It's odd that someone who was so important to Motown's heyday (albeit as part of the Holland-Dozier-Holland production/songwriting team rather than as an artist), and who did have a bit of chart success as a singer (particularly with the sizable 1962 hit "Jamie"), should have waited so long for a comprehensive anthology of his Motown recordings. It could be argued that this two-CD, 56-track is too comprehensive, taking in not only all 20 tracks he issued on Motown 45s between 1961 and 1964, but also a dozen earlier ones that appeared on singles from United Artists, Tamla, Kudo, or Mercury. And that's just disc one. The 26 cuts on disc two include a few that came out on his sole LP and obscure CDs (among them stereo versions of his two biggest hits, "Jamie" and "Leaving Here") and no less than 18 previously unissued tracks. Throw in a 28-page detailed liner note booklet with song-by-song annotation and comments from Holland himself, and it's a Motown scholar's dream.
But what of the music? It shows, not surprisingly, that Holland had some growing up to do as a songwriter before he, his brother Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier hit their groove on a bumper crop of mid-'60s Motown classics. Holland was a good singer, but not a great one, and more pop-oriented than almost any other artist on the label to have a Top Ten R&B hit during this era. The material was also at least as much pop as soul, whether or not he figured in the songwriting credits (as he often but by no means always did). There's even a bit of a wholesome teen idol tinge to some of the tracks, and a more formulaic, sometimes awkward pop-soul feel to the songs than you might expect. Little of the officially released material is outstanding, though it shows Motown evolving, if in a somewhat stumbling fashion, toward the approach that would soon lead it to outpace all its competitors, especially in the frequent use of orchestration. Highlights include the heavily orchestrated "Jamie" (as dissimilar as it is to the far earthier Motown hits of the early '60s), "Just Ain't Enough Love" (with an arrangement much like those heard on early Temptations hits), and, above all, the driving, exuberant "Leaving Here," by far the toughest outing in his discography. Less impressively, "If It's Love (It's Alright)" and the small dance hit "Baby Shake" seem like obvious attempts to mine Jackie Wilson's style, though both Holland and Motown would quickly outgrow such pastiches.
The addition of a second disc of rarities so heavy on unissued material might dissuade the casual buyer, especially as some of them are fairly rudimentary demos. But really, are many listeners interested in an Eddie Holland anthology in the first place casual Motown or soul fans? Nothing here sticks out as unjustly overlooked except those stereo versions of "Leaving Here" and "Jamie," and maybe the 1962 outtake "Day Dreamer," which has the feel of early-'60s records by Mary Wells & the Miracles. Still, the material gives you a chance to hear prominent Motown songwriters -- not just the Hollands and Dozier, but also Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, and others -- work out the kinks as they grope toward both a new soul style (often incorporating Latin rhythms) and something that might produce a hit. Of some interest are Holland's 1963 version of "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need" (a big hit four years later for the Temptations) and his 1964 version of "Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me in a Little While)," done with some success by the Isley Brothers in the late '60s.