Various Artists

Tamla Motown: Big Hits & Hard to Find Classics, Vols. 1-3

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The title should be a giveaway to serious fans that this is a U.K. collection, as "Tamla Motown" was what the Detroit-based label was called on the far side of the Atlantic. And this set is annotated from the standpoint of British listeners, which means that there are certain things explained that most Americans would already know. But beyond those caveats, this three-CD set offers first-rate sound, 60 songs, and a low price, and those are just three of its virtues. The rest of the value lies in the songs, five dozen of them drawn from across the history of Motown records, and focused exclusively on acts that only generated a handful of hits each -- thus, there is nothing here (well, almost nothing) by, say, the Supremes, or Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, though the first disc opens with two choice sides produced by Gaye: the gorgeous "Baby I'm for Real" and "The Bells" by the Originals. The rest of that platter contains sides by Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers and the Elgins, alongside more familiar fare by Jimmy Ruffin ("What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," "I've Passed This Way Before"), Brenda Holloway ("You've Made Me So Very Happy," "Just Look What You've Done"), and Kim Weston ("Helpless"). Disc two is no less impressive, juggling singles and rarities by Holloway, the Velvettes, Tammi Terrell, Barrett Strong, the Isley Brothers, Shorty Long, Tom Clay, Rare Earth, the Undisputed Truth, R. Dean Taylor, Charlene, and Billy Preston & Syreeta, while disc three intermingles Weston, the Velvettes, Terrell, Holloway, the Elgins, Long, the Supremes (in one of their latter-day incarnations, doing "He's My Man"), Edwin Starr, Eddie Holland, and the Contours. As one might gather from those artist lists, the selections jump around in time and style, but the material has been chosen to work well alongside each other. This is a singles collection, and most of the material will be familiar, but even the rarities (which are mostly that from the British standpoint) are worth hearing more than once. The producers have used the stereo masters, but the sound has been mastered very carefully so that there's no loss of impact, as has been the case with some of the stereo Motown reissues from BR Music. Released by Universal on its budget Spectrum label, the retail price works out to about 22 dollars -- there's no serious annotation for that price, but where it counts, in the music, this set delivers everything it promises.

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