Recently I was in the soul section of HMV in Oxford Street when I came across a great compilation CD, "Made to Measure" which is a personal selection of Motown cuts put together by the actor Martin Freeman. What a brilliant CD and what a lucky guy. I mean imagine having a CD made of your favourite Motown tracks and then being able to share them with other people everywhere, and then go on to make a documentary about Motown too? How good is that? I loved his compilation and it inspired to do the same. We overlap on a few of our favourite choices and have also picked some very different tracks as well.
Tamla Motown has been with me for as long as I can remember and I am proud to be known as a Motown "dinosaur" or "anorak" by some of my friends. So to finally get my favourites down on paper has been great. I have always carried in my mind in true High Fidelity style list of records. I can certainly vouch for the fact that contrary to popular belief creating lists of songs is not just a "blokey" thing to do. I have spent the last few months walking the dog, going to the supermarket, sitting on the tube in a bit of dream thinking to myself about what Stevie songs to include, what track would I start with and then making lists of lists and sub categories.
So thank you Martin Freeman for spurring me on. Here is the Motown sound track to my life. This is my personal way to celebrate Motown's 50th birthday, and mine which is next year!
1. "Hallelujah Day" - Jackson Five
I have to include this because it is the first Motown record I ever bought. All my friends were into the Osmonds or David Cassidy but I loved the Jackson Five and I'd watch them religiously on Saturday mornings Michael was my age but it was Jackie I loved. Hallelujah Day was released in 1973 when I was 12. This is truly happy song with a great gospel feel to it. This was my first exposure to Motown and little did I know the start of something special.
2. "This Old Heart Of Mine" - The Isley Brothers
This reminds me of my first holiday away with my mates staying on the Cornish coast at a surf village run in 1978. There was a problem with the juke box as it was full of Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. All of whom I do admire now but I as always in 1978 I needed my Motown fix. Thankfully there was one track to keep me going and This Old Heart of Mine featuring great lead vocals from Ronald Isley was it. "If you leave me a hundred times, a hundred times I'd take you back." I can remember singing those lyrics years before karaoke was even thought of. This track is as fresh now as it was then and my singing is still rubbish
3. "Farewell Is A Lonely Sound" - Jimmy Ruffin
I love this song. I often feel that Jimmy Ruffin never really got the credit that was due to him as a singer and was often in the shadow of his brother David. Jimmy was a great interpreter of good old tear jerkers and in this song I love the way he throws in a line of hope "But I'll be back one day!" So perhaps this could mean a possible happy ending for a change?
4. "My Precious World" - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell were so classy. They looked wonderful together and sang like angels. I thought everything they did was perfect. For me it has been very hard to choose just one track but after lots of angst and careful consideration this is my favourite. I love Tammi's very husky sexy voice in this track which works so well contrasted with Marvin's. This is a glorious song.
5. "The Tracks Of My Tears" - Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
The Tracks of my Tears are quite rightly considered to be one of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles greatest recordings. It certainly is worthy to be known as a classic and is completely deserving of all the accolades it had received. In true Smokey style it is about a man who is hiding his sadness following the end of a love affair. He is so utterly convincing that you really believe that this break up just happened to him. It's been said before but Smokey is a poet and these lyrics are lovely.
6. "If I Were Your Woman" - Gladys Knight and The Pips
Along with Aretha I believe Gladys to be one of greatest female singers of the past 50 years. She has a beautiful rich voice with wonderful expression and this ballad shows her brilliant range, The Pips were great and the whole package was magic. This lovely song has to be my favourite Gladys track of all time.
7. "My Girl" - The Temptations
This track immediately makes me think of David Ruffin in his distinctive horn rimmed spectacles and tremendous rasping voice. This is lovely song which shows off his talents to a tee and what beautiful lyrics again by Smokey Robinson. The heartbeat sound at the beginning of the song makes it something special.
8. "Please Stay (Once You Go Away)" - Marvin Gaye
I have to agree with Martin Freeman who says when referring to this song on his CD "It doesn't get any better than this." I saw Marvin perform this in April 1980 in Brighton. My husband and I were students with not much money and the tickets were expensive but we wouldn't have missed it for the world. This is Marvin at his best. The vocals are quite amazing.
9. "Please Don't Go" - Stevie Wonder
Well if Marvin can't convince you maybe Stevie can. This track blew me away when I first heard it. It contains everything a Stevie song should including his wonderful harmonica. I love way the song builds up with Stevie's pleading getting more anxious until he reaches a climax of "Don't go baby Don't go baby." The cappella group The Persuasions provide great backing vocals for this track.
10. "Jimmy Mack" - Martha Reeves and The Vandellas
This is a great track to dance to and has always been my favourite Martha song. Her voice has a wonderful deep quality to it and this track has fantastic backing by the brilliant Funk Brothers. It was realeased early in 1967 when the Vietnam War was a highly talked about subject by the American people. Jimmy Mack became a very poignant song especially for those with loved ones stationed overseas. The name Jimmy Mack was actually that of a young songwriter who had been killed in an accident.
11. "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" - Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations
A great duet between two of Motowns biggest stars. It was one of the first Motown hits not be penned in house. The lead vocal of Diana Ross and Eddie Kendricks works brilliantly and the spoken bit between Diana and Otis Williams adds something else to a very slick performance.
12. "Still Water (Love)" - Four Tops
This is a quite beautiful song. Without sounding too daft it's the kind of the song that makes me feel warm inside. I think if there was one song that sums up the brilliance of the late Levi Stubbs vocal ability it would be this one and of course brilliant backing vocals act as a perfect show case.
13. "Turn Back The Hands Of Time" - Jimmy and David Ruffin
A double whammy for me Jimmy and David together. They recorded a lot of things together but rarely do they feature together on any compilation albums. Not many people have heard this track, I think it's great. Once I first listened to it on an early collection of Jimmy Ruffins songs I knew I would always make me feel good and it does. It's that sort of song.
14. "Isn't She Lovely" - Stevie Wonder
The joy in Stevies voice is infectious. I remember queuing up for an hour to get my copy of Songs in the Key of Life. I had a scrap book of reviews of it. I loved that album with a vengeance. When I played this track to my Dad a big jazz fan he loved it too. When he heard this track he said "I wish I could have written that for you when you were born." There is no way that I could not have this joyous song in my collection.
15. "Never Can Say Goodbye" - Jackson Five
When I first started to think about my favourite Motown songs this was one of the ones that immediately sprung to mind. It is my favourite Jackson track. The vocals are perfect and I love that rather dreamy flute in the background. The funny thing is that I only really appreciated this song after hearing Gloria Gaynors cover in the mid 70's. I started listening again to the Jackson 5 version and realised just how great it is.
16. "Nightshift" -The Commodores
This track is a tribute to Marvin and Jackie Wilson. I know some people find tribute songs a bit schmaltzy but when I when I first heard this track I was pregnant with my daughter and my Mum was really poorly. I thought that this song was gentle and sweet, and quite lovely. Due to hormones and circumstances and the fact I am a bit of a "baller" it made me cry.
17. "What Does It Take To Win Your Love" - Junior Walker and The All Stars
This track is to me vintage Junior Walker. For such a successful act star he always struck me as unpretentious. His music is gritty and he obviously was an amazing saxophone player. I love the start of this song; it's uplifting.
18. "Every Little Bit Hurts" -Brenda Holloway
Although I have heard Brenda's songs on Motowns compilations it has only been during the past year that I have started collecting a lot of her old records and reading about her experiences at Motown. I have chosen her first hit because I feel it is her best. When The Beatles first heard this song they were so impressed with her brilliant distinctive voice that they asked her to be a part of their 1965 North American tour. There cannot be a greater compliment than that.
19. "Baby I Need Your Loving" - The Four Tops
A great pop song and typical early Motown. I challenge anyone to keep still when you hear this song. If you don't tap your foot or click your fingers you've got no soul!
20. "What's Going On" - Marvin Gaye
I have to give credit to my brother for first introducing me to Marvin. My brother was a bit of an embarrassment to me when I was in my early teens as he was a hippy who looked like Jerry Garcia. It wasn't a cool look as I thought hippies were weird but thankfully he did love soul music and bought me all Marvin's albums. So much has been said about What's Going On over the years. I know every bit of that song but I still stop and listen every time I hear the opening moments. It's almost as if I daren't move in case I miss anything. The themes are timeless - nothing will ever come close to this song.
Louise Convisser is a freelance writer from London who also helps out in adult literacy classes. She has been married for 25 years and has three grown up kids. Her passions are soul music, notably Tamla Motown, food and walking her black Labrador Chloe.