Ace continues its deep excavation of the FAME vaults with the inaugural installment of The Complete FAME Singles, a double-disc, 52-track set that contains the As and Bs of every 45 released between 1964 and 1967. As the collection begins, FAME makes the leap from studio to label with Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away," a brilliant Southern soul single that pointed the way to the future and placed Rick Hall's Muscle Shoals studio on the map. FAME signed a distribution deal with Vee-Jay, a venture that wound up not quite suiting their needs, so they wound up jumping camp to Atlantic later, but this installment traces the label's earliest years, when they were still scrambling for a distinctive voice. Hits came slow when they came at all but, in retrospect, that's the pleasure of this uncertain era: Hall let songwriter/producers Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham figure out what would work and what wouldn't, giving them the leeway to fail, which occasionally meant FAME artists were chasing the success of other hitmakers, including when the Villagers covered the Beatles' "You're Gonna Lose That Girl." At times, the brain trust at FAME shot for the pop fences -- Terry Woodford is the greatest example of AM pop desires -- but toward the end of this comp, the deep soulful groove of the South surfaces on sides by Arthur Conley and Clarence Carter, the latter becoming the label's first true star. These sides, which amount to about a quarter of the comp, will be what satisfy deep soul fans, but the rest of the compilation compels because it showcases a label that didn't know quite know how to move forward and were happy to try anything that might stick. There's some pure pop and blue-eyed soul, the kind of thing that would suggest a crossover, but much of this is loose, funky, and grooving, music that was made not for the charts but for the love of it, and that's why these singles weren't hits at the time but endure decades later.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2