A good friend of mine has spent recent weeks agonising over and debating what his ten favourite songs are. As men we naturally like lists and order. It’s why we’re more likely to be obsessive compulsive. However, in these discussions, whilst suggesting possibilities for his list, I’ve maintained that it is an impossible task. I did think by genre, however, although still agonisingly difficult it may be possible and perhaps a good topic for this blog. I was going to start with my ten favourite soul records, but when creating the list I realised that Motown would need a list all of it’s own. So here it is – although I’m sure any readers there are will disagree with some of the choices.
1 The Isley Brothers – This Old Heart of Mine.
This perhaps my favourite record full stop. It has that signature Motown sound, the groove of the funk brothers, backing vocals and heartbreak. You can’t help but turn it up and sing along.
2 The Temptations – Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
A Temptations record is a must for any Motown retrospective. It came down to this or ‘Get Ready’, however I plumped for this David Ruffin’s vocals and the raw emotion in the bespactacled lotharios voice.
3 Smokey Robinson and The Miracles – The Tracks of My Tears
Behind Berry Gordy and Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey is perhaps the most influential figure, writing hits for himself and others alike he was one of his generations greatest talents. Scores of his songs could have been included on this list and I seriously considered ‘You Really Got a Hold On Me”, however, as ‘outside I’m masquerading, inside my hopes are fading’ is my favourite Motown lyric I’ve gone for this.
4 Diana Ross – I’m Still Waiting
In the back of our fiat uno with my sister, my mum driving, this blaring from the tinny speakers. This song is a childhood memory wrapped up in just under four minutes of music. It’s also Diana Ross’ solo magnus opus, although the full six minute version of ‘Aint no Mountain High Enough’ runs it close.
5 Junior Walker & The All Stars – What Does It Take
It’s my opinion that Junior Walker is criminally overlooked when the Motown greats are discussed. A powerful singing voice and a wonderful saxaphone player, this song captures the essence of both, with the saxaphone inparticular sending shivers down my spine.
6 Diana Ross & The Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin’ On
You could make a strong case for the inclusion of most Supremes singles between 1964 and 1967, as a girl group they have been imitated many times but never surpassed. It’d be a struggle to pick my 10 favourite Supremes songs let alone just one, however this encapsulates everything great about them: Diana Ross, the tambourines, the sumptious backing vocals. It is impossible not to dance to.
7 The Four Tops – Reach Out, I’ll be There
The animalistic roar at the start of the first two verses, the backing vocals, the music that builds to a crescendo, this song drips with passion and emotion – I’m a hetrosexual male but I want them to love and care for me – it is also Motown encapsulated in three minutes, you can’t help but think of afros, sequin suits and elaborate dance routines when you listen to it.
8 Martha Reeves & The Vandellas – Heatwave
The ‘other’ Motown girl group. Whilst The Supremes may have had more hits nothing should be taken away from The Vandellas – the only Motown group I’ve had the fortune of seeing live. This is the best of their enviable backcatalogue . Soulful, raw and passionate.
9 Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
Temptations lead vocalist David Ruffin’s brother Jimmy’s hit is a song that reminds me of sunny days strolling down Portobello Road (it’s often blasted from one of the stalls), and is another that could stake a claim to be my favourite ever record due to the heady Motown mix of heartbreak and backing vocals.
10 Marvin Gaye – Mercy Mercy Me
The last song on the list was a particularly hard choice, so many aspects of Motown have not been covered, and there are all number of contenders – Needle in a Haystack, Please Mr Postman, Uptight etc. However, any Motown Top Ten worth it’s salt has to include a Marvin Gaye track. This is my favourite Gaye song, from my favourite Gaye album, in my favourite Gaye era. The drums, the sax, the politcal message, it’s archetypal Marvin Gaye during the ‘What’s Going On’ period and a great song to finish on.
In compiling this list I’ve left out many wonderful records, singers and bands. Some readers may be aghast that there is no Stevie Wonder, some may feel the choices are a bit obvious, however I hope it is a fair reflection of my love of this wonderful record label.
By Callum West