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Music Review: Motown Number 1’s Volume 1 and Volume 2

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Sometimes you want to sample a famous school of music, but you don't know where to start. A compilation like the new Motown Number 1's Volume 1 and Volume 2 might just be the answer.

The budget-priced series, part of a sweeping wave of new "Number 1's" discs from Universal Music Enterprises, reissues the 2004 best-selling Motown Number 1's in new, totally recyclable packaging, and adds a second volume. The two discs include nearly 50 selections of classic Motown hits. It's a great place to start if you want to get your Motown education, with barely a duff track in the mix.

Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5 are some of the acts here who defined that Motown sound. In chronological order, both discs move from the candy-sweet hooks of tunes like "Please Mr. Postman" to the more layered, frankly sexual sound of tracks like "Let's Get It On." Every track on the two discs made it to number one on either the R&B or pop record charts – some, like the Diana Ross/Lionel Richie duet "Endless Love," held that spot for more than two months!

Forty years on, the effortless pop of the Supremes or Four Tops dazzles; there's a soul here that a hundred overwrought American Idol contestants could never muster, in my opinion. Volume 1 rockets by with songs you know by heart even if you're not a Motown buff – "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave," "My Girl," "Stop! In The Name of Love," "The Tears of A Clown," "What's Going On." Even acts that are more one-hit wonders like Edwin Starr ("War!") or DeBarge ("Rhythm of the Night") get in on the action.

The string of irresistible hits started to taper out by the late 1970s – the golden age of Motown being the 1960s and some of the '70s. Lionel Richie had some good if a bit lightweight tunes, I'll admit ("All Night Long" and some of his work with the Commodores can be found here), but I can take or leave the tepid 1990s ballads of Boyz II Men, who have a track on each disc.

Still, a couple of lesser tracks still leaves an astonishing ratio of hits-to-misses on these two discs. I'd be hard pressed to make a mix tape myself that included more Motown goodness.

While there are certainly more comprehensive, broader compilations out there, for beginners or dabblers who want to learn more about one of the biggest musical hit factories ever created, Motown Number 1's Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 makes a fine guide. And the eco-friendly packaging is a nice touch – both the digipak and the tray the CD rests in are made of biodegradable material rather than plastic.

The "Number 1's" line also includes hits collections by Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the late James Brown, and many more.

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About Nik Dirga

  • Nice review, and I totally agree. These discs (volumes 1 and 2) are a very nice place to start if your collection, like mine did, suffers from a lack of Motown. The tracks are a must-have for anybody who’s into Soul and R&B, and a striking testament of how badly these genre titles have been abused during the last one or two decades.

    The “Number 1’s” series in general are very interesting. The Digipak packaging is very nice to look at indeed. The whole series seems to have been very well thought out, apart from the fact that there are a lot of duplicate tracks between different CDs. Still, I already got 9 of them!