This ‘introduction’ is certainly a lot more comprehensive than most.
Mike Diver 2009
Terrible though it is to turn to cliché, in this instance it’s entirely appropriate: many of the songs here are certifiable, stone-cold classics, of a kind so rare that they necessitate ownership whatever the listener’s typical aural fixations.
Granted, many of these 94 tracks will already be nestling in home collections, be they on treasured original albums or box-set-style packages such as this one, released to coincide with the annual urge to fill a few fireplace-hung stockings. But if you’re yet to call the likes of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ original Dancing in the Street (it knocks the stuffing out of Mick and Dave), Marvin Gaye’s irresistibly infectious Can I Get a Witness and The Supremes’ glorious Stop! In the Name of Love your own (to name but three of the many must-have numbers assembled here), now’s the time.
The tracklist for discs one and two – Milestones and Influences and British Chartbusters respectively – reads fairly predictably, but when the quality’s so high, there can be few complaints in that department. And this set offers more than just a clutch of catalogue highlights – disc three focuses on live performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Miracles and Diana Ross, and the fourth and final CD collects ‘Killer Bs’, featuring flipsides from the Four Tops, Michael Jackson and more.
It’s the live numbers, recorded in London and Paris, that are of particular interest – Wonder’s superlative I Was Made to Love Her, from a 1970 set at London’s Talk of the Town, showcases the man’s natural vocal flair as he fills every possible silence between the lyrics with an enthusiastic hoot or a holler. His Signed, Sealed Delivered (I’m Yours) is almost implausibly funky – if the irrepressible rhythm doesn’t get you the strutting bass will, and the brass section elevates the song to a dizzying high come its climax. The intimacy of some numbers, particularly those from the Motortown Revue show in Paris, is such that you could be in the room with the performers.
With so much to take in, this ‘introduction’ is certainly a lot more comprehensive than most – it’ll take much of one’s Christmas break to get through everything. But what else do you have planned after gorging on spuds and sprouts? Spending a couple of hours in the company of these artists is eminently preferable to falling asleep in front of the late-afternoon movie premiere.