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by Jason Gubbels

February 21, 2014

Motown Nuggets, Vol. 8: 1972

by Jason Gubbels  |  February 21, 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.

One of our earlier Motown Nuggets series highlighted Smokey Robinson's heartfelt 1968 paean to his and the record label's home, "I Care About Detroit." In 1972, a very different tribute to a very different city seemed to encapsulate what the new Motown was all about: The Four Tops' slick "L.A. (My Town)," an ode to the palm trees and convertibles now surrounding Berry Gordy's musical empire. In fact, 1972 marked the definitive end of Motown's relationship with Detroit -- by early summer, the company had made its permanent shift westward.

But the jump to Los Angeles wasn't the only major change for Motown. Michael Jackson continued to step out from The Jackson 5, scoring his first No. 1 hit as a solo artist. Diana Ross starred in Sidney Furie's Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues, while Marvin Gaye's sole release for the year came in the guise of a movie soundtrack (Trouble Man). Smokey Robinson left The Miracles, with whom he'd been performing since 1955. The Four Tops shrugged off the move to California by staying behind in Detroit, jumping ship and signing with ABC Records instead. And some of Gordy's business decisions seemed downright bizarre -- whose idea was it to start pumping out new singles from early '60s teen stars like Lesley Gore and Frankie Valli?

Still, even if few would consider 1972 a banner year for Motown, the label managed to offer several classic releases, from The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" to Stevie Wonder's two equally impressive (and synthesizer-heavy) full-length albums (Music of My Mind and Talking Book). You'll hear some B-sides and album cuts from both The Temptations and Stevie Wonder on this playlist, but we've also dug a little deeper, highlighting Stevie's production work and recognizable keyboards for his ex-wife Syreeta Wright (the couple in fact divorced in the middle of 1972), while also digging up super-funky single "I'm Gonna Get You" from the Spinners' G.C. Cameron.

There are also juicy tracks from Eddie Kendricks and Jimmy Ruffin, obscurities from Eric & the Vikings, Thelma Houston's cover of Janis Joplin's signature song ("Me and Bobby McGee"), and a very early offering from future superstars The Commodores. And we close with one of the very last songs The Four Tops ever cut for the label that made them superstars: "I'll Never Change."

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