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CD Review: UMe's 'Number Ones' Series

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Artist: Various Universal artists (mainly Motown)
Album(s): Motown Vol.2 and '80s Soul (+ 18 others)
Release Date: April 2007
Label: UMe

I have to say that I love compilations. Variety is the spice of life and what’s better than an assortment of tunes shoved at you. Universal Music Enterprises (Ume) has put out a set of 20 compilations of “number ones” of various genres, artists, and eras. The eras are by decade from the ‘60s through the ‘90s. The genres are from jazz to country. The artist roster is composed of Motowners: Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and the Temptations. The CDs are well designed and are in ground-breaking and environmentally conscious packaging – the sleeve and tray are completely paper-recyclable, a first for the music industry.

The 2 CDs that were sent to us were ’80s Soul and Motown Vol. 2. I never really thought of myself as a fan of Motown but since I’m in a funk lately, some of these songs annoyingly spoke to me: “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “You’re All That I Need To Get By”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”, etc. What a sap. After a while of listening to this though and going over the song lists for the other 18 albums its more than apparent that every town in the US has a selection of AM and FM stations that pretty much play these tunes back to back, not to mention the genre-specific satellite and internet radio stations that broadcast it 24/7. The whole premise of this set of CDs is that they were “number ones” on various lists, mainly R&B – so anyone over 30 has heard all of these songs about a million times. Also, just because a song was “number one” on the R&B chart for 2 weeks in 1986 doesn’t mean it was a good song, like Oran “Juice Jones’ “The Rain” for example, a song with no redeeming values.

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There are a couple of items that confuse/annoy with this series. The songs on the CDs are not consistently listed in any particular order, chronological or otherwise – ‘80s Soul seems random but Motown Vol.2’s tracks are listed by date but most of the other compilations are haphazardly arranged. Also, there is quite a bit of duplication of tracks across the different CDs: ‘80s Soul and Motown Vol.2 both contain Lionel Ritchie’s “All Night Long (All Night)” as well as Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” and I've seen similar repitition on other compilations in the set.

My complaints aside, there is something to be said for paying for music and being able to play tracks that you want to hear when you want to hear them. While these compilations don’t delve deep into any particular decade or genre, they are at least superficially representational. While there might be plenty of pop fluff to sift through there are at several iconic tracks on each collection, just pick carefully, and you'll be satisfied.