'80s Soul Gold

Various Artists

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'80s Soul Gold Review

by William Ruhlmann

Hip-O Records, the reissue arm of the major label Universal, often licenses tracks from other record companies to broaden the selections on its compilation albums. But in assembling '80s Soul Gold, an entry in Hip-O's discount-priced series of double-CD collections, compilation producer Harry Weinger must have felt that such borrowings were unnecessary. After all, Universal, a company formed by the merger of MCA and PolyGram, already has deep holdings in soul music, starting with the Motown catalog and including MCA itself, which was a big player on the R&B scene in the '80s. The 30-track album Weinger has compiled cannot be called a greatest soul hits of the decade exactly. It contains only three songs that were among Billboard magazine's 25 biggest R&B records of the '80s -- the Dazz Band's "Let It Whip," Smokey Robinson's "Being with You," and Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me." But it is hardly lacking in hits. Every track but one reached the R&B Top Ten (the exception, Billy Preston and Syreeta's "With You I'm Born Again," hit the Top Ten of the pop and adult contemporary charts), and 16 -- more than half -- went to number one. As such, the album provides a good sense of what R&B music sounded like in the decade. That sense is enhanced by Weinger's wise decision to sequence the album in roughly chronological order. The '80s was a transitional decade for R&B (as is every decade, come to think of it), and the beats that were moving listeners early on were replaced by other ones as time went on. By the end of the second disc, one can hear hip-hop coming on with the cutups and James Brown sampling of Vanessa Williams' "The Right Stuff" and the very '90s-like sound of Guy's "I Like," the final track.

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