Ok kids, save your pennies and other holiday booty because just after the December holiday season Universal Music is dropping a great new series of vintage Mono In Motown vinyl reissues in a limited edition bundle (at least initially) from The Sound Of Vinyl. They are bringing back five classic -- some quite rare -- 1960s Motown, Tamla and Gordy Records recordings in their original Monaural mixes.
From Universal's press materials, we learn: "All five albums were newly remastered from their original analog master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, pressed on audiophile-quality 180-gram vinyl, and packaged in deluxe Stoughton tip-on jackets."
Included are: The Four Tops' Reach Out (1967), The Marvelettes' Sophisticated Soul (1968, never released in Mono in the USA), The Miracles' You've Really Got A Hold On Me / The Fabulous Miracles (1963), Diana Ross & The Supremes' Reflections (1968, never released in Mono), and The Temptations' The Temptations Sing Smokey (1965).
At press time we got our hands on a few of these gems. Here is what you can expect:
IT'S A MIRACLE
Topping the list of Motown magnificence is The Miracles' early hit album The Fabulous Miracles. In some ways ground zero for all things related to legendary singer, songwriter and performer Smokey Robinson, this is the album featuring their #8 smash hit "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." Original pressings of this record are hard to find in any condition and they often command serious coin from collector's shops and record dealers (upwards of $300), so a nice reissue is welcome for those of us who haven't had the luck or inclination to find a reasonably priced original copy.
That said, the new version is excellent, but it is different sounding than my crusty old original pressing -- as one might expect. This is not a bad thing, mind you. Listening through the clicks and pops of my old copy, the new version is crisp and cleaner sounding with a bright high end. In many ways the new version offers more definition around the music.
The downside from this crispness is that we start to hear the wear and tear of age -- so for example on the song "Such Is Love, Such Is Life" there was an audible drop out or two that were not heard on my original pressing. Is that bad or good? It it neither -- it simply is where the tapes are at the current time and place. It is what it is, as they say....
With less compression on some of the tracks you might hear more or less hiss. for example on "I Can Take Hint" there is more hiss apparent on the original than the new edition. There could be any number of reasons for this so I can only guess that a certain amount of noise reduction was employed along the way for these scenarios.
Visually, this reissue impressed me immediately as the cover arguably looks better than the originals (at least my copy!). The cover is a little different in that it is now laminated (like a fancy UK pressing) but that is a fantastic thing -- it really looks amazing! They even reproduced the original first Tamla Records label!
The Four Tops' Reach Out album is much more common but, again, locating a super clean original Mono pressing is not so simple. They are out there and they are not that expensive but chances are they will be well loved (ie. played a lot, worn) as this was a popular record with its smash hits. This reissue also sounds good, albeit a tad on the bright side, compared purely going to memory of old 45s of the hits here (so take that comment with a grain of salt).
Listening to Reach Out with fresh ears, I was struck by its split personality. The producer could have (dare I say, should have) put all the Motown-flavored hits and songs on one side: "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love," Bernadette" etc. And then on the other side they could compile the decidedly non-Motown-ish covers of pop and rock hits of the day including two Monkees tunes -- "I'm A Believer," "Last Train To Clarksville" -- The Left Bank's "Walk Away Renee", The Association's "Cherish and Tim Hardin's "If I Were A Carpenter." These aren't awful covers, but it does make for a curious album listen the way it is sequenced.
Like The Miracles' album, this cover comes in a glossy laminated sleeve made of thick cardboard. And, in an extra sweet touch for collectors, they reproduced the original first pressing versions of the Motown label when their offices were located at 2648 W. Grand Avenue in Detroit (the address is on the lower perimeter of the label). Someone at Universal is paying attention to details collectors appreciate!
IT'S A MARVEL
Sophisticated Soul by The Marvelettes, from 1968, is not especially easy to find out in the wilds of record collecting -- I have never seen a copy around, actually --- and as it turns out the Mono mix was only released in the UK back in the day. So this was a particular joy to hear this quite great collection. Apart from some tracks like the album opener "My Baby Must Be A Magician," all this music was new to me and I loved it start to finish! This is a fine album with very little filler. Perhaps it was too sophisticated, if you will, as it just missed making the Top 40. That doesn't make it any less good.
I'll try to write a follow-on review when review samples of The Supremes' Reflections (which has never before been commercially released in Mono!) and The Temptations Sing Smokey become available. But if I were you I would pre-order these so you can ring in the New Year with some super punchy fabulously tasty Motown classics.
These recordings don't appear to be on Tidal of Qobuz in Mono at this point in time, but you can find CD-quality Stereo mixes there for reference. If you aren't familiar with these albums, that might be a good way to familiarize yourself with these fine recordings.