The Contours

Dance with the Contours

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Of the Motown acts to have big hits in the 1960s, the Contours are one of the least known; it could be more people can rattle off the lyrics to "Do You Love Me?" than identify the group that sang the song. But like all Motown groups of consequence, they recorded a surprisingly voluminous amount of material for the label, much of which was unreleased at the time. It's still astonishing that there are enough unissued cuts from 1963 and 1964 alone to comprise the bulk of this 26-track CD. It does include a couple of official 1964 singles ("Can You Do It" and "Can You Jerk Like Me"), but the other two-dozen masters were previously unreleased before this 2011 compilation appeared. It's also impressive that these recordings aren't obvious throwaways. At the same time, however, there's not much in the way of obvious first-rate contenders for 45 release, and much of it sounds like decent album filler. (In fact, about half of it could have been planned for a late 1964/early 1965 LP that might have been titled Dance with the Contours, hence the title of this CD anthology.) More often than not, they're uptempo tunes that take advantage of the group's knack for danceable grooves paced by some of the grittiest lead vocals ever heard on Motown sides of the early to mid-'60s. Sometimes they specifically echo the "Do You Love Me?" formula, and might have been passed over for release by quality control for precisely that reason.

The group do sometimes, however, prove adept at handling smoother and poppier Motown numbers with some resemblance to the approach used by fellow acts on the label's roster like the Temptations, the Miracles, and Mary Wells, especially on Smokey Robinson's "I Didn't Know How Right It Was (But Ooh What a Night It Was)," which the liner notes rightly cite as "the most obvious candidate for single release among the unissued sides in this collection." (Another number, "Do the See Saw," actually became a 1965 hit for Tom & Jerrio under the title "Boo-Ga-Loo," when different vocals were added to the backing track.) The production is very accomplished -- few if any cuts sound like demos -- and a lot of big names are involved on the songwriting side, including Wells (who co-wrote a few of the songs with the Contours' Sylvester Potts), Robinson, Norman Whitfield, Berry Gordy, and Andre Williams. All but Wells also took turns at producing these tracks too, but they usually sound like secondary efforts from these major talents, though the Wells-Potts co-write "Boy Meets Girl" will appeal to anyone who liked the early Latin-flavored Wells' hits. But if this isn't up to the standards of a Contours best-of, it's still interesting, and in many respects enjoyable, for Motown aficionados, with extremely thorough liner notes about both the Contours' history and these specific vault discoveries.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:22
2 2:27
3 2:47
4 2:43
5 2:35
6 2:24
7 2:49
8 2:32
9 2:34
10 2:54
11 2:06
12 2:16
13 2:26
14 2:34
15 2:33
16 1:54
17 2:17
18 3:06
19 2:44
20 2:30
21 2:06
22 2:55
23 2:53
24 2:15
25 2:29
26 2:29
blue highlight denotes track pick