​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.

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