The Ultimate Collection

Rick James

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The Ultimate Collection Review

by Steve Huey

Motown's Ultimate Collection line has been a massive success in putting together definitive single-disc compilations of their greatest artists, and the Rick James installment is no exception. Because this one includes some lengthier workouts, it isn't quite as complete as most of the series, but it does provide an essential look at James in his influential prime, leaving very little of his sex-and-drugs ethos to the imagination. Spanning the years 1978-1983, these 13 tracks paint an effective picture of James' groundbreaking fusion of funk, rock, and new wave, which basically constituted hardcore funk's last hurrah as the disco age wound down and the urban contemporary genre began to take shape. Unlike most of the other volumes, this Ultimate Collection isn't arranged chronologically; instead, it kicks off with James' three number one R&B hits: "Cold Blooded," "Give It to Me Baby," and "You and I." From there the collection branches out into a generous selection from his best album, Street Songs (five in all), including his signature tune "Super Freak"; the R&B Top Tens "Mary Jane," "Dance Wit' Me," and "Bustin' Out"; and duets with Smokey Robinson ("Ebony Eyes") and protégée Teena Marie ("Fire and Desire"). It's true that later hits like "17," "Can't Stop," "Glow," "Sweet and Sexy Thing," and "Loosey's Rap" are missing. But frankly, James was past his creative prime when he recorded them, and they're not missed compared to what's here. With Stevie Wonder in a sudden creative downturn, this material almost single-handedly kept Motown Records on the charts as the '70s became the '80s, and it certainly paved the way for the hedonistic computer funk that made Prince a superstar in the '80s. A superb introduction.

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