Motown Nuggets, Vol. 1: 1965
by Jason Gubbels | January 3, 2014
Motown Nuggets is a multipart series highlighting lesser-known corners of the Motown warehouse: deep album cuts and flipside goodness from the early days of the long-player and the glory years of the single.
Berry Gordy, Jr.'s Motown record label was many things, but it was first and foremost a hit-singles-producing entertainment monster. Launched in 1959 and headquartered in Detroit, Gordy's label helped guide and finesse R&B into pop chart domination, scoring well over 100 Top 10 hits in a stunning 10-year run that practically defined certain aspects of 1960s American music, even while grooming superstars who would go on to help shape 1970s soul.
Motown retains that same cultural ubiquity to this day, as witness the recent successful Broadway production Motown the Musical, which basically assembled dozens of familiar tunes into one shaky narrative. But every Motown hit single had a B-side; each full-length album featured high-quality filler and almost-hits; and for every blockbuster act (The Supremes, The Temptations) there were cult performers who never moved many units (Brenda Holloway) or barely managed to put out a few 45s (anybody remember Little Lisa or The Vows?).
In that spirit, we present the first in our Motown Nuggets series. We kick things off with 1965, the year Motown's top acts fully invaded the pop charts (and mass media, too, with The Supremes splashed across the cover of Time magazine). You'll also hear lesser-known tracks from some of the label's biggest stars, from Smokey Robinson and The Temptations to The Four Tops and of course the tireless Supremes, who in addition to scoring five huge hits also recorded both a Christmas album and a bizarre country & western tribute, featuring deathless curio "(The Man With The) Rock and Roll Banjo Band."
But you'll also find garage rock from The Headliners, funky saxophone from Junior Walker, soul-jazz organ courtesy of Earl Van Dyke, and smooth old-school R&B from big band leader Billy Eckstine. Few of these cuts were ever played on radio, and plenty of these artists aren't much remembered today. So dig in and enjoy some top-drawer Motown tracks you haven't yet heard played to death. And stay tuned for 1966!