Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

In honor of June being Black Music Month, let’s head back to one of our favorite mines of solid gold soul -- the Motown archives -- for some recently rediscovered aural and visual artifacts.

Marvin Gaye -- In Our Lifetime?: Expanded Love Man Edition (Hip-O Select/Motown)

This double-disc collection documents In Our Lifetime? (1981) -- a project that ultimately dissolved the 20 year relationship between Marvin Gaye and Motown. For the first time ever, fans can hear the album that Gaye approved -- which was definitely not the one that his longtime label released. That long and sordid tale is the subject of this two-disc ‘expanded’ package.

The story actually dates back to the late ‘70s and a never completed endeavor titled Love Man. The personal demons that tortured and ultimately took control of Gaye’s final years were ironically the same ones that helped to shape “Heavy Love Affair,” “Praise” and “Ego Trippin’ Out,” -- the latter being the only song from Love Man to have previously seen the light of day. Among the extras are all surviving demos and alternate instrumental arrangements from the Love Man sessions. In this context they provide a more complete presentation, incorporating many of the unfinished pieces revisited for In Our Lifetime?

The entire saga is chronicled in the 28-page booklet with rare photos, lyrics, and a background text from Gaye’s biographer David Ritz, whose insights go beyond the groove and into the plagued genius that was Marvin Gaye.

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles -- Definitive Performances 1963-1987 (Hip-O/Motown)

This installment in Motown’s Definitive Performances series is hosted by Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers -- 3/5’s of the original Miracles. Their memories -- which are excerpted from modern interviews -- go in-depth and behind the scenes of the vocal combos’ successes. The archival footage finds The Miracles both live in concert and on a variety of vintage TV appearances that span nearly a quarter-century.

Over the course of 2½ hours, viewers are treated to stellar -- albeit primarily lip-synced -- performances from the best-known line-up with Smokey at the helm. Then, after Smokey went solo in the early 1970s, The Miracles continued their string of hits with “Do It Baby” and “Love Machine” as seen here on the Dinah! Show from 1976.

The bonus features rival the primary content with a 5.1 audio option that isolates just the lead and backing vocals on “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” “Mickey’s Monkey,” Ooo, Baby Baby,” “The Tracks Of My Tears,” “Going To A Go-Go,” “My Girl Is Gone,” “I Second That Emotion” and “The Tears Of A Clown”. “More With The Miracles” serves up additional interview footage on a myriad of topics. “Revisiting The Apollo” allows viewers fly-on-the-wall access as Smokey, Pete and Bobby watch a video of themselves from 1962 playing to a packed house at the venerable Apollo Theatre.

All this and a full-color 20 page liner booklet to boot. Inside, you’ll find plenty of rarely published photos, memorabilia and informative essays that put the DVD contents in a proper historical context. 

The Supremes -- Reflections: The Definitive Performances 1964-1969 (Hip-O/Motown)

Perhaps more than any other of Motown’s premiere artists, The Supremes became cultural icons for their sophisticated and glamorous appearances on both television and the stage. Not to mention a remarkable string of crossover pop hits that crested with an impressive run of five consecutive chart-toppers. These are among the 21 songs included on the Diana Ross & The Supremes edition of The Definitive Performances, aptly titled Reflections.

The Supremes’ practically spell-binding stage presence and irresistible charm is captured within every frame of these never-before-available clips. They range from “Where Did Our Love Go” --circa a September of ’64 Steve Allen Show -- through one of their last appearances five years later on the Hollywood Palace -- just before Ross was replaced by Cindy Birdsong -- singing the prophetic “Someday We’ll Be Together”.

In between are live or -- in most cases -- lip-synced performances of  “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In The Name Of Love,” “Back In My Arms Again,” “Nothing But Heartaches,” “I Hear A Symphony,” “My World Is Empty Without You,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone,” “The Happening,” “Reflections,” “In And Out Of Love,” “Love Child,” “Someday We’ll Be Together” and “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”.

There are a few noteworthy extras on the DVD. Primary among them is the completely remastered audio that offer 5.1 Surround in both Dolby and DTS. Plus, a choice of just an a capella lead and backing vocal soundtrack. There is also a really cool Pop Up Video-inspired trivia track (accessible via the ‘subtitles’ option) that has tons of facts and things to look for -- such as Diana Ross catching her falling earring live on national television -- while singing and never taking her eyes off the camera!

As is standard fare, the disc is accompanied by a 20-page pamphlet that is packed with insightful and informative essays and even more visually stunning examples of why The Supremes set the standard by which all female pop and soul vocal groups will forever be measured.

Various Artists -- The Complete Motown Singles Volumes 7: 1967 (Hip-O Select/Motown)

Contained within are all the singles that the self-proclaimed (and rightly so) “Hitsville USA”  cranked out in 1967. Their phenomenal success can easily be measured by the fact that nearly 75% of the A-sides released that year landed on the charts. Those recordings and many, many others are among the 120 songs in this five-disc box set. And each and every note sounds better than it ever has before thanks to freshly mastered source tapes derived directly from the Motown vaults.

Perhaps reflecting the social and political upheaval reverberating throughout the country, Motown was going through its own changes as well. Florence Ballard left the Supremes, unfair business practices marked the beginning of the end for Holland-Dozier-Holland’s association with Motown, and while downtown Detroit -- during one of many deadly race-incited riots of ‘67 -- literally burned around them, the Funk Brothers did the same down in the Snakepit.

But of course the real history lessons are such classic grooves as “Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone,” “The Happening,” “In And Out Of Love,” and “Reflections” from Diana Ross & The Supremes; “Jimmy Mack,” by Martha & The Vandellas; “7 Rooms Of Gloom” and two versions of “Bernadette,” by The Four Tops; “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” from the dynamic duo of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell; the single and an alternate mix of Gladys Knight & The Pips’ signature song “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”; ”I Second That Emotion,” and “More Love,” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles; as well as the noir ballad “I Wish It Would Rain” by The Temptations.

The CDs are housed in a deluxe hardbound cover with a 112-page booklet detailing not only each entry, but the state of the company as well. Surrounding the texts are reproductions of rare picture sleeves, otherwise unpublished photos and memorabilia from the era. Accompanying every one of the limited edition sets is a playable 45 rpm record of the aforementioned “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” b/w “It’s Time To Go Now” from Gladys Knight & The Pips.

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and is the weekday on-air producer at WDYT 1220 AM in Charlotte, NC. He's also a contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
All comments and questions are encouraged and can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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