​Record #367: The Four Tops – Motown Superstar Series, Vol. 14 (1980)


Every once in a while, a brand will so dominate their market that their name becomes synonymous with their product. Things like Band-Aid, or Kleenex. Motown achieved the same sort of notoriety, in which its name has actually become a genre marker. And that’s not by accident…
iIproducers, recording engineers, session musicians, and songwriters they could find and churned out hit after hit after hit after hit. They became so successful that they began an artist development program that trained up performers with choreography, wardrobe, and etiquette training. This excerpt from Wikipedia is too good not to share: 

Motown artists were advised that their breakthrough into the white popular music market made them ambassadors for other African-American artists seeking broad market acceptance, and that they should think, act, walk and talk like royalty, so as to alter the less-than-dignified image commonly held of black musicians by white Americans in that era. Given that many of the talented young artists had been raised in housing projects and lacked the necessary social and dress experience, this Motown department was not only necessary, it created an elegant style of presentation long associated with the label.

While it’s true that Motown’s model is to blame for the mass produced saccharine pop dominating the airwaves now, there’s no denying the label’s success. Acts like The Supremes, Marvin Gaye (who bypassed artist development), Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson Five came through their doors, creating indelible hits. 

Speaking of indelible hits, consider this Four Tops compilation. This disc blisters through the Tops’ hits at whiplash speed, opening with a twelve minute medley of their top-charting singles (“I Can’t Help Myself” and “I’ll Be There” both make an appearance). And after that, the album only slows down because there’s a fade between songs. Every second is filled with the most blissful Rhythm&Blues/Soul music this side of the Temptations. And the fact that this is the fourteenth entry in a series of Motown’s best artists and that this compilation is this good is only further testament to Motown’s exceptional legacy.

Record #368: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – The Greatest Hits of Frankie Valli and the Fabulous Four Seasons (1974)

Okay, let’s get this out of the way.

This has fifty-five songs on it.

If you’re going to call something a greatest hits compilation, it stands to reason that you might not want to just release everything that artist has ever done. This is supposed to be a collection of their best songs, not every song. It seems an act of hubris to include more than a single disc of music. Especially since the first three songs (Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man) stand so tall above the rest of them. Especially when put so close to their bizarre cover of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, I’m Alright, where Frankie Valli changes the line “I wish that there was something you could do or say/to make me change my mind and stay” to simply “I wish that there was something you could do.” Like…did you not realize in rehearsal that those lines don’t rhyme?

​But when this collection is on, it is on. The combination of the Four Tops huge harmonies and Frankie’s growling falsetto (famously homaged by Elton John’s Crocodile Rock) is one of the most iconic sounds in rock ‘n roll. And since I picked it up off of the curb, it’s still worth it even if there’s only one good disc (I didn’t have time to listen past side one).

Record #366: Cult of Luna – Salvation (2004)

As much as I love Isis, it’s amazing I haven’t come across Sweden’s Cult of Luna sooner… 
Any article about post metal mentions both of their names (and Neurosis, whose discography is a little more impenetrable). I may have come to their seminal record twelve years too late, but its punch isn’t diminished any.

Rather, Salvation displays a group with an unmistakable mastery of patient composition–maybe even more patient than Isis. While the songs are built on repetition and slow builds (read: post metal), they never languish in tepidness. Rather, they traffic between ambient lows and punishing (midtempo) highs with a cold calculation.