Can I Get a Witness is a single-disc, 16-track Marvin Gaye collection put together to be sold exclusively in Starbucks coffee shops. It's an odd set in some ways: stuffed with many of Gaye's landmark Motown hits, curiously omitting others, and filled out with tracks that, frankly, were not among his best. It appears at first that the set will take a strictly chronological approach, starting as it does with Gaye's debut chart hit, 1962's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" (which, it's amazing to consider now, stalled at number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100). But Gaye's next hit, "Hitch Hike," is absent from the set, and the third, "Pride and Joy," his first Top Ten, doesn't turn up till track six, after songs that were released in its wake. Things stay on this erratic path throughout: while the compilation makes sure to include such early and mid-career high points as "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," "Can I Get a Witness," and "I'll Be Doggone," it skips over the Top Ten "Ain't That Peculiar" and "Your Precious Love." Of Gaye's brilliant duets with female vocalists, three were chosen: "You're All I Need to Get By," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," (both with Tammi Terrell) and "It Takes Two" (with Kim Weston). Gaye's late-'60s and early-'70s period is represented by the essential "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "What's Going On," "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," and "Got to Give It Up," but the number one hit "Let's Get It On," "Trouble Man," and the essential "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" are M.I.A. One could argue that, with only one disc at their disposal, and so many Marvin Gaye hits to pick from, the compilers had to make decisions and some winners necessarily had to be left on the cutting room floor. But that argument doesn't wash when such minor tracks as "When I Feel the Need," "Come Get to This" and "When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You" (the latter from the Here, My Dear album) occupy space that could have been taken up by more important, more memorable recordings. Can I Get a Witness is still a solid capsule look at Gaye's Motown years (the later Columbia sides, such as "Sexual Healing," are not addressed), but it could have been the definitive one-CD Marvin Gaye best-of with a few programming changes.
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