Friday, 17 July 2009

“TAMLA MOTOWN – The Stories Behind The UK Singles” – A Review of the 2009 Paperback Book by TERRY WILSON.

“…And The Lord God Looked Down On Motown in Detroit And Verily Thought…I Must Set Up A British Branch…”

Did you know that following the departure of his principal hit-writers Holland Dozier and Holland, Berry Gordy wanted to reinstate the Supremes as a number act after a year of dullard releases, so he locked all his remaining writers in a hotel room and told them they weren't coming out until they penned a winner for his wife. They promptly raided the hotel bar and got completely pissed in retaliation. But the following morning they threw out the number one hit "Love Child" anyway. Or that Stevie Wonder's manager sang his newly released "Higher Ground" single into his ear in 1973 as Stevie lay dying on a hospital bed having had a freak accident where a huge log crashed through his windscreen and into his skull - and it brought him back. Or did you know that the original version of Marvin Gaye's masterpiece "What's Going On" had a question mark removed from the end of the title - so that you didn't know whether he was asking a question or making a statement? Neither did I...

A book like this is a treasure trove of such juicy trivia, but it wouldn't amount to more than a long list of staid statistics if the rest of the text weren't imbibed with wit, affection and a genuine thirst for knowledge and understanding - on every single entry. Americans know that Brits are soul mad, but this book proves it like no other. There's stuff in here that even the guys who wrote the music don't know about!

First, in order to convey just how deep this work goes, let's get to the details.

It's a tall paperback with over 700 pages. The 72 singles from 1959 to mid 1965 issued on London (4), Fontana (4), Oriole (19) and Stateside (45) are all here - each given an individual essay on their release and history. Topping the essay over each single is other relevant info - Timing, Writers, Producers, Recording Date, UK Release Date, B-side, UK Chart Position, US catalogue number, US release date and finally the US chart position attained in both Billboard's Pop and R&B charts.

The two-word 'Tamla Motown' identity was started by Gordy specifically to deal with UK issues (it was either the single word 'Motown', 'Tamla' or 'Gordy' in the USA). Its first 7" single release came in March 1965 on TMG 501 - The Supremes' "Stop! In The Name Of Love". While it topped the charts in the States, it made Number 7 in the UK (the title was a remark made by a producer to his argumentative girlfriend). From this point on page 68, the releases stretch all the way to page 606 and the February 2006 release of Stevie Wonder's "From The Bottom Of My Heart" on TMG 1513. Every single one!

This is then followed by the ARTIST SUMMARY section - which gives you their releases at a glance - 1 for Jerry Butler and 9 for The Commodores and so forth - very handy. There's then a section on STATISTICS, FACTS and FEATS; followed by AN ALPHABETICAL LIST OF TRACKS; followed by a section on MOTOWN EPs and 12" SINGLES. Then there's a section on the off-shoot labels, Rare Earth, Mo-West and Gaiee labels...and a COLLECTORS section dealing with label bags, different texts, matrix numbers etc. and finally a REFERENCES section that in itself goes on for pages.

Some entries are long - "Tears Of A Clown" by SMOKEY ROBINSON & THE MIRACLES (an instrumental first presented to Smokey by Stevie Wonder at a Christmas party), others are short because they deserve to be "A Little Bit For Sandy" by PAUL PETERSEN (a child actor originally on The Donna Reed Show) - it was produced by R DEAN TAYLOR and sank without a trace. The social consciousness period of Norman Whitfield's 1970s productions (Temptations, Undisputed Truth) I found fascinating and full of amazing info. In fact I can't imagine the thousands of hours it must have taken to assemble all this information, cross check every entry and then present the whole lot in an interesting way. His assessment of Marvin's "What's Going On" as a song that "says so little, yet means so much to so many people..." is both insightful and true.

I would say - however - that a very real down point is the complete lack of visuals. There should have been 10 or 12 pages of colour pictures, label variations, rare picture sleeves, early issues - but maybe on the next run.

Also, I went into 5 West End book stores and none had it for sale let alone knew of its existence - and Cherry Red books need to address that pronto - because it's criminal to see a book of this stature go unnoticed - reviewed online by some Irish nutter in a second-hand record shop in London. I would also prep a 'download' version for the net with better front artwork and a slew of picture pages from collectors with a far cheaper price to make it more accessible.

Those minor nitpicks aside, both Cherry Red and the author are to be congratulated for this wonderful tome.

I can tell you now with all confidence that even as Moses was parting the Red Sea with the sound of hooves and chariots in his shell-likes, he was secretly thinking, I can't wait for 2009 and Terry Wilson's detailed book about Tamla Motown in England...

To say I'm impressed folks is like saying the Sistine Chapel is an ok painting.

Well done to all concerned - and recommended the most.

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