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by Jason Gubbels

February 7, 2014

Motown Nuggets, Vol. 6: 1970

by Jason Gubbels  |  February 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.

You can pretty much sum up Motown Records circa 1970 with three words: The Jackson 5. "I Want You Back" slammed atop the charts in January, as did the group's three consecutive follow-ups, "ABC," "I'll Be There" and "The Love You Save." When they closed out the year with a successful Christmas LP, it marked an impressive string of four full-length albums released in a 12-month period. Given the remarkable success of the formerly Gary, Ind.-based family band, the B-side of "ABC" seemed as much a warning to fellow Motown performers as to the record-buying public: "(Better Make Way For) The Young Folks." The fact that none other than former label heavyweight Diana Ross and the Supremes had recorded a version of the same song only a matter of months earlier now seemed oddly prescient.

Motown's good year wasn't thanks to The Jackson 5 alone -- Smokey Robinson scored one of the biggest hits of his long career in the delightful form of "Tears of a Clown," a song Smokey had recorded way back in 1967 but had never released as a single. And emerging soul group The Spinners finally connected with the record-buying public with the undeniable hit "It's a Shame."

Look beyond these chart-toppers, though, and you'll witness yet more evidence of a label in uneasy transition. While Edwin Starr's forceful "War" made plenty of waves, consider the equally political stances taken on such non-hits as the aforementioned Spinners' "Message from a Black Man" (the song didn't chart) or Martha and the Vandellas' remarkable anti-war protest single "I Should Be Proud" (which barely squeaked past No. 80 on the pop charts). Or consider the muted 1970 output of Marvin Gaye, who spent much of the year recovering from the death of singing partner Tammi Terrell in March ("The End of Our Road" did at least briefly nudge into the Top 10).

And, as always, there are plenty of total obscurities in our playlist for serious soul fans to dig their teeth into, from the R&B instrumentals of Junior Walker and The Jazz Crusaders to the charming single "It's a Lonesome Road" from utterly forgotten ensemble Hearts of Stone. Plus, listen for choice cuts from Stu Gardner, Yvonne Fair and Blinky, and "As Long As I've Got You" from Danny Hernandez & the Ones.

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