With the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame and many more mining Motown songs, “The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits” was the first UK compilation of studio recordings from Berry Gordy’s hugely influential label. Now doubled in length, this collection traces the evolution of Motown in the UK to the moment it scored its first chartbuster in May 1964.
“R&B in Britain is much bigger than anyone suspects,” declared Record Mirror. This observation, in an edition dated 25 April 1964, was based on the results of its Rhythm & Blues Poll – the first conducted by a weekly pop paper in the UK. Very few of the artists listed in the categories had scored hits or even had many records issued in the country, but the poll was timely. Following some wider attention through records and the media, R&B was beginning to emerge dance-step by dance-step from the underground. Arriving in shops around the time of the Record Mirror poll, the Stateside label’s “The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits” LP played a role in opening hearts and minds to the righteous music.
The poll winners reflected two strands of R&B resonating with Record Mirror readers. Several years after recordings by Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley were released, the spirit of Chicago blues had been revived by new British groups such as the Rolling Stones, who released their debut LP in the same month as the poll. The Stones and their blues idols were riding high in the poll. But the creators of the other side of R&B were also represented. Their contemporary music was exuberant, fast-paced and sophisticated. Many of these captivating R&B records originated from the Motown Corporation based in Detroit. For example, Mary Wells was the Top Female Singer and the Miracles were voted Best Male Group in Record Mirror. “The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits” was compiled as a showcase for – as the sleeve note stated – the “sound that identifies a Tamla-Motown production”.
Many music fans, including Ace Records co-founder Roger Armstrong, were drawn to the Stateside LP due to its intriguing connection to “With The Beatles”. The group’s second album, released a few months earlier, included versions of three Motown songs. Tony Barrow’s sleeve note made clear the Beatles’ “immense admiration” for the Miracles so, unsurprisingly, five tracks by the Miracles are included on “The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits” – although ‘You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me’, covered on “With The Beatles”, is not one of them. Beatles fans would also notice the presence of the original of ‘Money’ and recognise the name of the Marvelettes from the Beatles’ LP sleeve. Although ‘Please Mr Postman’ – the last song on side one of “With The Beatles” – was not amongst the three Marvelettes tracks featured on “The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits”, it is among the 14 bonus tracks on this CD compilation.
“The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits” was issued when only a small minority knew about the joyous music masterminded by Berry Gordy’s stable of artists, writers and producers. Its track listing is so quirky that the Ace team has selected 14 tracks from the same era to complement the Stateside compiler’s concept of “the sound that identifies a Tamla-Motown production”. As you listen, marvel at the fact that not one of these 28 tracks became a hit in the UK. Then tip your hat to the pioneers and champions who banged the gong for this sublime music to be signed, sealed and delivered at last. Can I get a witness?
Hear Roger Armstrong and Kevin Howlett discussing the “The ‘Sound’ Of The R&B Hits” on the Ace podcast: here