Thursday, November 19, 2015

Five Just Plain Awful Songs By Some of My Favorite Performers


This is a fun post for me, but it may not be for you if you like (or love) any of these songs. Keep in mind however that I am including performers who I love with all my heart because of all the great songs they did produce, and not because I revel in their failures. Well, maybe I revel a little. One of the joys of loving pop music is to point out the really bad stuff even as you laud the great stuff, if only because pop art is all about the balance between glorious achievement and often hilarious botching. Plus, it's just plain good fun to make fun of bad things. So in that spirit, please take a listen and a gander at some notorious botches from these otherwise stratospheric talents.

10. R.E.M., "Shiny Happy People"
R.E.M.'s 1983 debut album Murmur was and still is one of the touchstones of my pop culture life -- its shimmering, summery mysteriousness and baffling vocals reach me with equal force every time I listen to it. But as their career and popularity grew to greater heights, I felt less connected with the band's music, which was probably more my problem than theirs. It's not like they should have (or could have) duplicated Murmur with every new record. But then came the last straw for me in 1991 when R.E.M. released this grossly dopey ditty. I was especially stupefied by the crayon-color music video with all the goofy hopping around, especially by Michael Stipe, one of college rock's most notorious introverts. (The exceptions are the presence of the B-52s Kate Pierson, who makes the video almost bearable, and Peter Buck, whose facial expression throughout tells you all you need to know.) But honest to god, what were they thinking? (Stipe reportedly regrets this song to this day, and the band purposely left it off their greatest hits collections.)



9. Bruce Springsteen, "Queen of the Supermarket"

Here's where I'm really asking for trouble. Ask any hardcore Springsteen fan to name his worst song, and they will most likely answer that Bruce doesn't write really bad songs. On a certain level, this is true. It's hard to find anything in his catalog that is truly execrable, unless you can't stand Springsteen and in which case your answer would be "all of them".  But by the time I first heard this song my patience was about used up -- it seemed to me that Bruce had gotten to a point where he was just spinning out albums so he and the E Street Band would have an excuse to go on tour. Which isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but this guy at the age of 24 wrote lyrics like "running into the darkness, some hurt bad, some really dying/at night sometimes it seemed you could hear the whole damn city crying" and was now stickin' us with

I'm in love with the Queen of the Supermarket
As the evening sky turns blue
A dream awaits in aisle number two

-- and I for one was having no part of it.


8. Elvis Presley, "He's Your Uncle, Not Your Dad"

Yes I know -- this is shooting fish in a barrel. It's actually fairly difficult to choose a bad Elvis song, because there are so many. I could easily have chosen "(There's) No Room to Rhumba in a Sports Car" or "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce" or even "Do the Clam". The list is almost endless. And anyway, it's not entirely Elvis's fault. Once the Colonel in all his wisdom cut Elvis off from great songwriters like Leiber & Stoller (who quite rightly balked at having to cut the King in on 50% of their publishing rights), he handed his client's considerable talent over to some of the most talentless songwriting hacks who ever put notes on paper. Still, a legacy is a legacy, and Elvis sure went along with whatever crap got put on his plate, so it is what it is.

I finally decided on this song because its message is we need to pay our taxes! In case you think I'm kidding:

If you're not in form, ten-forty's your salvation
By deprivation of temptation
Dark and blondes I hear are not deductible
Oh, say, can you see if there's anything left for me?


7. John Lennon, "Luck of the Irish"

One often wonders what John Lennon would have accomplished musically had he not been gunned down savagely at the age of 40. Musically, it's hard to say -- I like to believe he would have embraced the coming of the internet and social media with fiery enthusiasm, and I am completely sure the 1996 Beatles reunion would have been absolutely fine by him. One thing I do know is that we wouldn't be left with what is a very small and deeply uneven legacy of solo work -- once you get past Plastic Ono Band and Imagine, the number of truly great Lennon solo songs is pretty meager. His 1972 album Some Time in New York City has zero great Lennon songs, so it's where I aimed my critical scope. Yoko's songs on the LP are unspeakably awful, but that's really no surprise and anyway she doesn't count for our purposes. The real standout as far as John's songs go has to be this one -- not so much for its performance, which is rather quite beautiful and earnestly sung (excepting again Yoko, whose vocals are so bad you want to hit your head with a leprechaun). What puts this song into the realm of Just Plain Awful are the lyrics, which have to be the most embarrassing and politically tone-deaf odes to the Troubles in Ireland:

If you had the luck of the Irish
You'd be sorry and wish you were dead
You should have the luck of the Irish
And you'd wish you was English instead!

Listen, I could have been really mean and quoted the verses Yoko sings, which include such brilliant observations such as "let's walk over rainbows like leprechauns/the world would be one big Blarney stone". But I would never do that to you.


6. The Clash, "Lose This Skin"

Well, I suppose maybe this doesn't count. But then again, it does. It comes from the band's 1981 album Sandinista!, which at the time was considered a staggering artistic achievement and stands as a precursor to the coming of what soon would be called "world music" and includes a brilliant hodgepodge of punk, gospel, hip-hop, and reggae that still kicks the ass of anything U2 ever came up with. Unfortunately, this 3-LP set also comes with a lot of filler, including "dub" versions of many of the songs, and a few novelty odds 'n' ends that probably could have been shelved in the interest of making Sandinista! a truly great double LP. Case in point: Joe Strummer's pal Tymon Dogg, who wrote, sang, and played violin on this track. So it doesn't count in that it is not an actual Clash song, but then the Clash released it and put their name on it, so I blame them. It's not so much that this song is so incredibly awful, it's that it should never have been on the album in the first place. But it is pretty bad. (Which still won't stop Clash fans from kicking my ass for including it here.)



What are some clunkers by some of your favorite performers?


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Best and Worst Christmas Albums Around, Volume 2






The Beach Boys, Ultimate Christmas (Capitol, 1998)


1.       Little Saint Nick
2.       The Man With All The Toys
3.       Santa's Beard
4.       Merry Christmas, Baby
5.       Christmas Day
6.       Frosty The Snowman
7.       We Three King Of Orient Are
8.       Blue Christmas
9.       Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
10.   White Christmas
11.   I'll Be Home For Christmas
12.   Auld Lang Syne
13.   Little Saint Nick (Single Version)
14.   Auld Lang Syne (Alternate Mix)
15.   Little Saint Nick (Alternate Mix)
16.   Child Of Winter (Christmas Song)
17.   Santa's Got An Airplane
18.   Christmas Time Is Here Again
19.   Winter Symphony
20.   (I Saw Santa) Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree
21.   Melekalikimaka
22.   Bells Of Christmas
23.   Morning Christmas
24.   Toy Drive Public Service Announcement
25.   Dennis Wilson Christmas Message - Dennis Wilson 
26.   Brian Wilson Christmas Interview - Brian Wilson

Be prepared for some ranting about the major labels.

Capitol Records (now under the thumb of Universal Music Group) has released a pile of versions of The Beach Boys Christmas Album.  That album, originally released in November 1964, was merely the sixth album the band had released in the previous 14 months.  Accordingly, it’s sort of half-great – Brian created a couple of classics in “Little Saint Nick” and “The Man With All the Toys,” both of which deservedly still get airplay on Christmas stations today.  The seven “classics” feature the typical harmonies drenched in orchestral arrangements by Dick Reynolds (who’d done the same for The Four Freshmen) – Brian loved that sound, but it was a little dated then, and even more so today.  Still, it’s a pretty decent album on the whole, and it’s in print today under two titles:  The Beach Boys Christmas Album and Christmas Harmonies (with three additional tracks).

Ultimate Christmas, however, adds more.  The good news is it has a couple of alternate versions of “Little Saint Nick” – a stereo mix with added instrumentation that was released in 1965, and a really cool version that picks up the lyrics from the song and drops them on a completely different melody – 1965’s “Salt Lake,” from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!).  It also adds a pretty decent song written by Brian Wilson circa 1973, “Child of Winter.”  Unfortunately, it also adds seven songs from what wound up being a failed attempt at a second Christmas album – when Warner Brothers told them to pony up a real album instead (Christmas albums were not on the record labels’ priority list in 1977), some of the songs were quickly rewritten for one of the band’s worst studio releases, M.I.U. Album.  (Maharishi International University – Mike Love was into TM at the time).  A few Christmas commercial spots fill up the album.

Capitol was pretty good about putting this stuff out for the fans in the 1990s, and Ultimate Christmas was a welcome release in 1998.  Now, of course, they would rather rake in the bucks, so this is out of print and unavailable for download – Amazon has one copy for thirty-five dollars (The Beach Boys Christmas Album is $7.99 for the download, and Christmas Harmonies, with those three additional songs  - all included in Ultimate Christmas – is inexplicably two dollars less.)  Couldn’t this album be available at full price?

Best:  “Little Saint Nick” (all three versions), “The Man With All the Toys,” “Merry Christmas, Baby,” “Christmas Day,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Child of Winter (Christmas Song),” and “Morning Christmas” (the only song written by Dennis Wilson from the 1977 sessions).

Worst:  everything else from the 1977 sessions.



Various Artists, (Putumayo Presents) Acoustic Christmas (Putumayo, 2013)


1.       Mindy Smith - "It Really Is (A Wonderful Life)"
2.       The Sugar Thieves - "Santa Baby"
3.       Leon Redbone - "That Old Christmas Moon"
4.       She & Him - "The Christmas Waltz"
5.       Emilie Claire Barlow - "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"
6.       Charles Brown - "Please Come Home for Christmas"
7.       Stacey Kent - "The Christmas Song"
8.       Stephanie Davis - "I'll Be Home For Christmas"
9.       Johnny Moore's Three Blazers - "Merry Christmas Baby"
10.   Hem - "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

Putumayo has put out a few of these CDs, and I’ve managed to take two of them out from the library.  I don’t think everything is acoustic, contrary to the title’s claim (there’s definitely some electric guitar and keyboard in there), but the idea is there.  The feel is mostly jazz and blues, and it’s somewhat nontraditional, which is fine with me.

Best:  You can’t go wrong with Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” and this acoustic remake of his own song is fine in its own right.  “The Christmas Waltz” by She & Him proves that Zooey Deschanel isn’t just getting record contracts because she’s attractive and an actress; she’s genuinely a good singer.  Mindy Smith’s “It Really Is (A Wonderful Life)” has cool lyrics that work either as the first Christmas with a new love, or the first Christmas with a new addition to the family.  And Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers’ “Merry Christmas Baby,” from 1948, is a great bluesy tune that deserves more exposure.

Worst:  Stacey Kent’s “The Christmas Song” is even more pensive and lugubrious than usual.  I’ve never gotten the appeal of Leon Redbone, and after hearing “That Old Christmas Moon,” I still don’t.  And I really have never liked “Santa Baby,” which started out as a  slightly over-obvious attack on commercialism and greed and has somehow turned into a piece about seducing the big guy (I blame Madonna); The Sugar Thieves’ version isn’t awful, but I don’t think I’ve heard a good version.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Best and Worst Christmas Albums Around, Volume 1



Years and years ago, I read in Esquire magazine the best way to acquire a good collection of Christmas records was simply to pick one out every year.  I’ve tried to do that, for the last 30 years or so, and over time (and thanks to our local public library, which has a pretty astonishing collection), I’ve heard  lots of great and not-so-great Christmas music over the years.  Between now and Christmas, I’m going to try to drop a few hints here and there.



Various Artists, Have a Nice Christmas: Holiday Hits of the ‘70s (Rhino, 1994)


1.       Bobby Sherman, “Yesterday’s Christmas”
2.       Melanie, “Merry Christmas”
3.       The Jimmy Castor Bunch, “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)”
4.       The Osmonds, “Pine Cones and Holly Berries” (with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”)
5.       Martin Mull, “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope”
6.       Jim Croce, “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way”
7.       Liberace, “Christmas Medley: White Christmas/Jingle Bells/O Come, All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles)/Silent Night, Holy Night”
8.       Wayne Newton, “Jingle Bell Hustle”
9.       Cheech & Chong, “Santa Claus and His Old Lady”
10.   Glen Campbell, “I Believe in Christmas”
11.   Ricky Segall & The Segalls, “All I Want to Ask Santa Claus”
12.   Donny & Marie, “Winter Wonderland”
13.   Bobby Sherman, “Jingle Bell Rock”
14.   Martin Mull with The Sondra Baskin Glee Club, “Santafly”
15.   Gary Glitter, “Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas” 
16.   Grandpa Walton, Will Geer, “Grandpa’s Christmas Wish”

This is the Christmas followup to Rhino’s long-running Have a Nice Day: Super Hits of the ‘70s series of compilation CDs, which were quite popular in the early 1990s (and yes, I have all 25 volumes).  However, Rhino’s didn’t make much of an effort to bag any Christmas chart hits (of the five songs with Christmas in the title that made Billboard’s Hot 100 in the 1970s, this contains precisely none of them), so what we’re offered is a mixed bag of kitsch and Dr. Demento leftovers.

Best:  Obviously, Jim Croce’s “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” is head and shoulders above everything else here, but it’s a Christmas song in the way Dan Fogelberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” is a New Year’s song – it’s a song of regret and longing that happens to take  place around a holiday.  It’s available on Croce’s album Life and Times, as well as a live version and another Christmas anthology, Singers and Songwriters: Christmas, that looks considerably better than this one.  Also, nothing by Glen Campbell is truly awful, so even though his “I Believe in Christmas” was unreleased to this point, it’s worth hearing.  Unfortunately, it’s not available for download.  Finally, you wouldn’t think The Jimmy Castor Bunch (“Bertha Butt Boogie,” “Troglodyte (Cave Man)” could produce a pretty decent sax-driven version of “The Christmas Song,” but what’s here is 75 percent of a pleasant surprise (it would be a 100 percent pleasant surprise if the backing track didn’t sound like the 1972 version of a MIDI file).

Worst:  Where do I begin?  With two songs each by Bobby Sherman (empty but harmless), various Osmonds (same), and Martin Mull (smarmy and obvious – “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope” is barely a song, as a third of it is his spoken lead in) taking up nearly 40 percent of the album, you’d think it couldn’t be worse – but it is.  Ricky Segall was The Partridge Family’s singing equivalent of The Brady Bunch’s Cousin Oliver, and while I hate to knock someone who became a minister (he’s been working on a play about the life of the apostle Peter), this song is agonizing to hear even once.  But at least Segall had the excuse of being four years old at the time – Wayne Newton was 33 when he made “Jingle Bell Hustle,” and it’s lousy too.  Liberace’s “Christmas Medley” has no business being here; it was recorded in the 1950s, and even though he may have been having a career renaissance in the 1970s, this orchestrated piece doesn’t fit the rest of the album at all.  Finally, Gary Glitter’s “Another Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas” also wasn’t a 1970s song (1984 release), and given Glitter’s been either in jail or in exile for much of the past two decades for various reasons (look it up yourself), it’s best to skip his track altogether.



Vince Guaraldi Trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy, 1965)


1.       "O Tannenbaum"
2.       "What Child Is This"
3.       "My Little Drum"
4.       "Linus and Lucy"
5.       "Christmas Time Is Here" (Instrumental)
6.       "Christmas Time Is Here" (Vocal)
7.       "Skating"
8.       "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing"
9.       "Christmas Is Coming"
10.   "Für Elise"
11.   "The Christmas Song”

I wish I could take a little bit of credit for the renaissance of this album, which, if it wasn’t out of print in the late 1970s, was almost impossible to find.  One of my fraternity brothers had a copy of the original vinyl edition and put it on at a Christmas party in 1981, much to our amazement (not only did most of us not know this existed, we hadn’t put together the fact that the background music from the television special we’d all seen a dozen times or more was outstanding).  All of us made a tape from that scratchy vinyl edition (happily, I found a new, untouched vinyl copy a year later), and the album has picked up in popularity ever since (it’s been one of the top 10 Christmas albums since Billboard introduced its Soundscan system in 1991).  I now own a 1988 CD issue; there have been several additional reissues and revisions (apparently the 2006 version is the one to avoid, but the one in the stores today is from 2012, so you should be safe.  That version has three additional songs to bring the running time up to a respectable 45 minutes, plucking one song each from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (which kind of ruins the Christmas thing, but I suppose they can be skipped).

Best:  “Linus and Lucy,” of course, and the evocative “Skating.”  Of the standards, I’d go with “O Tannenbaum.”

Worst:  nothing dreadful, but the vocal version of “Christmas Time Is Here” is a reminder that the kids who did the voices were really kids, and weren’t necessarily singers.

Friday, October 30, 2015

If You’re Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From… The Temptations





This is why you need me around.  There are so many choices, it’s hard to make a good call.



The Temptations have been recording, in one form or another, since 1960, with their most recent album coming out in 2010.  They started out by combining two different Detroit groups – Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks came from The Primes, and Otis Williams, Elbridge Bryant, and Melvin Franklin were part of The Distants.



Since then, the shuffle among group members has been endless (Otis Williams is the only surviving member of those original five), but they’re still hitting the boards (and they ain’t cheap – they’re playing here in Naperville next May, with tickets starting at $145; The Temptations Review, with former lead singer Dennis Edwards and Paul Williams’ son as the leads, also tour).  That’s a lot of money to shell out, but given Otis Williams turns 74 years old today (happy birthday, Otis!) and may call it a day soon (the youngest of the current group, Bruce Williamson, is 45), it may be now or never.



Anyway, the good news is all but two of their studio albums are now under the Universal Music Group umbrella (and there’s nothing you’ve ever heard of on the other two), the bad news is it’s real easy to get something mediocre without looking a bit.  There are also some no-name labels selling best-ofs as well (which sound a lot like the originals – it may be Dennis Edwards’ Temptations Review); my rule of thumb is if the cover looks like it was created in Microsoft Word and the label isn’t Motown, Gordy, or Universal, leave it alone.  (After having written this, even I was surprised by one of the options – read on.)
The Temptations have had 60 songs over the years that have made either top 40 pop or top 20 R&B, so there’s a lot of ground to cover.  Accordingly, I’m going to… have to recommend a two-disk set.














It’s fairly complete – covering the period between the group’s first big hit (1964’s “The Way You Do the Things You Do”) and their last pop top 10 (1973’s “Masterpiece”), only four of those 60 songs are left out – the oddball "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)" (producer Norman Whitfield’s reach exceeded his grasp on that one), the meh 1972 song “Take a Look Around,” and two lesser collaborations with Diana Ross & The Supremes, “I’ll Try Something New” and “The Weight.”   Other than that, all of their hits from that era are here, along with, strangely, a few non-hits and the occasional unreleased song to reel in collectors (“Lullaby of Love”).



Motown has released three different albums under this name for The Temptations – one in the 1970s (vinyl only, which is the version I own), one on CD in the 1980s, and a third one on CD in 1995, which is the one you want.  With 46 songs clocking in at over two and a half hours, the CDs are both pretty much filled to the 80-minute limit.



Another couple of oddities for those buying on Amazon – the list price for the CDs is $12.52 (which makes me think they may be running out shortly), and the download is $18.99.  The CD listing only lists the first disk, but make no mistake – this is a two-disk set.  I would order the CD, which I’m sure comes with liner notes – and it’s six dollars less anyway.



Other options, with Wikipedia links included when available:



  • The Temptations’ Greatest Hits (1966) – their first hits set, covering the early hits produced by Smokey Robinson and a few by Norman Whitfield.  Out of print and not available for download, but it was issued on CD at one point.  “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” was first issued on album here; it wasn’t available on any studio albums.
  • The Temptations’ Greatest Hits II (1970) – more of the same, and again was only CD for a short time.  “Ball of Confusion” is the non-studio album track here.  There was a Volume 3 issued, but I’ve never seen it in stores, so I think it might have been for foreign markets only.
  • All the Million Sellers (1981) – a 10-track set that may have served a purpose when it was first released in 1981, but certainly doesn’t now – but apparently somebody at Universal thinks so, because it’s available for download.  For $9.49, there are much better options.
  • Songs That Inspired The Motown 25th Anniversary Television Special (1983) – one of a bunch of albums issued in the wake of the classic 1983 NBC TV show (more famous for what it didn’t show; Diana Ross apparently had a mini-freakout on stage).  Again, a mix of stuff, and it doesn’t seem to be available now.
  • 25th Anniversary (1986) – I have this one on vinyl.  22 tracks that probably fit on one CD but required two vinyl disks; most of the hits plus some rarities and nonhits.  Not bad; not necessary if you’ve already got Anthology.  Later issues of the CD may have had a few less songs.  Out of print and unavailable for download.
  • Compact Command Performances: 17 Greatest Hits (1990) – at least this has 17 songs, but they could have done better.  Out of print and unavailable for download.
  • Motown Legends: The Temptations (1991) – another series Motown did for its heritage acts; at least these had bargain prices.  It looks like there were three volumes in all, hits and a few oddities on each.  All out of print and unavailable for download, but you might see them on remainder tables.
  • Hum Along and Dance: More of the Best 1963-1974 (1993) – somebody at Motown/MCA must have fallen asleep at the switch, because this is inexplicably a Rhino release (Rhino is technically part of Warner Brothers, although they pick up reissues from almost everybody).  It’s pretty much singles and some other major tracks from this era that didn’t make Anthology – the aforementioned "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)" and “Take a Look Around” are both here; 18 tracks in all.  Out of print and unavailable for download, but I’d snap it up if I saw it cheap.  MCA/Universal eventually started their own backlist rerelease label, Hip-O (get it?) to avoid letting Rhino get their mitts on the classics.
  • Emperors of Soul (1994) – Holy mackerel:  110 songs spread out over five disks; I think this is Motown’s largest hits set dedicated to a single act.  Every hit is here if I’m not mistaken (although casual listeners won’t recognize much of the last two disks).  It comes with a lengthy book/discography (which fell apart on me after repeated use, so be careful).  If you’re a big fan, you won’t need anything else, but at $45.62 (not available for download), you’d better know what you’re getting into.  (I got mine for considerably less – RIP, BMG Music Service.)
  • One by One: The Best of Their Solo Years (1995) – This doesn’t really belong here; it’s a two-disk set of solo tracks from David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Dennis Edwards, and Paul Williams.  Dominated by Ruffin and Kendricks (Edwards only made two solo albums for the label and cut a handful of songs before he joined The Temptations in 1968; Williams only recorded two songs after leaving the group in 1971 for health reasons – he committed suicide in 1973), it’s a fascinating look at what happened to the primary members of the group before and after their tenure there.  (Only Edwards is around today; he had three tours of duty with the band, but he’s been out for good since 1989.)  Out of print and unavailable for download, but worth finding.
  • The Ultimate Collection (1997) – a pretty good one-disk choice at $8.39, although $11.49 for the download is a little high.  21 songs, just four from after “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (their last #1 pop hit).  Still available.
  • 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection, Volumes 1 and 2 (2000) – I hate these things.  11 songs on each; five bucks for the disk or $5.99 for the download; and as at least one reviewer on Amazon points out, they could have easily fit all 22 songs on one disk.  Only buy either one at a truck stop if you’re desperate.
  • The Universal Masters Collection (2000) – another one released after UMG got ahold of a bunch of catalogues.  Okay at 16 songs, but there are better choices.  Out of print and unavailable for download.
  • My Girl: The Very Best of The Temptations (rereleased in 2005 as The Temptations: Gold) (2002) – another two-disk set.  This barely missed out on my pick, mostly because it’s super cheap ($15.49 for the download, and an astonishing $7.39 for the CD – I wonder if Amazon is trying to clear this out).  It is missing some prime stuff, however, with over 2/3 of the second disk taken up by post-“Papa” songs, some of which weren’t hits at all.  I’d taken this over most of the one-disk options if you’re buying the CD, but not Anthology – 10 less songs, and the first disk runs less than an hour.
  • Psychedelic Soul (2003) – this only focuses on songs released between 1968 and 1974, and skips “Just My Imagination” and the Supremes collaborations.  Worth getting if you can find it cheap, as I did (RIP, BMG Music Service), but since virtually all of the albums from that era are in print and are available for download, that might be the better bet.
  •  Joined Together: Diana Ross and The Supremes and The Temptations (2004) – like Psychedelic Soul, this focuses on a specific era.  It’s basically everything from two studio albums the two groups did together (Diana Ross and The Supremes Join The Temptations, and Together) with a couple of outtakes for collector interest.  (They also did a TV special soundtrack, TCB, which is not included here.)  Interesting notes; there’s not a single picture in the studio of Diana with anyone else, which makes me think she recorded her parts separately.  $16.99 for the disk, $17.99 for the download, and probably not worth it at those prices, unless you can get it cheap like I did (RIP, BMG Music Service) – but in this case those two group albums are, in fact, out of print.
  • Love Songs (2004) – I hate these things; most of their songs were love songs anyway (excluding the psychedelic era, I suppose).  Available both for purchase and download, 14 songs. 
  • The Definitive Collection (2008) – pretty solid one-disk set, but at 18 songs, they’re not cramming up the disk.  $7.39 for the disk, $9.49 for the download.
  • Number 1s (2009) – 20 songs, most of the same as The Definitive Collection.  $9.49 for the download, $8.49 for the disk – maybe the die-cut cover explains the extra buck.
  •  Icon: The Temptations (2010) – another UMG ripoff.  24 songs on two disks (it probably just missed fitting onto one – remember, most AM hits before 1970 were somewhere around 2-1/2 minutes long), for $13.00, and no download option.  Avoid.
  • 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collection 1961-1971 (2011) – well, this is different.  Every single they made for Motown in their first 10 years on the label, both A and B sides.  A couple of rarities (“My Girl” in German and Italian), and a this-doesn’t-belong-here (“Power,” a 1980 near-miss single, in a couple of remixed versions).  At three disks and $50.98 ($42.99 for the download), I think it’s only for obsessives.



David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks do have solo greatest hits sets in print (the others do not); if you can’t find One on One as mentioned above, here are the options.

  • Kendricks has the 16-song Definitive Collection ($9.49 for the download, $7.99 for the CD) and his own 12-song 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection ($5.99 for the download, $4.99 for the CD).  Since Kendricks only really had two major solo hits (“Keep On Truckin’” and “Boogie Down”), it might be tempting to go with the cheaper option, especially since it contains the live medley of “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “My Girl” Kendricks and Ruffin did with Daryl Hall and John Oates in 1985.  Definitive Collection, however, does include a gorgeous song Kendricks sang in his natural tenor voice (as opposed to his standard falsetto), “This Used to Be the Home of Johnnie Mae.”  There are also some every-album-crammed-into-one-set versions of every one of his eight Motown albums available, with the first volume a bargain (three albums on two disks, $14.99) and the second one not so much (five albums on three disks, $41.99).
  • Ruffin’s also got his own Definitive Collection and 20th Century Masters options, and the latter also has the Hall & Oates medley.  But Ruffin’s Definitive Collection is 20 songs instead of 16 and costs $6.99 instead of $9.49, so that’s probably the better bet – even though I’m pretty sure Ruffin didn’t have 20 chart hits in his solo career.  (They also could have tossed in “Stand by Me,” from his duet album with brother Jimmy, which was a hit.)  Also, David Ruffin at His Best (which couldn’t have been often enough for the band; Ruffin was notoriously a pain in the rear because of ego and drug problems) is around for $5.99, but with 10 songs, four of which were Temptations songs, it’s not worth the effort.  Ruffin also has the same every-album-crammed-into-set releases like Kendrick, but the first one isn’t available for download and costs $50.99 for the disks, while the second one is over 30 dollars for the download and 100 dollars for the disk – and they aren’t even that good.



For reference, here are the groups pop and R&B hits – and what’s represented on Number 1s and Anthology.

Year
Song Title
Lead Singer(s)
Pop Chart Peak
R&B Chart Peak
Number 1s
Anthology: The Best of The Temptations
1964
The Way You Do the Things You Do
Eddie Kendricks
11
1*
Yes
Yes
1964
I'll Be in Trouble
Eddie Kendricks
33
22*

Yes
1964
The Girl's Alright with Me
Eddie Kendricks
102
39*

Yes
1964
Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)
Eddie Kendricks
26
11*

Yes
1964
My Girl
David Ruffin
1
1
Yes
Yes
1965
It's Growing
David Ruffin
18
3

Yes
1965
You'll Lose a Precious Love
David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin
-
-

Yes
1965
What Love Has Joined Together
Eddie Kendricks
-
-

Yes
1965
Who's Lovin' You
David Ruffin
-
-

Yes
1965
Since I Lost My Baby
David Ruffin
17
4

Yes
1965
You've Got to Earn It
Eddie Kendricks
-
-

Yes
1965
Nobody But You
Eddie Kendricks
-
-

Yes
1965
My Baby
David Ruffin
13
4

Yes
1965
Don’t Look Back
Paul Williams
83
15

Yes
1966
Get Ready
Eddie Kendricks
29
1
Yes
Yes
1966
Ain't Too Proud to Beg
David Ruffin
13
1
Yes
Yes
1966
Beauty Is Only Skin Deep
David Ruffin
3
1
Yes
Yes
1966
(I Know) I'm Losing You
David Ruffin
8
1
Yes
Yes
1967
Ol' Man River
Melvin Franklin
-
-

Yes
1967
The Impossible Dream
David Ruffin
-
-

Yes
1967
Lullaby of Love
Eddie Kendricks
-
-

Yes
1967
All I Need
David Ruffin
8
2

Yes
1967
You're My Everything /
Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin
6
3
Yes
Yes
1967
(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need
David Ruffin, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks
14
3

Yes
1968
I Wish It Would Rain
David Ruffin
4
1
Yes
Yes
1968
I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)
David Ruffin
13
1
Yes
Yes
1968
Please Return Your Love To Me
Eddie Kendricks
26
4

Yes
1968
Cloud Nine
Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
6
2

Yes
1969
I'm Gonna Make You Love Me (with Diana Ross and The Supremes)
Diana Ross and Eddie Kendricks (spoken interlude by Otis Williams)
2
2
Yes
Yes
1969
Runaway Child, Running Wild
Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
6
1
Yes
Yes
1969
I'll Try Something New (with Diana Ross and The Supremes)
Diana Ross and Eddie Kendricks
25
8


1969
Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down
Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
20
2

Yes
1969
I Can't Get Next to You
Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
1
1
Yes
Yes
1969
The Weight (with Diana Ross and The Supremes)
Diana Ross, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams
46
4


1970
Psychedelic Shack
Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
7
2

Yes
1970
Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)
Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and Melvin Franklin
3
2
Yes
Yes
1970
Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)
Dennis Edwards
33
8


1971
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams
1
1
Yes
Yes
1971
Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)
Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
18
8

Yes
1972
Take a Look Around
Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris, and Otis Williams
30
10


1972
Papa Was a Rollin' Stone
Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris, and Melvin Franklin
1
5
Yes
Yes
1973
Masterpiece
Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris, and Melvin Franklin (spoken introduction by Otis Williams)
7
1
Yes
Yes
1973
Plastic Man
Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris, and Melvin Franklin
40
8


1973
Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)
Richard Street
35
2

Yes
1973
Let Your Hair Down
Dennis Edwards
27
1
Yes
Yes
1974
Heavenly
Richard Street and Damon Harris
43
8


1974
You've Got My Soul on Fire
Dennis Edwards
74
8


1974
Happy People
Dennis Edwards and Melvin Franklin
40
1
Yes

1975
Shakey Ground
Dennis Edwards
26
1
Yes
Yes
1975
Glasshouse
Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Damon Harris, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin
37
9


1975
A Song for You
Dennis Edwards
-
-

Yes
1976
Keep Holdin' On
Dennis Edwards
54
3


1980
Power
Dennis Edwards, Glenn Leonard, Melvin Franklin, and Richard Street
43
11

Yes
1982
Standing On The Top - Pt. 1
Rick James, Dennis Edwards, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Richard Street, and Melvin Franklin
66
6

Yes
1983
Love On My Mind Tonight
Dennis Edwards
88
17


1983
Sail Away
Ron Tyson
54
13


1984
Treat Her Like a Lady
Ali-Ollie Woodson
48
2

Yes
1985
My Love is True (Truly for You)
Ron Tyson
14


1985
Do You Really Love Your Baby
Ali-Ollie Woodson
14


1986
Lady Soul
Ali-Ollie Woodson
47
4

Yes
1987
I Wonder Who She's Seeing Now
Dennis Edwards
3


1987
Look What You Started
Dennis Edwards
8


1989
All I Want From You
Ali-Ollie Woodson
16


1989
Special
Ali-Ollie Woodson
10


1990
Soul to Soul
Ali-Ollie Woodson and Ron Tyson
12


1991
The Motown Song (Rod Stewart featuring The Temptations)
Rod Stewart and Ali-Ollie Woodson
10


1995
Silent Night
Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, and Glenn Leonard
16


1998
Stay
Theo Peoples, Terry Weeks, and Ron Tyson

28
Yes