by Kristin Battestella
I dare say everyone and anybody can name at least one song by the stars in this quartet. So go ahead and sing a long or stuff everyone's stocking with more of these timeless classics and divine essentials.
The Best of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles: 20th Century Masters Millennium Collection – Other than the somewhat tacked on “Just to See” and later day “Love Machine featuring Billie Griffith” included over the absent “Going to a Go-Go,” there's not much to dislike about this greatest hits compilation featuring “Tears of a Clown,” “Cruisin,” and every Motown hit in between. Distinctions between single versions, album editions, mono or single tracks, and various billings as The Miracles, Smokey Robinson, and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles may irk expert completists. However, the ever smooth “Ooo Baby Baby,” irresistible “Tracks of My Tears,” and my favorite “You Really Got a Hold on Me” more than make up for the series' lengthy title or other any other quibbling technicalities in this quick thirty-eight minutes. You simply don't hear catchy hits like “Shop Around” or “I Second That Emotion” and the grooving “Mickey's Monkey” or “More Love” on the radio anymore – sacrilege! Downsizing soul lovers may not have the room or equipment for poor sounding records, either, and these tracks certainly sound better than my scratchy 45s! This set is a great, affordable download for an old school newcomer's Motown education as well as the perfect nostalgic stocking stuffer for older, reminiscing relatives.
The Definitive Collection: Diana Ross and The Supremes – On one hand, the chronological order here belies The Supremes somewhat, as the incredibly catchy “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Come See About Me” are intentionally orchestrated hits with similar rhythms and hooks. If you like one Supremes song, you will immediately recognize every other one, and that was the Motown plan. However, as this 2008 session progresses, the power of the group emerges with increasingly toe tapping and singing along staples like “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Back in My Arms Again,” “Nothing but Heartaches,” and “I Hear a Symphony.” Grand dame Diana Ross' vocals strengthen amid the hallmark harmonies of Mary and Flo in “My World is Empty without You,” “Love is Like an Itching in My Heart,” and the indispensable “You Can't Hurry Love.” It's quite fascinating to open with a packaged cookie cutter girl group and over an hour hear a decade's worth of musical growth becoming the bittersweet pinnacle of “You Keep Me Hangin' On” and “Love is Here and Now You're Gone.” Mature, psychedelic touches raise “Reflections” and the then saucy of “The Happening,” “Love Child,” and “I'm Living in Shame” – replacing the early happy go lucky beats with scandals and sophistication before the co - Temptations titan “I'm Gonna Make You Love Me” and my ironic finale favorite “Someday We'll Be Together.” This set is indeed a definitive, superb encapsulation of everything a new Supremes fan needs as well as the tunes for which longtime listeners yearn – because alas, sometimes one's Supremes A Go Go record just won't play anymore. And yes, I did have a cat named Baby Love, what of it?
The Drifters Golden Hits – Glory! This compilation originally from 1968 has that elusive original songs by the original artists – an essential adherence when one is seeking the delicious strings of my favorite “There Goes My Baby,” the sweet “If You Cry True Love,” effortless “Dance with Me,” forever dynamite “This Magic Moment,” and perennial last call “Save the Last Dance for Me.” And that's not to mention “I Count the Tears,” “Up on the Roof,” and “On Broadway.” Hot diggity I'm running out of superlatives! Yippee “Under the Boardwalk” and its often overlooked sequel “I've Got Sand in My Shoes” round out the happy listening here alongside “Saturday Night at the Movies.” However, knowing The Drifters' penchant for revolving door membership do overs, “Some Kind of Wonderful” does sound like a CD reissue re-record, and there are other similarly named but inferior compilations to beware. Though already packing a musical education if there ever was one in just a half hour, I suppose you can't win them all as this set obviously lacks singles from the Clyde McPhatter era. “Please Stay” and “Sweets for My Sweets” are also missing, but fortunately, the original essentials of the Ben E. King, Rudy Lewis, and Johnny Moore leads are here. Did I say glory? Glory! When you need a quality Drifters release, this is the one to get.
Sam Cooke Portrait of a Legend: 1951-1964 – This extensive, exceptional, much-lauded seventy-seven minute 2003 collection combines classic hits and soulful gospel tunes alongside a plethora of memorable Cooke gems including “You Send Me,” “Only Sixteen,” “Cupid,” “What a Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” “Another Saturday Night,” and “Having a Party.” Whew! There are quality cutting a rug hits, too, such as “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” “Meet Me at Mary's Place,” “Good Times,” “Twistin' the Night Away,” and “Shake” amid ballads like “I'll Come Running Back to You,” “You Were Made for Me,” “Sad Mood,” “Nothing Can Change This Love,” “That's Where It's At,” and my impeccable fave “Bring It on Home to Me.” But wait, there's still more catchy romantic smooth and sway with “Lovable,” “Just for You,” “Win Your Love for Me,” “Sugar Dumpling,” and “(Aint' That) Good News.” Updated covers including “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” “Little Red Rooster,” “Summertime,” and “Tennessee Waltz” are peppered among the inspiring breezy “Touch the Hem of his Garment” and spiritual “Jesus Gave Me Water” before the humming “Soul” thirty second hidden track and the ever important posthumous “A Change is Gonna Come.” Indubitably, this is much more exhaustive than the shorter, now more elusive The Best of Sam Cooke – a fine set that was one of my first over-played and chewed up cassettes. From grooves to bittersweets and all the pop and balladry in between, this set is a jam-packed present with a little bit of everything one needs to love this tragic soul pioneer.