Motown Nuggets, Vol. 9: 1973
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.
Fans of The Jackson 5 suffered a deluge of Jackson-related music in 1973, when at times it seemed as if the Motown label existed primarily to keep the nation awash in records from the Jacksons. Two full-length Jackson 5 albums were released (both of them increasingly reliant on pop/rock studio tomfoolery), but Motown was also beginning to assemble what they hoped would prove to be an eventual family dynasty. Jermaine's second solo album and Jackie's first (and last) for the label enjoyed some moderate chart success, while Michael's third solo release (Music & Me) found him beginning to chafe against Motown's iron rule — the maturing child star would recall his frustrations at not being allowed to feature any of his own compositions (and being forced to strum an acoustic guitar for the album's cover even though he didn't actually play one on the recording).
Former Supremes vocalist Diana Ross was busy in 1973, too, dropping two solo albums and a full-length duet recording with Marvin Gaye. We've included a few overlooked tracks from all of these Jackson/Ross projects on our playlist of B-sides and obscurities (as well as solid cuts from Motown's two best albums of the year, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions and Marvin Gaye's Let’s Get It On). But the real goodies come courtesy of the label's smaller stars, like selections from Willie Hutch's wah-wah-laced, mack daddy soundtrack ("Mack Man [Got to Get Over]"); a handful of low-charting, sophisticated soul singles from David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks; and two churning funk tracks from vocalist Gloria Jones, who soon left Motown to join UK glam rock superstars T. Rex (and date lead singer Marc Bolan).
Finally, 1973 brought us Smokey Robinson's first solo album, Smokey,which made his split with the Miracles official and staked the artist’s claim for the kind of creative control Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were enjoying ("Just My Soul Responding" was a searing protest number in the vein of Gaye's earlier "What's Going On"). And even as Smokey tipped his hat to his old bandmates via "Sweet Harmony," the Miracles were soldiering on with their first post-Smokey release, Renaissance, having bumped Billy Griffin up to lead vocal duties. Like many of Motown's 1973 releases, it was never a big chart success. But it still offered plenty of quality moments (see the lovely single "Wigs and Lashes”).