Any year of the 1960s holds its fair share of prestige and regard in Motown history. And the last four volumes of Hip-O-Select's series (chronicling 1961 through 1965) have showcased that with a barrage of consistency that's overwhelming. And yet, whether your interest is civic, musical, historical or whatever, 1966 pops out as prime time in Hitsville.
What makes 1966 different for Motown are the clear and present non-hits sometimes not even songs included in this set. Contest records, for example, became all the rage. Christine Schumacher, a blind high school girl, won a WKNR contest and got herself onto a record with the Supremes. Francis Nero won a WCHB-sponsored talent contest at the Fox Theatre, and got her very own single. Both were limited in copies pressed and promotion (and some may argue talent), but what they evidence is a record label in a position of practically having to throw away money because it was doing so well. Those singles and more are here a lot more, to the tune of five CDs, 125 tracks, and the A- and B-side of everything the label and its environs released that year.
Because it could, Motown pressed up a disc of Loraine Alterman (then Teen Beat editor of the Free Press and the future wife of Peter Boyle) interviewing Marvin Gaye about mod clothes, then just gave the thing away with copies of the newspaper. There was also a promo-only single by Brenda Holloway urging local youth to "Play it Cool, Stay in School" as back-to-school time '66 rolled around. Fact is, Motown was flush with hits at this point and was admirably taking on more social responsibility in the community.
And the hits. Shit. The Four Tops with "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love." The Temptations with "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "Get Ready." The Supremes with "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "You Can't Hurry Love" ... many consider this the apex of Motown's creative dominance, and few will have valid arguments otherwise.
But the obscura freaks get their jollies too: Included on Volume 6 are two tracks by the Mynah Birds. Long surrounded by lore, this Toronto-based band included Rick James and Neil Young and never released anything during its short lifespan. While "Superfreak" or "Rockin' in the Free World" it is not, "It's My Time" offers a passable take on mid-'60s garage pop, only slightly less stellar than something off the Nuggets compilation. James does an impeccable Mick Jagger vocal imitation, and Young chimes away with a notable 12-string solo. Among all its charms, this inclusion alone makes the whole damn set worthwhile.
Ben Blackwell writes about music for Metro Times . Send comments to [email protected].