Berry Gordy probably wasn't planning on changing the world when he launched Motown Records in 1959, but if that was his ambition, one could reasonably say he succeeded. Motown Records became one of America's most iconic independent labels, achieving remarkable commercial and critical success and launching some of the biggest stars to grace the pop and R&B charts during their glory days in the '60s and '70s, while also breaking down barriers between "white" pop and "black" rhythm & blues. Detroit Special: Motor City Roots is a collection of hits and rare sides from Motown's early years, fittingly kicking off with the label's first nationwide hit, Barrett Strong's "Money," and following with 55 more tracks that include some of the label's biggest stars, including the Miracles, the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Mary Wells. These recordings capture the archetypical "Motown Sound" in its most primitive form, and while there are plenty of brilliant tunes here, the polish that would become one of the label's hallmarks wasn't fully in place yet, and there's a raw edge to this music that makes it some of the most exciting stuff that Motown would ever release. There are also some interesting oddities on board, such as the Temptations' "Check Yourself" with its curious shifts of time signature, the wild doo wop stylings of their "Romance Without Finance," and Little Stevie Wonder's exciting but genuinely weird "Little Water Boy." Detroit Special: Motor City Roots falls short of a definitive picture of Motown's first days of glory, but it's a solid and consistently entertaining overview of a great R&B label finding its feet, and it's a fine archival release for anyone interested in the rise of '60s soul and Detroit's place in R&B history.
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