Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 9In the past month Hip-O Select released volume nine of their ongoing The Complete Motown Singles series -- an ambitious and invaluable chronicling of every A- and B-side that Motown and its various subsidiaries released. Although the project will continue for a few more volumes at least, this ninth edition brings us to the end of the '60s, documenting the first full year Motown spent in its new Los Angeles headquarters. It was a year that was a bit unsettled and the label seemed a bit directionless until the Jackson 5 debuted at the end of the year, revitalizing Motown's fortunes and opening the door to the '70s. This set points the way to the label's future but it's also the final chapter in Motown's remarkable decade-long saga and thereby offers a perfect opportunity to look back at what this series has offered over the course of nine box sets totalling 49 discs.


Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 1The Complete Motown Singles has been a dream project of Motown and soul fanatics for many years, ever since the first decade of Stax/Volt singles was compiled in an impressive nine-disc box set in 1991. Prior to that, no soul label had its output as thoroughly documented as that set -- there had been the Atlantic R&B box, which collected highlights, but it never attempted to capture the label's entire run -- and while The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968 missed a B-side or two, it was an exceptional piece of music history, and pretty damn entertaining to boot. It was so good that it seemed like Motown would be a natural to receive the same treatment, since the label not only had a greater impact -- not just musically, but culturally -- but it had a much more diverse roster, which would make for an exciting set. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 2Picking up where the first volume of Hip-O Select's monumental The Complete Motown Singles series left off, Vol. 2 covers 1962, when Motown was beginning to gain momentum but had not yet turned into the hit-making machine it would be in just a short year. The label and its various subsidiaries were beginning to gel, beginning to polish what would become immediately identifiable as the Motown sound, but all the pieces weren't quite in place yet. Not only was there a lot of trial and error, there still was a lot of fumbling and imitation, with the label trying to hitch its wagon to big hits on other labels, like Little Otis' "I Out-Duked the Duke," which failed to be anywhere near as big as Vee Jay's smash single, Gene Chandler's "Duke of Earl," which it answers. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 3Like most independent record moguls of the early '60s, Berry Gordy, Jr. had grand plans but unlike many of his peers, he was more than ready to enact them. Crafting an R&B crossover was part of the plan but he wasn't limited to that: he had other markets in mind, markets that held cash and credit. Gordy tried everything -- folk, country, gospel, jazz, supper club crooning -- seemingly opening up a new subsidiary for every style, very rarely with much success. He dabbled in these digressions earlier in Motown's history but as the five-disc box The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 3: 1963 shows, 1963 was the year Gordy went berserk with subsidiaries, pursuing Workshop Jazz for jazz and vocal recordings, Mel-O-Dy for folk, country, and comedy, and Divinity for gospel, all of these in addition to the Gordy and Tamla imprints that released R&B just like their flagship Motown. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 4Motown 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. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 5Far from losing momentum in the wake of their massive mass-market breakthrough in 1964, Motown continued to build upon strengths in 1965 as the six-disc box The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 5: 1965 illustrates. The Supremes, the Temptations, and the Four Tops all turned into stars in 1964, but in 1965 they entrenched themselves into the white mainstream, with the Supremes even appearing on the cover of Time magazine. The Supremes were everywhere in 1965, acting as the face of Motown, racking up chart-toppers with "Stop! in the Name of Love," "Back in My Arms Again," "Nothing But Heartaches," "I Hear a Symphony," and "My World Is Empty Without You," each one a piece of pop-soul so elegant it seemed effortless -- and with enough elegance to get the group a headlining spot at the Copacabana that year. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6During 1966, Motown adopted the phrase "The Sound of Young America" as their slogan -- a claim that was not hyperbole; it was the truth. The label was a hit machine, cranking out single after single, and almost all of them were hits of some magnitude, with 22 singles reaching the pop Top 20 and a slew of others pushing up the R&B charts or skimming the lower reaches of pop. This is an astonishing success and it reflects just how tight and focused Motown had become, a trait that is reflected in the listening experience of the five-disc, 125-track box The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 6: 1966. Every other Complete Motown Singles box prior to this -- even the heady years of 1964 and 1965 -- was studded with subsidiary detours, Berry Gordy's forays into gospel, jazz, country, and other markets. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 7Listening 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). Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 8Few years in American history were as turbulent as 1968, so it's only appropriate that Motown -- the record label that arguably defined American pop culture in the '60s -- also had a tumultuous, historic year. To a certain extent in Motown's case, they were dealing from the aftershocks of 1967, coping with the year-end departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland, the production/writing team responsible for much of the classic Motown sound, handling upheavals in the Supremes (Flo Ballard left, Diana Ross moved to top billing) and the Temptations (Jimmy Ruffin left, Dennis Edwards was brought in), and coping with the aftermath of the Detroit riots. Smokey Robinson wrote and recorded a love letter to the city called "I Care About Detroit" that sees a rare reissue on The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 8: 1968, a six-disc, 144-track set that documents every A- and B-side, plus alternate mixes and promos, from that turbulent year. Read more >>

Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 9A 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? Read more >>