Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Going To A Go-Go, Tamla TS-267, 1965
If your goal is to collect every Motown album, you sometimes pick a placeholder. It would be a really great if I found a near mint stereo copy of this incredible Miracles album for $3, but all I got was this “good” copy. There are pops and crackle galore through the best songs, but it’s still really great to hear these classic Motown tracks in original stereo. The production is all incredible, especially seeing as the music was all recorded in the basement of a cramped old house in West Detroit.
Actually, side 2 plays really well. With all four top 40 hits from the album on side 1, I’m guessing the original owners hardly every played side 2. The non hits are songs I’ve barely ever heard, so it’s easier to hear how good The Miracles were. I always pay more attention to a new (to me) song when I hear one than I do to, say, the 26,851st time I’ve heard The Tracks Of My Tears.
The original owners, who were apparently not very good at maintaining their record players. but also used the back of the jacket to make a list of their favorite Miracles songs. They must have been real fans though because the songs listed go all the way back to Bad Girl, one of the first Miracles records to chart. This copy is good enough to hold me over for the near mint copy that I’ll find one day, but I’m grateful to have it.
Cost: $3, $42 Remaining
The Jackson 5, ABC, Motown MS-709, 1970
It’s no secret that 1970 was the year of The Jackson 5. Besides The Beatles in 1964, no other artist exploded on the charts with such memorable songs as they did. This was their second album, and it yielded their second and third #1 singles. In a real passing of the torch moment, ABC knocked out The Beatles’ Let It Be from #1, and a few weeks later, The Love You Save replaced The Long And Winding Road.
This is real bubblegum soul music, both insanely catchy and seemingly simple, the songs are actually pretty intricate. Unlike their first album, which featured songs with much more mature material, this album’s tracks are similar lyrically to the title track. Reading the lyrics to ABC, you would think it was nothing more than a poem written by a 3rd grader. It takes real talent write and produce something so light and have it end up as something significant or silly. This album isn’t silly.
Ok, perhaps the inner sleeve is. Original period Motown albums all have printed inner sleeves featuring fan club news or new release ads. Jackson 5 inner sleeves though, took this to an all time high in a kitschy, Tito-Rific way. It remains unclear how many Soul-Mates Jermaine met or how many Marlon posters people paid $0.25 for, but reading one of these today is pretty great. Any Motown record is collectible, and double that for a Jackson 5 record. Because they weren’t usually bought by audiophiles, finding a decent one at a decent price is a challenge. There’s one less out there now!
Cost: $5, $117 Remaining
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
The Supremes, Touch, Motown MS-737, 1971
No, The Supremes’ hit making career didn’t end with the departure of Diana Ross. In fact, their early post Ross records did quite well. Just ask Elton John, who writes a glowing set of liner notes for this very album. The hit single from it, Nathan Jones, later became a world-wide #1 for Bananrama. And the artwork for Touch was copied for the film adaptation for Dreamgirls (ending all mystery about who the play was written about!). While not may people know this record today, Jean, Cindy & Mary were clearly on a roll.
The basics out of the way, this copy is a great way to show the lifecycle of an unsold album. The 46 year old shrink wrap is still intact, amazingly, given the cutout of one corner. The twin price tags reveal that this once full price record was sent to a discount store. After they failed to sell it for $1.97, the price got dropped to 98 Cents! After that failed as well, it got sent back to the distributer, who cut the corner off and gave it away or donated it somewhere.
I don’t view that as a reflection (!) of The Supremes post Ross career. Very few artists would ever escape a cut out record, and it would be very hard for a company like Motown to gauge not only how many of a particular record to produce, but to know where the demand would be strongest. Touch sold about 100,000 copies in the US, a very decent showing, but that was still less than most Supremes albums sold. I’m just thankful that I was able to find this unsold one.
Cost: $2, $212 Remaining
Diana Ross, Diana, Motown M8-936M1, 1980
Hard as it is to imagine considering her superstar statue, Diana Ross’ solo career was fairly disjointed. Yes, there were #1 hits every so often, but there never was a remarkable ground breaking record until this one. That I was able to find a really great copy of it for $2 is not a testament to how good it is, but because it sold millions of copies and, well, people don’t like to move with albums.
The legend goes that Ms. Ross was hanging out at Studio 54 one night and heard (and met) producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Their group Chic blended funk and soul in a very clean modern way. Ross, knowing a good thing when she heard it, asked Rodgers and Edwards to produce her next album. She told them she wanted to turn her career upside down, and come out with a whole new sound.
Rodgers and Edwards responded with amazing material, that Motown hated. Their own producer sat down with Ross and stripped most of the disco sounding guitar riffs and sped up the playback speed of the tracks before releasing it. Rodgers and Edwards sued of course, but the public didn’t care. The backstage drama still produced Diana Ross’ biggest album.
Cost: $2, $253 Remaining
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Four In Blue, Tamla 297, 1969
Could Smokey Robinson look any more bored if he tried? In fact, all of The Miracles look like they’re phoning this album in. What with Motown planning Diana Ross’ departure from The Supremes, Smokey decided to stay with The Miracles for one more year. If it wasn’t for the surprise and unplanned success of The Tears Of A Clown, that might have happened too.
This album makes it seem as though Smokey was trying to cost to the finish line. There are no hits here, and the album has more covers than any other Miracles album up to this point. The Motown art department also had an easy the here, putting four random candid shots on the black and white back cover with not one word of a liner note.
Albums like this are fairly easy to find in great condition. If this had classic Miracles track on it, the cover would have been torn up and the record all scratchy. As it is, this original album plays like new, and I can wonder why The Miracles tried their hand on Hey Jude whenever I want (even though I probably won’t very often!).
Cost: $3, $376 Remaining
Various Artists, The Motown Story, Motown MS-726-31, 1970
Even at just about 10 years in, Motown was already mining its past glories to sell even more records than they might have. There had been several versions of the “Chartbusters” series, and the ridiculously early “Greatest Hits” albums that were released in 1966, but this deluxe package was the first time the company went all out to sell history to the masses.
It’s an impressive package. The hits are all here from the first, Money (That’s What I Want), to the newest, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough. It’s a little odd, though. The songs are either fused together or introduced by the artists or Narrator Charlie Van Dyke. You don’t buy this package only for the music. The intros are definitely written from the Company’s standpoint, with Mary Wells’ massive contributions downplayed into irrelevance and a whole lot of white washing. You can actually hear the words getting stuck in Mary Wilson’s mouth as she describes Florence Ballard’s retirement.
This appears to be the second or third version of the package. The original has a deluxe booklet and custom inner sleeves for each of the five records. The dos remained the same for as long as this was in production, so collectors need to see the inside of the box to know what they’re getting. For $5, I was happy I got a relatively intact box and clean records.
Cost: $5, $389 Remaining