June 06, 2014

Review: The Motown 7s Box: Rare and Unreleased Vinyl, Volume 2

Survival of the fittest, they called it. Ensconced in a small conference room in the label’s Detroit headquarters Motown founder Berry Gordy would convene his producers and songwriters to defend their latest works, pitting one song against another to ensure that only the best ones be released as singles and album tracks. 

“If you were down to your last dollar,” Gordy would ask, “would you spend it on a hot dog or this record?” Without knowing exactly which songs prevailed over which, the ones on the just released compilation, The Motown 7s Box: Rare and Unreleased Vinyl, Volume 2, suggest the right calls indeed were made. For the most part these songs go by in an indiscriminate Motownesque blur, neither adding to the musical legacies of some of the label’s signature artists (Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & The Pips) nor to its seismic cultural contribution and influence on the whole. 

Still this set has its moments, including the Isley Brothers’ “Sure is a Whole Lotta Woman” and the Contours’ “Take Him Back If It Makes You Happy,” the latter of which features a particularly fiery lead vocal from Dennis Edwards, who would later replace David Ruffin in the Temptations to grace such classics as “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Overall, though, it’s the rare distinction of its material that gives this collection its greatest appeal.