The Temptations, With A Lot O’Soul, Gordy 922, 1967
Motown broke a lot of barriers in the 60s by making music that appealed to all races and was so good that there was no shame for white audiences to openly embrace. Even as late as 1967 though, they still felt the need to obscure the face of the attractive African American model on this Temptations record. While the group had already been featured on virtually every album before this one, featuring a cover model still caused some cause for caution by the A&R department.
This is a wonderful album. It’s the best selling of all the records that feature the “Classic 5” lineup of the group. Every member of the group has a lead part somewhere, and there are four hit singles included. I think this is as good as Motown gets, along with almost every hit recording the label put out in 1966-67. It was before the songwriting team of Holland/Dozier/Holland left the company over a royalties dispute and the Detroit riots led Berry Gordy to begin moving Motown to Los Angeles. This record was recorded in the same cramped makeshift studio in a basement located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard.
It’s also an original copy. This is the original Gordy label which was redesigned into a wedge shape in 1968. This album was still in print by then and copies were issued on both labels. While I wouldn’t pass up a chance to get either label for less than $10, I’m glad I found this original.
Cost: $4, $166 Remaining
Martha & The Vandellas, Live!, Gordy 925, 1967
Poor Martha. By the time this record came out it was beyond obvious that all of Motown’s creative forces were going towards furthering the career of a few of their artists. Others, like Martha & The Vandellas got the creative crumbs of material deemed not good enough to become a Supremes record. This was the only Vandellas album release of 1967, and the company couldn’t be bothered to design a new cover for it. It’s the exact same template that was used in 1966 for The Temptations Live! The Vandellas even cover The Temptations version of For Once In My Life.
Martha wrote in her autobiography that her performances in Detroit were always attended by other Motown royalty. Diana Ross wold sit in the front row next to Berry Gordy and come up with “notes” on all that went wrong during the show. So I’m sure the pressure was on to have a good show, especially this night. The Twenty Grand Club was located just a mile away from the Motown studios, so it became a home away from home for the company.
As much as I love the group, it’s not a great album. It’s really interesting to hear Betty Kelly get a solo and banter moments with Martha, but the technical recording isn’t very good. There are better live recordings on youtube of the group, and I highly recommend the awkwardness of Casey Kasem interviewing the group at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles before a Dodger Game. Obviously, as with any Motown album, buy it if you see it at a good price, but it may not be the most listened to record in any collection.
Cost: $5, $426 Remaining
Edwin Starr, Involved, Gordy GS-956, 1971
Berry Gordy really didn’t like controversy, especially when it got in the way of business. So, if southern shops wouldn’t stock a record with a black person on the cover, early Motown records came with simple drawings. An Isley Brothers album even came out with a smiling young white couple on the cover. So when The Temptations producer Norman Whitfield and his writing partner Barrett Strong wrote an anti-Vietnam war song, there was no way the company would put it out as a single. After all, the supposed be-all, end-all goal for Motown was to get its biggest acts booked onto shows like Ed Sullivan and clubs like The Copacabana. A song like War was not what those audiences wanted to pay to hear.
Whitfield persisted and The Temptations’ version of War was released as an album cut on their album Psychadelic Shack. The Temps added it to their live act and people around the company to release it was a single. With a sure-fire hit on their hands, Motown turned to Edwin Starr to release it as a single so as not to turn off parts of The Temptations large fan base. Starr came to Motown when the small Detroit company he recorded for, Golden World, was bought by Motown. Berry Gordy needed a second studio, and by buying up the competition, he would deny his world class backing musicians the chance to “call in sick” and record over at Golden World. The song exploded and the relatively unknown Starr quickly had the #1 song in the world.
War was such a big hit that this the second album that Starr put out that features it. With little to no chance that he would ever get booked at The Copa, Starr got to record all of Whitfield’s more socially conscious records, and the very War-like follow up, Stop The War was a fairly decent chart hit. But this was kind of it as far as Edwin Starr and chart success goes. It’s sad but true that he got stereotyped as an anti-war protest singer. That’s a really tough place to be when the war ends, as the US involvement in Vietnam quickly did. I’m sure the leather fringed vest he wore here didn’t help.
Cost: $3, $440 Remaining
Martin Luther King Jr., The Great March To Freedom, Gordy 906, 1968
I don’t mean it in a condemning way, but I too have a dream, that one day I can own a copy of every Motown record issued in the 60s and 70s. And that means trying to collect the four albums the company issued of Martin Luther King’s speeches. It won’t be easy, this is the only one I’ve ever seen, and I was able to buy it for just $5 last year in Richmond Virginia. This was the first of the King releases on Motown’s Gordy subsidiary, and despite the catalogue number of 906, it was just the fourth album released with a Gordy label.
It probably helped that this speech was given in Detroit as far as Motown being there to record it, but Berry Gordy put his own name down as the record’s producer, something that supposedly was a real source of pride for him. Gordy 908 was the “I Have A Dream” speech from the March On Washington and it was issued later in 1963. Both Gordy 906 and 908 we reissued in 1968 after King’s assassination and sold much better than the first pressings. Naturally, I found the 1968 version, easy to spot by the second version of the Gordy label on my record. The yellow spear version debuted in early 1968, replacing the original yellow script and globe logo. Second pressings still have the gatefold covers of the original, and are still more valuable than the 80s pressing on the Motown label.
Before Twitter, the spoken word record was a real thing. Politicians and Preachers made the most use of them, but there weren’t many that sold very well. Motown wasn’t the only company that released King recordings. There were many versions of the “Dream” speech, and many tribute albums that came out after King’s death that all sold well. Motown, always willing to sell a record to someone who wanted to buy it, actually started a special spoken word label to release more speeches and message records. Called Black Forum, the label’s first release in 1970 was Martin Luther King’s “Why I Oppose The Vietnam War”
Cost: $5, $481 Remaining