R&B - Released September 20, 2005 | Rhino Atlantic

Distinctions The Qobuz Standard
Ray Charles' seminal recordings for Atlantic have been boxed once before, as the triple-disc 1991 set The Birth of Soul. That box contained 53 tracks, the best moments of what is arguably the best period of Charles' career, but Rhino/Atlantic's 2005 seven-disc sequel, Pure Genius, doesn't bother with merely the highlights: as its subtitle makes clear, this is The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959). This is undeniably a major historical release, since it gathers all of the recordings Charles made at his creative peak, not just as a leader, but as a sideman for his saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman and sides he recorded with jazz vibraphonist Milt Jackson. Also, it's not limited to studio recordings -- live sessions, later issued on the LPs Ray Charles in Person and Ray Charles at Newport, are here too. Despite the abundance of music here, there's not much that hasn't seen the light of day before. It may not seem that way at first glance, since the seventh disc contains nothing but unreleased material, but the great majority of that is devoted to a full-length rehearsal session with producer Ahmet Ertegun from 1953 -- something that is interesting to hear once, since it does give some insights into Ertegun and Charles' working relationship and how Ray acted in the studio, but even then, it's not exactly revelatory. So, apart from that rehearsal, outtakes of "(Night Time Is) The Right Time" and "Tell Me How Do You Feel" and an excellent DVD of Ray live at Newport from 1960, Pure Genius is devoted to material that has been reissued extensively during the CD era -- which is another way of saying that most fans will have this music already. Still, presented here in chronological order according to recording sessions, it's hard not to marvel at Charles' development as an artist and be astonished by his range. That is what makes this set worthwhile as something more than a library piece -- listening to the first six discs from beginning to end reveals exactly how restless and creative Ray was during this period. Most listeners will be satisfied by more concise collections of this period -- and even those who truly love the hard R&B and soul of Charles' Atlantic hits will likely find The Birth of Soul a more satisfying box, since it is devoted to that sound, whereas the rest of the music here that's not on the 1991 box is largely devoted to jazz sides and live performances -- but any serious fan or historian of American music will find this set essential. (Nevertheless, they may find the packaging of the set somewhat infuriating: it's a clever, well-designed replica of an old-fashioned, all-in-one record player, with the hardcover book and eight discs stored inside. It's a nice package, but a bit impractical, particularly for those who just want the music.) ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released February 9, 2017 | Craft Recordings


R&B - Released November 11, 2013 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released September 23, 2014 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released July 17, 2013 | Rhino - Warner Bros.


R&B - Released May 19, 2014 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released October 30, 2007 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released June 9, 2009 | Rhino Atlantic

Sam Moore and Dave Prather were the ultimate soul duo; one a high-voiced wailer, the other a low-toned blaster. They came together in the mid-'60s to form a superb duo, singing tunes penned by soul's finest writing tandem, Isaac Hayes and David Porter. They made a host of great singles before ego battles broke them apart. This 50-cut, two-disc anthology not only has every song of significance, but plenty of obscure worthwhile items, like a "Stay in School" promo, some overlooked material done with the Dixie Flyers, and a couple of numbers cut by Moore as a solo act in the early '70s. The sound quality, annotation, and song sequencing are as outstanding as the songs themselves. ~ Ron Wynn

R&B - Released November 3, 1992 | UNI - MOTOWN

Instead of following Stax/Volt's pattern and delivering an exhaustive box set containing all of their singles, Motown decided to limit their singles box, Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971, to four discs that concentrated on the hits. There are a handful of wonderful lesser-known songs here, such as the Contours' "First I Look at the Purse," but the main strength of the 103-track box is that it features all of the biggest songs from Motown's golden era in one place. Collectors could have used a more comprehensive set, and the box itself could have been packaged with a little more care (there are no artists listed on the back of the individual discs, only songs), but Hitsville USA stands as a definitive overview and introduction to one of the most groundbreaking labels in pop music history. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released October 30, 2007 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released July 31, 2007 | UNI - MOTOWN

Listening to The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6: 1966 was a virtual party -- but there's nothing virtual about The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 7: 1967 at all; it's a nonstop, high-octane party, with barely a bad track to be heard among its 120 songs spread across five CDs. Just like in 1966, almost every single that Motown released in 1967 made the charts, an amazing feat that's a testament to the sharpness of the label's machine and the astonishing quality of the music. And there is truly a dearth of misfires here -- both a reflection of Motown's abandonment of pursuing other markets and how even the newer acts were cutting songs worthy of the superstars (indeed, they were sometimes covers of the superstars, sometimes singing over the Funk Brothers backing tracks as the label was searching for the best match to bring the biggest hit). This, as it often is, is a result of serendipitous timing, as the label's enduring stars almost all had banner years, with the longtime producer/writer powerhouse of Holland-Dozier-Holland having another great year, Norman Whitfield beginning to rise, and Ashford & Simpson joining the team, penning songs for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, highlighted by "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Marvin & Tammi's hit is one of many major, major hits here: the duo also had "Your Precious Love," Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (now officially billed that way) had "I Second That Emotion" and "The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage," the Supremes (now called Diana Ross & the Supremes) had "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" and "Reflections," the Four Tops had "Bernadette" and "Jimmy Mack," Stevie Wonder had "I Was Made to Love Her," and Gladys Knight & the Pips entered the first ranks of stars with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," a Marvin Gaye song that he didn't get released that year. As always, the story of the year is only partially told in the big hits -- true, it's a significant portion of the story, but how the smaller hits and unheard gems fill out the spaces around the anthems is always fascinating and revelatory on these boxes, and in this case, it's tremendously entertaining. Signs of the time begin to creep in -- that spacy echo that begins "Reflections" is a mild acknowledgement of psychedelia also heard on "7 Rooms of Gloom," but this is overshadowed by the increasing sophistication of the productions and arrangements, giving this a richness that is revealed with close listening -- something that needs to be done, as the initial listens of these singles, from the As to the Bs, is often just intoxicating in their excitement. And this doesn't just apply to the hits -- it also applies to the singles from Chris Clark (whose "From Head to Toe" is giddy fun), the Marvelettes ("My Baby Must Be a Magician"), Barbara McNair, and the wealth of great, underappreciated sides from the Isley Brothers and the Spinners. All of this is so good that it seems like everything was running smoothly at Motown, but behind the scenes there was tension, reflected in how Diana and Smokey now have their name above the title, but more significantly in how Holland-Dozier-Holland left the label at the end of the year. Listening to The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 7, all this strife is never apparent: there is nothing but joy in these grooves, joy that is eternal, exuberant, and permanent. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released September 26, 2006 | UNI - MOTOWN

Motown had hits -- many big hits -- prior to 1964, but it's easy to think of that year as the year when the label truly began. It's the year that Motown became more than a successful independent label and became a phenomenon, churning out hits at a blinding speed, defining the era as much as the Beatles-driven British Invasion of 1964. As with any massive success, this was not an overnight sensation but rather the result of years and years of work, with all of the separate pieces falling into place at the same time. Berry Gordy refined his crossover concepts and sharpened his business acumen, while the house band gelled, creating a unified sound for most of the Motown/Tamla singles, bringing muscle and soul to the compositions of the stable of writers. Gordy began to recede as a writer, but Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye continued to pen hits, both for themselves and for other artists, but their contributions tended to be overshadowed by the astonishing partnership of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland, whose productions and compositions formed the core of the Motown sound during these peak years of the '60s, the first fully successful year of which is documented on this superb six-disc box set, The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4: 1964. Throughout 1964, Holland-Dozier-Holland churned out song after song, songs that didn't become hits but became anthems, turning groups into superstars in the process. Chief among them were the Supremes, who had "Where Did Our Love Go," "Come See About Me," and "Baby Love" this year, hits that turned them into the biggest American recording artist of the year, but 1964 was also the year of Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets," Mary Wells' "My Guy," Marvin Gaye's "You're a Wonderful One," "Baby Don't You Do It," and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," the Four Tops' "Baby I Need Your Loving," and the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl," all songs that defined the era. It's only next to these songs -- perhaps overplayed, but sounding exciting again in the context of this set -- that Shorty Long's "Devil with the Blue Dress," Brenda Holloway's "Every Little Bit Hurts," Mary Wells' "When I'm Gone," the Velvelettes' "Needle in a Haystack" and "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'," and the Marvelettes' "Too Many Fish in the Sea" could be seen as second-tier songs, when they're every bit the classics that the others are. This is the strongest indication of how everything was clicking for Motown this year: they were a machine with soul, turning out hits that defined what soul was in the mid-'60s. Given this phenomenal success rate and the number of singles Motown and its subsidiaries released -- this six-disc box contains 163 songs, both As and Bs, along with alternate mixes -- it's not surprised that some cuts got lost in the shuffle, and there were some good ones. There are some grittier R&B numbers from Earl Van Dyke and Junior Walker & the All-Stars, and mainstays the Contours still kicked out some high-octane soul, plus there's smoother stuff that could have been hits if the cards broke another way. All of this gives the impression that Motown released nothing but excellence this year, which isn't quite the case: Gordy was still pursuing several of his odd subsidiaries, including Mel-o-Dee, which released more Johnny Cash knockoffs by Howard Crockett, along with some gospel sides from Liz Lands, and there's also some novelties, most notably R. Dean Taylor's stomping "My Lady Bug Stay Away from That Beatle," an acknowledgement of that other pop phenomenon of 1964. These detours might prevent The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4 from being the nonstop party that the hits, big and small, suggest that it would be, but they also explain how the times were shifting in 1964, while those hits and the forgotten gems explain how Motown was on the vanguard of that change, and how they made music that still amazes. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released February 12, 2008 | UNI - MOTOWN

A Diana Ross & the Supremes B-side in 1969 was called "The Beginning of the End," and it's hard not to think that the title applies to Motown in 1969, especially as depicted in the six-disc, 148-track box set The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 9: 1969. Berry Gordy uprooted Motown to Los Angeles at the end of 1968, a move that couldn't help but be seen as symbolic no matter what good business reasons there might have been behind it. It seemed that Gordy was abandoning Detroit in the wake of the 1967 Riots, leaving behind tumult in the Motor City and also severing ties with the label's roots, if not its history. It was ten years since the label's inception, and in that decade Motown rose from a scrappy independent to a label with so much success it was almost an institution, and what better way to cement its mainstream institutional success than by relocating to the heart of show biz? It made sense on paper even if it nevertheless had the byproduct of removing some of the label's soul, as it seemed as if its heart belonged in Detroit. But most cultural change is slow, not sudden, so it's not like 1969 saw the debut of a brand-new Motown: instead, it was the beginning of the label's third act, one that saw it broadening its borders and eventually leading to the artistic triumphs of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye in the early '70s -- in other words, it was "the beginning of the end." Within that fledgling ending were remnants of the very beginning, of course, sometimes remnants that appeared to be just a shade too self-conscious, as when Gordy had Detroit TV legend Soupy Sales cut a single, almost as a way to illustrate how Motown still had ties to its hometown even if the 45 itself was an ultra-bizarre "Macarthur Park" parody non-too subtly titled "Muck-Arty Park." And, of course, the label's leading lights remained the superstars from the '60s -- Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder. But even if the names are familiar, the sounds reflected the time, as the productions are studded with wah wah guitars, fuzztones, and elastic funk beats. The feeling of the era is reflected most glaringly in the very title of "Psychedelic Shack," but also in how Smokey Robinson & the Miracles sang Dion's "Abraham Martin & John," the elegiac undertones of the Supremes' "Someday We'll Be Together," and the smooth, lush tones of Wonder's "My Cherie Amour." These lush, soft tones are improbably echoed in, of all places, Jr. Walker's recordings; once the toughest, hardest of the Motown stable, he is also held under the sway of the softer sophistication of the new era Motown (quite fetchingly so on "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)") unlike Marvin Gaye, whose "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" has a bounciness to it that is the closest thing to a throwback to classic Motown among the hits in 1969. Even if the sound recalled earlier days, there's a sophistication within his writing and the production, just as there is in Stevie Wonder's "Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday," which is one of his best moments. Nevertheless, these kind of mammoth hits -- hits that turned into pop classics -- didn't dominate Motown's year; they were the exception, not the rule, as the label had its most uneven year since 1963. From 1964 through 1968, almost every single the label released turned into a hit of some magnitude, and their bench was so deep the records that didn't appear on the charts were nevertheless by and large terrific. In 1969, Motown had hits that weren't memorable, singles that were exercises in fashionable styles and sounds, singles that suggested that the label was chasing trends instead of setting the pace. Part of this was due to cultural shifts, part was due to shifts within Motown, as Gordy decided to attack the times head-on by opening up a rock label with Rare Earth and started distributing Chisa, the label of world music pioneer Hugh Masekela and his partner Stewart Levine. Such digressions do dilute the consistency of the listening experience on The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 9, making it compare unfavorably to the almost all-killer sets from 1966, 1967 and 1968. But even if there is more pop culture archaeology here than there has been on one of these sets since 1963, most of these records sound good as artifacts of 1969; on these also-rans the production is appealing, all that is lacking is good material. But amidst this middling material are some very good, even excellent, singles thanks to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Norman Whitfield and Ashford & Simpson, who helped give this year many great moments. But what really defined the year for Motown is the debut of the Jackson 5, whose debut "I Want You Back"/"Who's Lovin' You" arrived at the end of the year. On this set, it appears toward the end of the set, following several discs of music that vacillate between the good to the pleasingly mediocre, so it sounds every bit as bracing and exciting as it did upon its original release. It's a hit that closed the door on Motown's period of doldrums and opened the doors to a new decade, while giving the label its biggest new stars in years. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released October 30, 2007 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released March 3, 2008 | Hip-O Select

Picking up in July 1971, precisely where its predecessor left off, The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 11B runs through the back half of 1971, collecting all the singles released on Motown and its subsidiaries during these six months. 1971 was the first year split in two by the archivists at Hip-O Select, a move that makes sense given the slowly expanding length of the singles and the sheer number of releases (not to mention alternate mixes) the label churned out in 12 months. This set runs 120 songs over the course of five discs, with its companion weighing in at 119 songs on six discs, and an 11-disc box set for a single year is simply too much to digest at once. Of course, having 1971 cleaved in two doesn't necessarily make it easier to digest, nor does it quite camouflage a year that was transitional at best and confused at worst. Much of this muddle is down to shifting times and fashions, as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder moved toward risky album-based projects, but R&B was getting funkier outside of Motown, and the label had a few worthy attempts to follow the flow, even if they didn't go far on the charts. Motown also had some stabs at interesting esoteric, almost psychedelic, soul, such as Jack Hammer's "Colour Combination," a rarity that fits in well with all the hippie rock and AM pop Motown's Rare Earth label churned out during these six months. There's more of this rock-oriented stuff here than one might initially think -- singles from Rare Earth themselves, but also Sunday Funnies (who came to Andrew Loog Oldham via Punch Andrews, wind up sounding like neither the Stones or Seger), a second single from Stoney & Meatloaf, and a brilliant piece of bubblegum by the Messengers called "That's the Way a Woman Is" that kicks off the set in a deceptive fashion. Or maybe it isn't quite so misleading to have this volume of The Complete Motown Singles open with such a sugary confection because it does indicate how thoroughly showbiz the label was in 1971, touching upon all manners of styles and trends. This was apparent on 11A, too, but the paucity of classic hits -- Marvin's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," Stevie Wonder's "If You Really Love Me," and Michael Jackson, already breaking away from his brothers just two years after their first hit, with "Got to Be There" -- winds up emphasizing all the oddities here, whether it's Tony & Carolyn's shameless Carpenters rip-off, Bobby Darin attempting protest folk about five years too late, LA DJ Tom Clay's smarmy recitation "Whatever Happened to Love" and the Rustix's thoroughly depressing "We All End Up In Boxes." Plenty of good stuff surrounds these often bewildering shots in the dark -- it's good to hear Smokey Robinson bring quiet storm to shape with "Satisfaction," Eddie Kendricks get real seductive with "Can I," Virgil Henry's rarity "I Can't Believe You're Really Leaving" is a deserved cult classic -- enough for the devoted to find this necessary (although even some of these listeners might find their patience tested by all the stereo promo mixes that don't sound all that different from the issued mix; yes, they're collector bait and part of the reason for this series to even exist, but less fanatical devotees may find themselves wishing these mixes were excised so they can see the forest for the trees) but the overall picture of 1971 that the two box sets paint is one of a label that was turning into an institution, getting so big it was losing sight of many of its strengths. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released November 25, 2016 | Rhino Atlantic


R&B - Released January 1, 2009 | Hip-O Select

Released only a matter of days after Michael Jackson's tragic June 2009 passing but in the works long before that, Hip-O Select's Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection collects the entirety of his solo recordings for Motown in a triple-disc set. Although Michael had some major hits during this period -- notably "Got to Be There," "Ben," and "Rockin' Robin," all Top Five hits on both the pop and Black Singles charts -- it's fair to call these years Jackson's awkward adolescence, perched partway between the preteen dynamo of the Jackson Five and the cool, confident entertainer of Off the Wall. Certainly, Jackson wasn't in artistic control on these four albums -- Got to Be There and Ben, both from 1972; 1973's Music & Me, 1975's Forever, Michael -- not picking the songs or having a hand in the arrangements, a point hammered home on Farewell My Summer Love where the vocal tracks of unreleased cuts were set to new, modern backing tracks in 1984 at the height of Thriller mania. Farewell in all its awkwardness is here, along with the original superior mixes of nine tracks and Looking Back to Yesterday, another Motown cash-in of unreleased recordings released at the peak of Jackson's popularity. Motown effectively emptied their vaults of rare Michael Jackson material during this time so there's nothing new here for collectors, but much of this material has been out of print for a long time, so it's useful putting the somewhat forgotten recordings of a major artist back in circulation even if the music doesn't hold any new insights. Essentially, these three discs confirm the basic narrative of Michael Jackson's career to be correct: he was drifting at Motown as a solo artist, trapped both by his adolescence and the unwillingness of the label to give him anything to do other than follow shifting trends from bubblegum soul to disco (in this sense, the stiff synthesized productions on Farewell don't seem out of line, they're merely another step in Motown's continued march through fashion). Naturally, the aforementioned big hits retain their power and there are some gems scattered throughout each of the discs -- and those gems come entirely from Jackson's pure, natural charisma -- which may be reason enough for serious fans to get this handsomely produced set, but this is more interesting as a history lesson than it is as entertainment. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

R&B - Released March 7, 2011 | Castle Communications


R&B - Released February 22, 1994 | UNI - MOTOWN


R&B - Released December 15, 2017 | UNI - MOTOWN


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