100 Essential CDs – Number 8 – Motown Chartbusters Volume 10


Motown Chartbusters Volume 10 (Spectrum 1998)


The development of the Motown label is one of the most important cultural aspects of the second half of the twentieth century.  I never tire of hearing how Berry Gordy crammed young talented artists into the little Hitsville studio in Detroit and through hard work, determination and drive to succeed turned a significant number of these artists into household names and maintained success throughout the 1960s and into the 70s.  The seventies side of things tends to be overlooked.  Gordy decided to up sticks and move out of Detroit and relocate in LA, a decision which rankled with many fans and was seen as selling out for the glamour of Hollywood and the general feeling was that Motown was never the same again.  Not so, the 16 tracks on this CD which first appeared on vinyl in 1979 are of a quality so high that this is probably my favourite compilation album of all time.  The recordings date over a period of four years which does show that the pace of hits had slowed down from the time when they could put out two of these hits compilations a year and it had been five years since the preceding volume which I also have on my Essential CDs list.   Not everyone who was entitled to have tracks on this album has done so, there’s no Stevie Wonder for the first time ever on a Chartbusters recording and he was probably at his commercial peak at this period, there’s no David Ruffin, who had made a strong comeback with tracks produced by Van McCoy.  Some of the old guard are represented, especially Diana Ross with three tracks, the three track award is also given to newer act The Commodores who had featured on Chartbusters 9 with their debut instrumental hit but had in the intervening years gone on to become a supergroup.  There’s also newer names such as Rick James, Teena Marie and Tata Vega who were paving the way for Motown’s continued success.  Statistically, the tracks look impressive with 9 of the 16 being Top 10 UK hits and six US number 1’s.  There was no way that Motown was a spent force, a great number of these tracks are amongst my all-time favourites.  However, this was the last essential Motown Chartbuster CD as far as I am concerned.  Volume 11 was released just a year later and despite highlighting Diana Ross’ work with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic and having big hits from the likes of Teena Marie, The Commodores and Billy Preston & Syreeta a lot of the magic and creative inspiration which fills Volume 10 had gone.

Once again with these essential CDs it is important to know what tracks can be found on them so here you will find them listed with their highest chart position (UK/US) if released as a single and links if I have more information on the artist elsewhere on the blog. I’ll pick out a handful of tracks to give a flavour of what makes these CDs essential.

Track Listings

1.Three Times A Lady – The Commodores (1978) (UK#1,US#1)

2. Love Hangover –Diana Ross (1976) (UK#10, US#1)

3. The Night – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (1975) (UK#7)

When I focused on the essential 20 Greatest Hits by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons I lamented the absence of this particular track. In the early 70’s the band signed to Motown with fairly disastrous commercial results. Berry Gordy put them on his subsidiary Mo-West label which was set up to branch out with more rock orientated acts when the band, with their brand of blue-eyed soul could have been very much at home on the main Motown label. Mo-West wasn’t such a great priority and the albums recorded for them (although history has seen them critically well-received) did not sell. “The Night” however found its way to the UK charts via the Northern Soul clubs who pounced on its rarity and forced a commercial release. This is a superb, driving  track which is a great British favourite for the group which almost certainly would not have appeared on any US hits compilations.  The Chartbuster series was an innovation from the UK arm of the label which is why we are treated with gems like this.


4. Got To Give It Up (Part 1) – Marvin Gaye (1977) (UK#7,US#1)

5. Get It Up For Love – Tata Vega (1979) (UK#52)

6. The Boss – Diana Ross (1979) (UK#40, US#19)

Another track which was left off another of my Essential CD’s which got me moaning when I reviewed it.  On 40 Motown Greats by Diana Ross & The Supremes there was no room for this solo classic from Ross. I’d even specified the track I would have sacrificed for this superb Ashford and Simpson song which behind the disco gloss tells the story of a woman claiming to be totally in control and not prepared to be sideswiped by love.  There’s some lovely touches in the lyrics and a great performance from Ms. Ross.  At the time we might have expected this to be a bigger hit, certainly in the UK, where it just scraped the Top 40 but time has been very good to this track.  I did buy a considerable number of Motown singles at the time this was released but I never bought this and it was only hearing it in a nightclub probably 15 years later and the response it got that I realised I had missed out on how good this sounds.  Its continued popularity tempted girl group (and sisters of Toni) The Braxtons to revisit it which performed nine places better than the original in 1997 and topped the US Dance charts but which isn’t a patch on Ross’ version.  The production and songwriting team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson is still under-rated and this is one of their finest efforts.


7. Theme From “Big Time”- Smokey Robinson (1977)

8. Your Kiss Is Sweet – Syreeta (1975) (UK#12)

9. Theme From “Mahogany” – Diana Ross (1975) (UK#5, US#1)

10. Easy – The Commodores (1977) (UK#9,US#4)

11. I’m A Sucker For Your Love – Teena Marie (1979) (UK#43)

An influential artist who was not as big as she should have been.  When I first heard Madonna I thought she was somebody who wanted to be another Teena Marie.  I’m sure there would not have been a Madonna without Teena Marie to pave the way.  This was her debut hit for the artist born Mary Brockert signed to Motown and recording material that was being left unreleased by them until Rick James, the label’s new hot act, passed on producing Diana Ross and asked to work with Teena instead.  This first single was actually a duet with an uncredited James which would have gained it radio play but the title was open to misinterpretation which might have caused some anxiety to radio programmers.  There was also the difficulty of how to market the artist, it was assumed she was black and she became the first white artist to perform on “Soul Train” showcasing this track.  In the late 70’s with the restrictions from American radio Teena probably suffered but she was largely embraced as a soul act getting more play from R&B radio because of her voice and obvious love of black music.  Her biggest hit in the UK would come a year later with “Behind The Groove” and she put out some excellent material for the label.  Ironically, her biggest US hit would have to wait until 1985’s “Lovergirl” made it into the Top 5 three years after becoming dismayed by the handling of her career by Motown which saw her move to the Epic label.  Incidentally, mentor Rick James’ best track, his debut hit “You And I” is also on this CD.


12. Love Machine – The Miracles (1976) (UK#3, US#1)

Containing members of the first group to make serious money for Motown with 1960’s “Shop Around”, by 1976 lead singer Smokey had gone solo but by the time this album was released he was struggling to find material.  The track by him here the theme to some long forgotten film was an attempt to make himself relevant in the way Ross and Marvin Gaye had done, by embracing disco, it’s a fair enough result which the label had high hopes for but is the only track on this album not to have pop success on either side of the Atlantic.  His old band-mates The Miracles were having a completely different experience in the mid 70’s with this classic chart-topping track with Smokey’s replacement Billy Griffin as lead vocalist.   It’s a joyful piece of music which combines 70’s disco with a feel of the doowop type song The Miracles would have begun their career with.  It was a great comeback for the group, but unfortunately, the Motown of the 70’s would struggle with consistency and couldn’t come up with the goods for this group to continue this success.  No longer having the cream of song writing and production teams on staff to build on this great commercial sound this was the last time this incarnation of the group would make the charts.


13. It Should Have Been Me – Yvonne Fair (1976) (UK#5)

The history of Motown is peppered with extremely talented artists that the label did not really know what to do with and Yvonne Fair is another of these.  She’d been around long enough on the label to have had a small part in the game-changing “Lady Sings The Blues” movie and had already proved her musical worth as part of the James Brown Revue before coming to Motown.  Working with Norman Whitfield they came up with the idea to reinvent a song that Whitfield together with Mickey Stevenson had penned for Gladys Knight & The Pips and as in a previous reinvention of a Gladys song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” which was reworked for Marvin Gaye the end result was extraordinary.  It’s no easy feat to outdo Knight’s vocal but Yvonne turned this into a blistering soul shouter which begins menacingly quiet set in a church where Yvonne’s love is about to get married to somebody else.  Well, not if she has anything to do with it.  Knowing this song it’s impossible to attend a wedding ceremony and get to the bit where the celebrant begins “if any objection to this wedding” without Yvonne’s response coming to mind.  The UK loved this song giving her a Top 5 hit, extraordinary for a raw soul performance but it was seen as somewhat as a novelty which meant that Fair’s continued success was probably doomed. This was a tragedy because follow-up single was even better, there were few emotional tour-de-forces out there as “It’s Bad For Me To See You” which I think is an all-time Classic Motown track which did get radio play but didn’t make any inroads in the pop charts.  It took 34 years for Motown to put Yvonne’s only album “The Bitch Is Black” out on CD which showed someone as at home with raw funk as the deep soul which made her name.  Yvonne Fair was also another of the Motown artists who passed away too soon, of cancer at the age of 51 in 1994.


14. You And I – Rick James (1978) (UK#46, US#13)

15. Don’t Leave Me This Way – Thelma Houston (1977) (UK#13, US#1) (also on “Nights In Heaven“)

16. Sail On – The Commodores (1979) (UK#8,US#4)

This review is the final piece of the puzzle of my 100 Essential CDs which is now complete.  It’s taken almost five years to run through these which means my list is now already five years out of date.  Even though there’s been good music over the last five years these 100 CDs are so entrenched in my psyche that it might be hard for me to move one out of the list to put something else in so it’s going to stay exactly as it is.  I  hope you enjoy reading my CD selections and that it might have prompted you to rediscover some of the artists I have written about.  A quick word count suggests something in the region of 187,000 words have been written in this section so many thanks if you have read all, some or any of them.  I’m going to be leaving writing about music for a little while but no doubt a new thread will be back soon.  In the meantime if you have just stumbled across this review there are another 99 to go!

Happy New Year!


100 Essential CDs – Number 61 –Four Seasons – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons -20 Greatest Hits


20 Greatest Hits – Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons (Telstar 1988)

UK Chart Position – 38


As one of the all-time greats singles acts I would consider a greatest hits compilation by the Four Seasons an essential part of a CD collection. I have chosen this twenty tracker, which released at a time when both vinyl and CD were being released oddly contains 22 tracks (two are bonus tracks probably not on the vinyl version). In fact, this was the first CD I ever bought, purchasing it on the same day I was tempted by a little Goodmans Personal CD which when plugged into the hi-fi system really did have a terrific sound. After years of vinyl records getting thinner and thinner and scratching and warping so easily this was something of a revelation.

The history of this group is a fascinating one and I would recommend the Clint Eastwood directed 2014 movie “The Jersey Boys” for a real eye-opener as to what it was like to be a successful group in the 60’s. It’s quite a dark ride and I would imagine a little different in tone from the joyful jukebox musical of the same name that has been packing them into theatres since 2005 (which I haven’t seen, but which is responsible for bringing this group back into the limelight after a few years of languishing in the shadows of nostalgia). And successful the Four Seasons certainly were, the hit single tally is 5 US number 1’s, 15 Top 10 hits and 30 Top 40 hits. In the UK they scored just the one number 1, 8 Top 10 hits and 17 Top 40 hits. Their chart career spanned from 1962-1976. In the UK they pulled off a Top 40 hit in 2007. Their chart history is a complex one, they had different big hits in the UK from the US. Until the mid 70’s from time to time Four Seasons tracks were released with just Frankie’s name, even though the group were on the recording session. This includes one of his biggest “solo” hits – “My Eyes Adored You”. In fact, it wasn’t until the follow-up to that single “Swearin’ To God” that Valli really began to go it alone.  This CD contains six of his “solo” hits. Frankie Valli scored another 2 US number 1’s and 9 Top 40 hits. In the UK his solo tally is 5 Top 40 hits. They scored big hits for 6 different labels – Vee-Jay, Philips, Smash,Warner Brothers , Private Stock and RSO.


The tracks on this CD are ordered largely randomly so I’m going to be slightly random in my appreciation. There are three main stages of the career- the 60’s hits, the Frankie Valli releases and the 70’s hits. I’m not sure which of these three phases I prefer –they all have more than the odd moment of greatness. In these days a fourteen year career is much less of a rarity but each time there was more than a couple of years between tracks this group were heralded as very much the “come-back kings”, as if they’d been written off as hit-makers in the meantime. This seemed to happen to them time and time again –but when they found the right songs the hits kept coming.

The guys’ breakthrough into the recording industry came when they were named The Four Lovers and did background work as session singers for artists who had made inroads into the pop charts including Danny & The Juniors and Bobby Darin. In the second half of the 50’s they released a string of singles with only one, from 1956 “You’re The Apple Of My Eye” making any impression on the US Top 100 (#62). It wasn’t until the boys began working with Bob Crewe and put out their first Vee-Jay single accredited to the Four Seasons that major chart success came their way. The song written by band member and song-writer extraordinaire Bob Gaudio was claimed as an overnight success, even though the boys had been slogging away for some years. “Sherry”(US#1,UK#8) served as a brilliant introduction to the extraordinary Valli voice, a three and a half octave range with a falsetto which can reach to the stratosphere and that plaintive tone which some have unfairly described as a “whine” which can be used to such great effect.

The early singles are perfect examples of pre-Beatles era pop- “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (US#1,UK#13), “Rag Doll” (US#1,UK#2), the stomping “Walk Like A Man” (US#1,UK#12) are works of three minute genius. The song-writing team of Four Season Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe should be spoken with the same reverence as Goffin & King and Leiber and Stoller. Over the whole of the Four Seasons career they came up time and time again with a thrilling range of songs. Both Crewe and Gaudio collaborated with other song-writers over the years (Sandy Linzer, Denny Randell, Judy Parker Peggy Farina, Kenny Nolan).

There’s a slew of songs that the Four Seasons first recorded that went on to be UK number 1’s for other artists – “Silence Is Golden” (Tremeloes), “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” (Walker Brothers), Bye Bye Baby (Bay City Rollers), “Walking My Way Back To You” (Detroit Spinners). Other highspots of these early hit-making years include perhaps the mighty and really quite complex “Opus 17” (US#13,UK#20) (a Randell/Linzer track reminiscent of another of their hits penned for girl group The Toys “A Lover’s Concerto”, the hook laden “Dawn (Go Away)” (US#3), the urgent singalong of “The Proud One” (better known as a hit for The Osmonds, but this superior original is presented as one of the two bonus tracks). Then of course there’s the song that just won’t die, not a huge hit when first recorded (US#16) “Beggin’” which puts the plaintive qualities of Valli’s voice to the fore has been reworked in recent years by other artists (Madcon) and also gave the original hit-makers that 2007 UK Top 40 hit forty years after its first release. When they moved away from the Gaudio/Crewe songbook perhaps the results could be a bit more unpredictable, but one of their hits, their version of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (US#9,UK#12) could very well be the best take on that much-recorded number.


The tracks accredited to Valli as a solo artist include the Motown-esque “I’m Ready Now” (UK#11) (which to me has a slightly sinister edge with more than a hint of “grooming” about it), the under-rated “Swearin’ To God” (US#6,UK#31) with vocal assistance from Patti Austin and “Fallen Angel” (US#36,UK#11) and his two US number 1’s. “My Eyes Adored You” (US#1,UK#58) must have been a track I listened to a lot at a formative age as it is one of the few songs that I know all the words to, a fact which surprises me because it veers close towards the line of cheesiness making it a true guilty-pleasure. The Bee Gees penned “Grease” (US#1,UK#3) is what it is, a title song by the hottest writers of the time tacked onto the beginning of a film to further the link between John Travolta and the Brothers Gibb established to wild acclaim with “Saturday Night Fever”. It’s not a great song (what does it mean “Grease is the word?”) but it tapped into the public enthusiasm of the time and gave him a much appreciated US chart-topper. Perhaps Valli’s best solo moment was with a song that many think is an old standard rather than a Gaudio/Crewe original penned for him in 1967. “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (US#2) has that perfect combination of smoochy ballad then bang into that big band section which gets you every time. This song has also done big business for artists as diverse as Andy Williams (who got the UK hit#5 in 1968), Boys Town Gang (UK#4 in 1982) and the Pet Shop Boys (UK#4 in 1991) who with their bizarre sense of genius paired it with U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name”.


I have a huge affection for the band’s hit output of the 1970’s written by Bob Crewe and the lady he married Judy Parker. “Who Loves You” (US#3,UK#6) might have felt at a time a gimmicky track put out to cash-in on TV’s Kojak’s catchphrase but it has certainly stood the test of time and is a tour-de-force of a track. “Silver Star” (US#38,UK#3) puts Frankie into the background and is another phenomenal production. For me this track should be up there with “Hotel California” “I’m Not In Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” as great examples of the 70’s song but although it was amongst their biggest hits in the UK their homeland did not really warm to it, perhaps it was a little too far removed from the Four Seasons sound they loved. This could not be said of the track which brought them back to the top of the charts and gave them their only UK chart-topper in 1976. “December 63 (Oh What A Night!) (US#1,UK#1) was really a perfect song for the band. It managed to feel both relevant and nostalgic and is perhaps one of the greatest loss of virginity songs (I’m rating it significantly above Bobby Goldsboro’s melodramatic and disturbingly tacky “Summer (The First Time)”). It has just the right balance of nostalgic joy and male concern (“as I recall it ended much too soon”) If this is the track that this band are remembered for, coming 14 years after their first hit then so be it.

With only 22 tracks there is going to be so much missing and the track which I feel the absence of on this compilation is their UK only hit “The Night” (UK#7 in 1975). In the early 70’s the band signed to Motown with fairly disastrous commercial results. Berry Gordy put them on his subsidiary Mo-West label which was set up to branch out with more rock orientated act when the band, with their brand of blue-eyed soul could have been very much at home on the main Motown label. Mo-West wasn’t such a great priority and the albums recorded for them (although history has seen them critically well-received) did not sell. “The Night” however found its way to the UK charts via the Northern Soul clubs who pounced on its rarity and forced a commercial release. This is a superb track and is available on other compilations.

Perhaps the Four Seasons are unusual a band in that we do not really need to delve too deeply into their studio albums. For the early part of their career albums were just a couple of singles padded out with other tracks which were hardly essential. The only album that wasn’t a hits compilation that charted during this time in the UK was the debut “Sherry” (#20 in 1963) and that has versions of tracks such “Yessir That’s My Baby” and “Can’t Give You Anything But My Love” which would have appealed more to the parents of the early fans. Their 1976 album “Who Loves You” charted but the best tracks are available on this and other compilations. The Motown albums might be worth considering and 1977’s “Helicon” as they are not chock-full of hit singles which you should already have. They even tried a “concept” album in 1969 “The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette” containing tracks such as “American Crucifixion” which sounds such a distance away from “Big Girls Don’t Cry” that I’ve never been tempted to experience it.

This compilation (Telstar 2320), which was known as “The Collection” is a perfect illustration of one of the great American vocal groups and the unique voice of its lead singer.

“The Greatest Hits” is currently available from Amazon in the UK for the bizarre price of £48.95 used from £6.98.  It does not seem to be readily available in the US. In both markets other Greatest Hits compilations are available.