The meaning in the title of this compilation is simply this: The Very Best of the Early Years means "before Motown." Gladys Knight cut a number of singles and albums for Vee Jay before signing with Berry Gordy. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that the tunes here -- twenty-eight of them on a single disc -- aren't invaluable as early modern soul, far from it. It's simply that the title is misleading for the uninitiated listener who would do well to pick up one of the countless Motown collections that bears her name instead. For the serious Knight collector these are excellent sides, including regional hits such as her reading of Don Covay's "Letter of Tears" and "Come See About Me," and her first smash -- a cover of Johnny Otis' "Every Beat of My Heart." In addition to these tunes there are a number of classics written by William Guest that include "Walking Around in Circles," the stomping "Room in Your Heart," and her own early attempt at writing "Jungle Love," with Guest on vocals. "Queen of Tears" is the first track on this set to reveal what would become Knight's trademark sound for Motown.