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by Jason Gubbels

March 7, 2014

Motown Nuggets, Vol. 10: 1974

by Jason Gubbels  |  March 7, 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.

Nineteen seventy-four proved a rather quiet year for Motown. By far the label's biggest success was The Jackson 5's Dancing Machine album, which managed to spark several hit singles, including the R&B chart-topping title track. Yet Michael Jackson took a year off his solo career, as did Jermaine. It was in fact the first year since the family sensation arrived on the scene that only a single piece of Jackson 5-related product was released.

Both Diana Ross and her former act, The Supremes, had a slow year, too, with Ross offering up only a live concert recording (the glitzy Live at Caesars Palace); The Supremes sat 1974 out completely. Even Marvin Gaye took a break after his smoldering Let's Get It On, although Motown's successful promotion of a rare concert recording did manage to propel Marvin Gaye Live! to the top of the charts.

We've added a couple of the deeper cuts from The Jackson 5's Dancing Machine album to our playlist of under-appreciated 1974 Motown nuggets, but the greater focus is on B-sides and non-charting singles from some of the label's more explicitly funky acts. The Commodores' Machine Gun helped announce the arrival of a new talent in soul (Lionel Richie), although singles "The Zoo (The Human Zoo)" and "I Feel Sanctified" met with only minor success. Edwin Starr was on the long slide down after the big noise of 1970's "War," but he kept trying to connect with an audience looking for deep funk ("Big Papa" is so over-the-top it's almost parodic). The Miracles hit big with "Do It Baby," their first post-Smokey Robinson success ("Where Are You Going To, My Love" and "Give Me Just Another Day" are taken from their Do It Baby album), while Smokey managed a hit solo single via "Virgin Man" (although the infectious "A Tattoo" might be the strongest cut on the Pure Smokey album).

You'll also hear funk from Willie Hutch; sophisticated soul from Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin; synthesizer-driven grooves from Stevie Wonder and ex-wife Syreeta; and even some funky blues from guitarist Luther Allison. And our playlist concludes with Marvin Gaye's effortless stroll through "What's Going On," recorded live at the Oakland Coliseum. It's a great performance, even if the reliance on older material suggests the existential crisis Motown was experiencing at the time.

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