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Early in 1970, some years before the rules were altered to prevent various artists' LPs from topping the British album chart, the first compilation to achieve this honour was the third in the then highly successful 'Motown Chartbusters' series. Originally issued on the old Tamla Motown label, the 12" of vinyl was housed in a very striking shiny silver sleeve that changed tone depending on which angle to the light you held it at. (Of course, it got bent and dog-eared at the corners in no time, unless you stored it in a transparent PVC cover or hung it on the wall in a frame). Needless to say, in these days of CDs and downloads, the venerable and mighty sleeve must be very much a collector's item in good condition, and on the CD, all we have is a bog-standard photographic reproduction. That's progress for you, folks.
But the music is still just as enduring. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Tamla Motown was synonymous with the best of pop and soul, and 'Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3' was arguably the best in a pretty good series.
The 16 tracks on this CD, around 45 minutes worth (corresponding exactly to the old vinyl release), served up what had at the time been several Motown hit singles from the charts of the previous year or so, many of them reissues which had fared less well on their first appearance three or four years previously. At the least they were very good, and some were absolute classics of the genre. While not every fan will want an entire CD of one particular artist, I'd suggest that a record collection is hardly representative without this, or something very like it.
Slip this one into your PC or CD player, select anything at random, and you almost certainly have a winner. The opening track, Marvin Gaye's 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine', was not only a No. 1 first time round in 1969, but also made the Top 10 in Britain again in 1986 on the back of a TV advert, and he's also represented on a duet with Tammi Terrell, the slinky love song 'You're All I Need To Get By'.
There are no less than three helpings from Diana Ross and the Supremes, although it must be said that two of them aren't exactly their best. The socially conscious 'Love Child', quite daring for the time (children born out of wedlock were not considered suitable pop song fare for young ears in those days, although Radio 1 accepted it for the playlist albeit with misgivings), found them on top form, but 'No Matter What Sign You Are', was one of their weakest and least successful, and I always found 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me', recorded with the Temptations, a little so-so, not to say overrated - but with both names on the label, it could hardly have failed.
However, Motown still made one mother and father of all great dancefloor favourites time and time again. Is there anybody who can't resist the lure of a tune like the Temptations' 'Get Ready'? Or Jr Walker & The All Stars' 'Road Runner', which with the possible exception of Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street', has got what is surely the most amazingly poptastic saxophone riff of all time? Or the two immortal Isley Brothers' Top 10 hits, 'This Old Heart Of Mine' (if you only know the two rather pallid Rod Stewart remakes, your education isn't complete without hearing the original), and the starts-slow-but-soon-picks-up 'Behind A Painted Smile'? Or the evergreen Martha Reeves & The Vandellas' joyous 'Dancing In The Street', which barely scraped the Top 30 first time round in 1964 but peaked at No. 4 in 1969 and has been a much-loved staple golden oldie on the radio ever since? OK, I have a soft spot for the Jagger & Bowie Live Aid remake from 1985, but as is so often the case, you really can't beat the original. Even Keith Richards admitted that it inspired him when he came up with the guitar riff on which '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' was based.
And I haven't mentioned the almost equally infectious 'Stop Her On Sight (SOS)' by Edwin Starr, or the less well-remembered 'I'll Pick A Rise For My Rose' by Marv Johnson. Or two cuts from the Motown teenage prodigy Stevie Wonder, who was still only in his teens when he recorded both songs here, 'My Cherie Amour' and 'For Once In My Life'. Or the Four Tops' 'I'm In A Different World', which may not be their best song, but even the voice of the late great Levi Stubbs could transform the less than exceptional.
Motown were the masters and mistresses of joyous dance music, but every now and then they gave us a cracker of a love song. If you want evidence, look no further than Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' sublime heartbreaker 'The Tracks Of My Tears'. Almost forty years after it was first issued as a single, it still tears at the heartstrings. With all these classics on one album, you'll know, if you don't already, why this set is so revered.
I've already lamented the loss of that wonderful silver card sleeve. Nevertheless, the inlay on this CD does at least reproduce the late Alan 'Fluff' Freeman's riotously over-the-top endorsement, as he tells the buyer that 'you've gone and got yourself a pretty tremendous album!!!' (Er - not 'arf).
Last time I checked, it was around £3.50 new on Amazon, and somebody is probably selling unwanted copies for peanuts used as well. Alternatively, 'Motown Chartbusters' 1-3 are available as a boxed set for about £6, which in effect is more or less a case of buy two and get the third one free. So...I suppose it's a case of 'Get Ready', as the Temptations sang - or simply 'Get It'!
[Revised version of a review I originally posted on ciao]
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye
2 I'm Gonna Make You Love Me - Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations
3 My Cherie Amour - Stevie Wonder
4 This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You) - The Isley Brothers
5 I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose - Marv Johnson
6 No Matter What Sign You Are - Diana Ross & The Supremes
7 I'm In A Different World - Four Tops
8 Dancing In The Street - Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
9 For Once In My Life - Stevie Wonder
10 You're All I Need To Get By - Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye
11 Get Ready - The Temptations
12 Stop Her On The Sight (S.O.S.) - Edwin Starr
13 Love Child - Diana Ross & The Supremes
14 Behind A Painted Smile - The Isley Brothers
15 (I'm A) Road Runner - Jr. Walker & The All Stars
16 The Tracks Of My Tears - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles