the spread of grades in the lower reaches is there as an equal and opposite reaction to the spread of grades at the top; I like the nuances of a ten-increment system for praise, because there’s a world of difference for me between an eight and a ten – but when it comes to brickbats, because I’ve graded the high achievers that way, well, to my mind, those increments should be “equally-spaced”, and logically there should be the same distance between a six and an eight, or a three and a one.

      I could see the appeal in doing away with the lower marks altogether – if I decided to use, say, stars, and five out of ten was zero stars, and ten out of ten was five stars, and everything below six was simply “not good enough for a star” (Halliwell-style), that could be fun. (That’s how I “grade” things on my iPod, for instance). But it feels unfair to lump the average in with the genuinely awful, and it’s certainly less precise when it comes to a reader calibrating whether my opinions are likely to match their own.

      And finally, of course, it’s just much better comment-bait to have more available marks for readers to argue over… 🙂

      Like

    • Deborah Bullock said:

      You describe the original recording perfectly! And what could be termed as flaws were what made it so memorable.

      Like

  2. MotownFan1962 said:

    I though 5 out of 10 beign the halfway point WAS mathematically correct! 5/10 = 1/2

    Like

  3. Upper Cut Steve said:

    I’d give you a 10 out of 10 anyway, just for having this site. This music changed me for the better. One suggestion :
    Just add some Isley Bros to your listing for this Old heart of mine and I guess I’ll always love you .

    Like

  4. Good. Very good. Ethernal music. I like very much.

    Like

  5. Been in the music business since I was 13, lots of shows, dances etc. the merit of any musical composition should never be left to intellectual dissection , rather the visual
    acknowledgement of how the crowd reacts time after time after time. The crowds response is the only barometer that has any merit . No matter how any fool might try to corrupt the crowds response by intellectual HOGWASH. That’s why “Mickey’s Monkey” has always been the song I choose to bring our group on stage! It brings them to their feet dancing and a clapping from the get go. Music is emotion , great music conveys great emotion whether it’s Mickey’s Monkey or Bach. Just sayin!

    Like

  6. Robert Moga said:

    What anyone here in the forum has, as yet, failed to note is that there are TWO versions of “JAMIE”. Different label AND matrix numbers! I ran across this about 25 years ago while play grading several copies I was putting up for sale in a DISCoveries magazine auction. Of the 4 copies I had to sell (I lived in Detroit at the time) 3 of them had both a label and matrix notation of H 912 / ZTSC 84181. The other, however, had a FOUR digit label/matrix that contained FOUR numbers and began with 11. (Thus the label/matrix number was 11xx). I apologize I cannot recall the last two numbers but it was over 25 years ago.
    I CAN, however, relate to you what I found to be the MAIN/ONLY difference between the two songs. And that is the singers pronunciation of the word “HAIR”.
    In one version (I believe the 1st – H 912) the word “hair” is pronounced as “HARR”. Which is a common pronunciation of the word from people raised in the “south”. Whites and African Americans alike. While, in the northern and eastern areas of the country the word is distinctively pronounced as “HAIR”.
    Perhaps the song was over-dubbed or re-recorded in order to appeal to a more “nationwide” audience. I don’t know.
    BUT, there ARE two vocal versions of the song on original issue 45’s.

    Like

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