Review : Various Artists - The Complete Motown Singles Vol. 9: 1969
RollingstonesIn Detroit rock, 1969 was the year of the Stooges' wild lust and the MC5's fuck-you politics. But Motown's Berry Gordy was ready for the Seventies. In October, he issued the Jackson 5's Motown debut, "I Want You Back." Its mix of Detroit punch and L.A. glitz sealed the shift in Gordy's ambitions from boss of a Midwest singles factory to Hollywood mogul, and it shows in the transitional ups and downs on these six CDs. The year starts with Edwin Starr's thundering "Twenty-Five Miles," and the Temptations ditch the sharkskin with their funk juggernauts "I Can't Get Next to You" and "Psychedelic Shack." But most Motown acts did not get the hang of the black rock of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix. The Supremes and the Temptations team up to make ball-gown R&B of the Band's "The Weight," and whoever paired the party-soul singer Shorty Long with Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was flying on bad acid. In fact, many of the best moments here are romantic, not rebellious, such as the black-Beach Boys harmonies of the Originals and saxman Junior Walker's magnificent Top Five ballad "What Does It Take (to Win Your Love)," which Gordy dismissed as "too pretty . . . [Junior] can't sing about love." He was wrong. ...full text
PictformediaThe most famous recording from 1969 isn't a piece of music at all. It's a muffled, static-soaked transmission from the moon, Neil Armstrong announcing that he'd taken a giant leap for all of mankind as he left the first footprints in the gray dust. What an odd time 1969 was in the U.S. Here we had a man walking on the moon while halfway around the world we had kids getting dropped in the jungle to be killed and maimed by bullets and punji sticks. Dozens of cities were still recovering from destructive riots (a few, including Detroit-- which saw rioting in 1967-- never did) and we had new President Richard M. Nixon urging the "Silent Majority" to come forward and support an impossible war.
Where had that giant leap for mankind actually taken us? If you were a poor, disenfranchised black man living in a Detroit neighborhood full of boarded-up shops you could be forgiven for wondering. This was the very type of neighborhood Motown was busy vacating as the year dawned-- all that remained of the original Hitsville cluster of houses that served as the company's early headquarters was the Snakepit studio. The rest had moved downtown to a towering office building, forever altering the dynamic of the label's creative process. Even as the operation was moving downtown, Motown was already beginning its transition to Los Angeles, to where founder Berry Gordy had decamped the previous year without fanfare....full text
AllmusicA Diana Ross & the Supremes B-side in 1969 was called "The Beginning of the End," and it's hard not to think that the title applies to Motown in 1969, especially as depicted in the six-disc, 148-track box set The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 9: 1969. Berry Gordy uprooted Motown to Los Angeles at the end of 1968, a move that couldn't help but be seen as symbolic no matter what good business reasons there might have been behind it. It seemed that Gordy was abandoning Detroit in the wake of the 1967 Riots, leaving behind tumult in the Motor City and also severing ties with the label's roots, if not its history. It was ten years since the label's inception, and in that decade Motown rose from a scrappy independent to a label with so much success it was almost an institution, and what better way to cement its mainstream institutional success than by relocating to the heart of show biz? It made sense on paper even if it nevertheless had the byproduct of removing some of the label's soul, as it seemed as if its heart belonged in Detroit. But most cultural change is slow, not sudden, so it's not like 1969 saw the debut of a brand-new Motown: instead, it was the beginning of the label's third act, one that saw it broadening its borders and eventually leading to the artistic triumphs of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye in the early '70s -- in other words, it was "the beginning of the end."......full text
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