The sheer ubiquity of the Motown sound - through TV advertisements and film soundtracks as well as naff '90s covers or pastiches - has diluted the emotional power of what was, at its mid-'60s peak, a
THE SHEER UBIQUITY OF THE MOTOWN SOUND – through TV advertisements and film soundtracks as well as naff ’90s covers or pastiches – has diluted the emotional power of what was, at its mid-’60s peak, a paragon of pop virtue. But here’s a fascinating way of regaining a proper perspective: alternative, mostly unreleased, versions of Motown standards recorded contemporaneously by other Motown artists, the result of in-house writers and producers trying out their songs and techniques on more than one subject.
These are the Sounds Of Young America that never quite were. In its renowned Supremes version, ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’ is the archetypal barnstorming vehicle for Diana Ross‘ glitterball diva routine, but here the reading by Kim Weston is stately and vulnerable, refocusing the song’s impact. Why The Jackson 5‘s searing assault on Smokey Robinson‘s ‘You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’ was omitted from their debut album is beyond comprehension, while Smokey himself provides the collection’s defining moment: though subsequently a hit for both Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ was originally performed by The Miracles, and a remarkable rendition it is. Perhaps it was thought too weird for release, as Robinson‘s helium coo intimates the steely resolution of a betrayed man possessed.
Alongside similarly enlightening treasures from yer Stevie W and Marvin G, unheralded acts like The Originals and The Underdogs prove that even Motown’s second string was in tune with the soul. The strictures of Berry Gordy‘s hit factory produced a peculiarly dignified form of labour.