Review : Various Artists - Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love: Motown's MoWest Story 1971-1973
PitchforkFrankie Valli was one of the most successful pop artists of the 20th century. In addition to a successful solo career, his work with the Four Seasons resulted in an incredible 71 chart hits; more than half of these made the Top 40, and eight of them topped the charts. His hit-making prowess even bucked the album-oriented trends of the Sgt. Pepper's era, but there were some hiccups along the way. One of the most notable was a stint with Motown's short-lived MoWest imprint in the early 1970s, where Valli found himself in a slump. After a few disappointing swings at the charts, Valli tried to release "My Eyes Adored You" in 1974. MoWest passed on the record. Valli released the song late that year as a solo artist on Private Stock Records, and it topped the Billboard Hot 100 by March of the following year, ending the artist's stint on the label and kickstarting a new era of success.
This story is a microcosm of MoWest's inauspicious reign as the forgotten moment of one of the most iconic labels in the history of pop. The creation of the imprint was part of Berry Gordy Jr.'s gradual shift of Motown operations from Detroit to Los Angeles, away from the assembly-line production of the label's peak years. The Holland-Dozier-Holland team had already departed, replaced in part by Norman Whitfield and a raft of superstar auteurs: Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross. The shift to Los Angeles also marked the end of the singular Detroit sound, as the label became reliant on a rotating cast of session musicians. But even with all the upheaval, it's difficult to figure out why MoWest fell through the cracks; the music contained in Our Lives Are Shaped By What We Love: Motown's MoWest Story 1971-1973 is almost uniformly great. The compilation showcases a wide range of notable artists-- a 1971 Billboard article notes the label's purpose was to "expand Motown's musical horizons"-- at varying stages in their careers.
It was an indisputably exciting time, creatively, for soul music, in the years before disco became a codified sound. Stevie Wonder, near the beginning of his incredible decade-plus solo creative run, does make a behind-the-scenes appearance on this compilation, producing the tracks from Syreeta's debut LP. Both are highlights. Odyssey, not to be confused with the disco group of the same name, contribute three songs; each, but particularly the uptempo flute-laden horn-driven dance number "Battened Ships", is a compelling example of a kind of post-hippie spiritual 70s soul. There are also early career appearances from future superstars the Commodores and Thelma Houston, whose "I Ain't Going Nowhere" includes an inspired vocal performance. Rock group Lodi, on the other hand, may have marked an attempt on Motown's part to move towards a psychedelic-cum-acid-folk sound, but their "I Hope I See It in My Lifetime" feels aimless, without the kind of memorable songwriting that defines the bulk of this compilation....full text
Spin5 Flush with Motown success, Berry Gordy opened an L.A. branch of his Detroit institution to supposedly sign West Coast acts and, in industry parlance, be "closer to the business." His subsequent roster of lesser-known soul and funk artists (along with off-message oddities like psych rockers Lodi) was no match for Marvin, Smokey, Stevie, and Michael. But Mowest did boast the Commodores and Thelma Houston, plus slick, languid funk acts Odyssey and Syreeta....full text
TopixReviews [ Albums ] Various Artists 'Our Lives Are Shaped by What We Love: Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973a ' Spin Rating 7 of 10 5 Flush with Motown success, Berry Gordy opened an L.A. branch of his Detroit institution to supposedly sign West Coast acts and, in industry parlance, be "closer to the business." His subsequent roster of lesser-known ....full text
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