MY FAVORITE MOTOWN RECORDS (Not Quite Random Favorites….In No Particular Order)

By major act (and as prelude to a piece on Motown’s real importance in the sixties–coming….some day!).

Since the object is to honor the records, I used mostly studio recordings or lip synchs. The major exception is Smokey solo on “Sweet Harmony.” You know, if you only click one, yaddah, yaddah. I included the important acts who passed through Motown on their way to bigger, better things, because, well, they made great records on Motown, too. I stopped with acts who were at least signed in the 70s.

And I added my favorite one shot at the bottom–because God knows there were plenty of those! 

The Marvelettes “Playboy” (1962)

The Miracles “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage” (1967)

Mary Wells “The One Who Really Loves You”(1962)

Marvin Gaye “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” (1969)

Martha and the Vandellas “Honey Chile” (1967)

The Supremes “Reflections” (1967)

The Temptations “Don’t Look Back” (1965)

The Four Tops “Standing in the Shadows of Love” (1966)

Stevie Wonder:”I Believe (When I Fall in Love With You It Will Be Forever)” (1972)

Gladys Knight & the Pips “It Should Have Been Me” (1968)

The Isley Brothers “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” (1966)

Jr. Walker & the All Stars: “Way Back Home” (1971)

Marvin and Tammi “If This World Were Mine” (1967)

Spinners “We’ll Have it Made” (1971)

The Jackson 5 “ABC” (1970)

Diana Ross (solo)  “Upside Down” (1980)

Smokey Robinson (solo) “Sweet Harmony” (1973)

Jackson 5 (solo) Jermaine: “That’s How Love Goes” (1972)

The Commodores “Sail On” (1979)

Rick James “Superfreak (Part 1)” (1981)

Lionel Richie (solo) “Deep River Woman” w/Alabama (1986)

And, my favorite one shot (or, if you like, one big shot), in a close run over Brenda Holloway’s “Every Little Bit Hurts” and R. Dean Taylor’s “Indiana Wants Me” (which I’m guessing not a lot of people remember was a Motown record):

Jimmy Ruffin “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” (1966)

Always loved that there was no question mark.

13 thoughts on “MY FAVORITE MOTOWN RECORDS (Not Quite Random Favorites….In No Particular Order)

  1. It’s possible that I’m the only one on Earth who likes Gladys’s version of “Grapevine” more than Marvin’s — by far — because of its unique groove and between-the-beats vocal accents.

    (I never did care about charts. I wonder why everything has to be turned into sports in some way. Taste is personal. I know, I know…preachin’ to the choir!)

    To play along in the purely subjective, just-for-fun sense (and assuming that we’re counting the Tamla and Gordy subsidiaries), I’d add that Pips song, along with “Heat Wave” by Martha, “Inner-City Blues” by Marvin, “Ooh, Baby, Baby” by Smokey and — here’s why I have no business making lists — Stevie’s entire Innervisions album.

    I’d also include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” as hearing Tammi’s voice is always a special treat, with an inner filling of sadness. Life sure is precious.

    Finally, because being a smart-ass is also a fun exercise, I’d add the Shangs’ “Right Now and Not Later.”

    (I guess I’ve incidentally eschewed the lesser-known-songs rule. Looking at your list, though, I’ve got to hand it to ya: You’ve come up with one hell of a double CD! It could be titled, So You Think You Know Motown?)

    • Well as long as Berry Gordy’s alive, you won’t be the ONLY one. Marvin spending seven weeks at #1 didn’t change his mind!

      Of course, on one level the whole exercise is silly. Even picking a single favorite among most of these artists is fundamentally impossible, let alone a “greatest.” But I thought it would, among other things, be a way to shine a light on just how ridiculously deep Motown’s catalog really is. And what a shame it is that Oldies’ formats are so hidebound–taking artists who had dozens of hits and reducing them to five or six that stay in constant rotation and another five or six (maybe) that get played every once in a while. Not exactly the spirit of rock and roll!

      BTW: All your picks were in consideration, especially “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” which might be the greatest Motown record of them all (speaking of silly exercises!).

      And let’s not sleep on “RIght Now and Not Later”…you never know when a My Favorite Non-Motown Motown might be coming up!

      • Well, you certainly achieved that — in fact, you could probably come up with several more lists that would just as effectively illuminate the depth of that company’s catalogue. We certainly agree on the tunnel-vision of oldies radio. As just one example, how many happy Supremes listeners have never heard “Love Child”?

        In a way, playing the list game is fun *because* it’s silly. If it’s already a given that favorites can’t truly be chosen, in the sense of being superior in one’s ears to everything else, then why not indulge, right?

        In fact, it takes some bravery, for lack of a more precise word at the moment. For instance, I tried to settle on my ten favorite Sly and the Family Stone songs while waiting for something at work — just as a mental exercise to pass the time enjoyably — and I couldn’t narrow them down to ten. And that was only in my head!

        • I’ve actually been flirting with a new category called something like “Ten By”….could apply to films (genre, director, actor, time period) music, books and who knows what else. What’s mostly held me back is, as you rightly observe, the mental energy it takes…It’s never the first two or three that are hard. It’s the LAST two or three–deciding what to leave out–that kills ya’!

          • To illustrate your point even further, I just remembered “Jimmy Mack.” Can’t leave that out! Arg! I’d be hard pressed to come up with a top 100, let alone a variety that would load within the hour a single web page.

  2. All great choices, but I’d have to disagree with one. Marvin & Tammi’s “If I Could Build My World Around You” brings unbridled joy to my soul every time I get to hear it. It’ll always be my fave by them. Then again, 20,000 people will have 20,000 answers, so I guess it’s all relative.

    This would take forever to compile, but how about favorite Motown b-sides? Off the top of my head, Kim Weston’s “Don’t Compare Me With Her” (the flip of “Take Me In Your Arms”) is a big fave.

    • That’s certainly another great choice. Then again, with Marvin and Tammi you almost can’t go wrong. An unfortunately small catalog, but almost every side is epic.

      As for B-sides…a list of great ones would be pretty long (including the one you linked, which I hadn’t heard before). But my favorite would always be “Don’t Look Back”…which might just be my favorite Motown record period. I mean, if there really could be such a thing!

      • Yes indeed! “Don’t Look Back” is a wonderful track.

        It’s amazing how much unreleased stuff there is as well. If you haven’t checked out any of the “Cellarful of Motown” discs, they’re well worth owning.

        • I’ve still got my eye on the Complete Motown Singles boxes that Hip-O put out some years back…I pray Oh Lord for time….and money!

          But the Cellarful discs might make a nice introduction so I’m gonna put them on the want list!

  3. One of these days I’ll get back to my Vocalist of the Month category and Martha Reeves will definitely be a subject. The segue from “Jimmy Mack,” a perfect update of the girl group ethos, to “Honey Chile” which is one of the greatest southern soul vocals, is an amazing illustration of someone making two completely different approaches (and two completely different lyric approaches) sound organically connected.

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