Various Artists

Brunswick Top 40 R&B Singles 1966-1975

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Brunswick Records was a relatively minor imprint that first popped up in the 1920s, then was passed around the corporate track, owned at one time or another by Warner Brothers, Columbia, and as the '50s rolled on, by Decca Records. Enter street-smart Detroit manager Nat Tarnopol, whose main client at the time was the dynamically talented Jackie Wilson. Wilson's debut single, "Reet Petite," appeared in 1959 on Brunswick, shooting to the top of the R&B charts, the first of 11 singles by Wilson to go Top Ten between 1959 and 1963, and Brunswick was suddenly on the map as a major player in the R&B market. By the mid-'60s, Decca had completely turned the imprint over to Tarnopol, who relocated operations for the label to Chicago in 1967 and began turning out smooth, elegant, and sophisticated productions that mixed innovative horn and string arrangements over rock-solid and proto-funky rhythm tracks and some of the sweetest vocal harmonies this side of Heaven. With a solid stable of artists that included Wilson, Gene Chandler, Tyrone Davis, Barbara Acklin, the Artistics, and the Chi-Lites, Tarnopol's Brunswick label rivaled Motown as a hit machine through the '60s and virtually established what has come to be called Northern soul. By 1970, Brunswick was officially a part of MCA Records, who didn't exactly understand what they had on their hands, and financial and corporate problems soon set in for Tarnopol and Brunswick. The label struggled through the disco era before finally closing its doors officially in 1981, leaving behind an astoundingly solid catalog of music. This wonderful two-disc collection is like a jukebox set on all the hits all the time, and none of these 40 tracks are anything even close to filler. Classic side follows classic side, one after the other, including Jackie Wilson's stirring "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher & Higher," the Young-Holt Trio's delightful "Wack Wack" (and in a later incarnation as Young-Holt Unlimited, the timeless "Soulful Strut"), the Artistics' "I'm Gonna Miss You," Erma Franklin's funky "Gotta Find Me a Lover," and Fred Hughes' hard-charging and epic "Baby Boy." Then there are the Chi-Lites, who were a hit factory all on their own, producing classics that ranged from the urbane "Oh Girl" to the political punch of "(For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People" and the sophisticated symphonic atmospherics of "The Coldest Days of My Life." Less celebrated than Motown or Stax, Brunswick's legacy is every bit as impressive, as this generous anthology makes clear. Here an unsung label gets its due, with nary a slack note in over two hours of music, making this set a timeless treasure.

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