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by Jason Gubbels

January 31, 2014

Motown Nuggets, Vol. 5: 1969

by Jason Gubbels  |  January 31, 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.

Motown Records celebrated a decade's worth of music-making in 1969. Though plenty of label-affiliated artists were struggling a bit with the changing times, the year also saw the unveiling of one of Berry Gordy's greatest signings: The Jackson 5, whose Diana Ross-sponsored debut album quickly led to the No. 1 smash "I Want You Back" in the final days of the year. The arrival of the young Jacksons (including the extremely precocious Michael) nicely balanced out the increasing maturation of Motown's previous child star, Stevie Wonder, who was racking up hits showcasing his growing sophistication, among them "My Cherie Amour" and "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday."

But 1969 was mostly a year of transition for the label, especially as Gordy stepped up the process of slowly shifting his base of operations west to Los Angeles, a move as much intended to help break into the motion-picture industry as to escape the struggling environs of Detroit. He also signed an all-white rock band (Rare Earth); encouraged Diana Ross and The Supremes to cover The Band's 1968 folk-rock fable "The Weight"; and brought jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery's older brother Monk into the fold for groovy electric bass jams.

Our playlist of nuggets draws heavily from the flipsides of some of Motown's bigger 1969 singles as well as from the LPs now making up a large share of the label's release schedule. You'll see plenty of familiar names: Martha Reeves, The Marvelettes and Smokey Robinson were still valued contributors. But newer arrivals such as The Spinners, The Originals, Gladys Knight and the now-ex Temptation David Ruffin were making their presences felt. And of course there are plenty of obscure soul goodies for all the crate diggers, from Stu Gardner's slow-burning "It's a Family Thang" to the horn-driven scorcher "Gonna Put It On Your Mind" by Dorothy, Oma & Zelpha.

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