The Monitors

Say You! The Motown Anthology 1963-1968

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Even many knowledgeable Motown fans haven't heard of, or have barely heard of, the Monitors, despite the group's five-year stint with the company. Like some other Motown acts who didn't have an extensive release schedule and barely dented the charts, however, they managed to record quite a bit of material for the label. A wealth of it is on this 26-track compilation, which includes everything from their 1968 LP (though about half of that album also came out on singles, some dating back from as far as 1965); a non-LP B-side apiece from 1965 and 1966; and no less than a dozen previously unissued cuts, some of them dating back to 1963 sessions when, technically speaking, they had yet to take the Monitors name. The problem the Monitors faced commercially, in common with some other obscure Motown acts, was that they didn't sound different enough or get a song or two strong enough to serve as a hit that would have launched their career. In the Monitors' case, there were similarities to the Miracles (another mostly male group with one female singer) and the Temptations (unsurprisingly, considering lead singer Richard Street would join the Temptations in the early '70s). The result was music that, while pleasing, was rather generic Motown. (Street himself admits in the liner notes that, although he worked in the label's fabled quality control department responsible for judging what tracks stood a chance of being a hit, nothing his own group cut leaped out at him as having huge commercial potential.) The biggest of their two modest R&B hits, "Greetings (This Is Uncle Sam)," was something of a novelty given currency by the escalating Vietnam War. Major Motown figures like Smokey Robinson (whose "You Share the Blame," co-written and co-produced with fellow Miracle Ronnie White, was never recorded by anyone else) and Norman Whitfield were sometimes involved in the songwriting and production. But it wasn't enough to lift the Monitors above second-tier or third-tier Motown status, though the 1968 single "Step by Step (Hand in Hand)" shows some evolution with the changing times, resembling the Temptations' late-'60s singles in its uplifting social consciousness. Those interested in Motown's deep catalog will certainly find items to enjoy, however, and the dozen unreleased tracks are largely close to the standards of the tunes that found official release in the 1960s. And you can't fault this compilation for packaging, the 20-page booklet including numerous comments from Street himself.

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