Mary Wilson – The Motown Anthology
The sudden passing of Mary Wilson in 2021 left a hole in the hearts of many music fans and industry professionals. Although she never achieved the household name status of fellow Supreme Diana Ross, she did come admirably close to someone who was mostly relegated to a supporting role during the band’s run for success while throughout the 1960s. Reissue label Real Gone Music, in conjunction with Motown and Universal Music, have assembled a long-awaited two-disc collection titled The Motown Anthology. It brings together his solo recordings and choice supreme cuts featuring his distinctive lead vocals.
Ross is the signature voice associated with many of The Supremes’ greatest hits. However, for nearly a decade after leaving the band, Wilson kept the band’s torch burning through a number of personnel changes and business struggles. Although the hits weren’t as consistent, the musical production was impressive, stylistically and vocally – Wilson eventually had the opportunity to demonstrate his delivery prowess on uptempo ballads and joints.
The Motown Anthology, in fact, spans over 60 years, beginning with a 1959 recording of The Primettes (the first incarnation of The Supremes) and ending with Wilson’s last release, “Why Can’t We All Get Along” by 2021. The bulk of the material, however, spans from 1964 to 1980, highlighting album cuts and unreleased material from the Ross and post-Ross Supremes era, including his 1979 solo LP and several cuts recorded shortly thereafter.
The endearing enthusiasm of Wilson’s approach shines through immediately on The Primettes’ “Pretty Baby,” as we hear her hone her craft on a smooth rendition of Ruby & The Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come,” a live performance by Frankie Valli’s 1970 “Can’t Take My Eyes off You,” and an unreleased 1969 version of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man.” Plus, major ’70s Supremes hits like “Floy Joy” and “Automatically Sunshine” find her memorably co-starring with then-lead vocalist Jean Terrell.After the latter left the fold in 1973, Wilson began to direct a greater amount of album tracks. a number of ballads showcasing her soft, seductive side are featured here, with 1976’s “You Are the Heart of Me” being the star. Additionally, 1975’s “Early Morning Love” and the richly textured “You’re What’s Missing in My Life’ are fine examples of his e well-balanced execution of tenderness and fire.
In particular, the majority of these selections are previously unreleased alternative versions with different vocal takes from the best-known recordings. Detailed session dates and information are provided for most tracks in the accompanying booklet, although recording information was not available for Deke Richards’ recently discovered productions “Send Him to Me” and ” If You Let Me Baby”. Perhaps most intriguing is the cover of “Witchi Tai To” by Everything Is Everything. Using a deep, seductive tone backed by one or two unidentified male vocalists, Wilson brings a breathless resonance to the Native American chants that made this number a unique pop chart entry in 1968.
The second disc of The Motown Anthology contains the entire Mary Wilson 1979 album, plus four planned tracks for its unfinished follow-up. Although the self-titled LP was re-released digitally last year, Real Gone Music was wise enough to include it in its larger and more extensive collection. Wilson put it all in the set’s seven tracks; but the underlying material was, for the most part, immemorial. The agenda seemed to be quasi-showtunes-meets-disco. Even with Hal Davis leading the production, Art Wright’s arrangements somehow missed the mark, leaving Wilson to find a way to give it his all through a sea of second-rate lyrics and melodies.
Unsurprisingly, the release of Mary Wilson was the result of a legal battle with Motown, which quickly removed the singer from its roster after the album failed commercially. We’ll never know if the much fuller batch of unreleased tracks produced by Gus Dudgeon would have put Wilson on a solid solo path. Avoiding generic disco tendencies, the poetic pop-soul flair of ‘Save Me’, a spirited cover of John Fogerty’s ‘Green River’ and the enchanting ballad ‘You Danced My Heart Around the Stars’ allowed his well-tuned vocal dynamics to to flow much more naturally.
“Why Can’t We All Get Along” from last year, completed shortly before Wilson’s death, complete The Motown Anthology, featuring an updated remix of 1979’s “Red Hot” by Eric Kupper that is in some ways stronger than the original mix. While Wilson had continued to record sporadically throughout the 80s, 90s, and 2000s, these efforts were usually one-off projects for smaller labels. So the Richard Davis/Angelo Bond-penned “Get Along” was to be his reintroduction as a solo artist. Appropriately, the thoughtful ballad blends nostalgia and social awareness with a distinctly confident voice that easily overshadows the repertoire schmaltz found on recent THANKS.
With so many years of touring and preserving the legacy of The Supremes (most recently with the superb 2019 book, Supreme Glamor) to his credit, The Motown Anthology will serve as a long-awaited treasure for Wilson’s legions of devoted fans, as well as a valuable history lesson for young listeners seeking a fuller understanding of the band beyond Ross’ star power. Wilson’s prolific advocacy for artists’ rights, coupled with his own brilliant work (often plagued by behind-the-scenes drama) will secure his place in pop and soul history.
Ross may have been trying to lessen Wilson’s impact with continued rebuffs and an obviously deadpan tweet at his death. However, the wealth of personal memories of colleagues and admirers of the Anthology accompanying booklet (among them Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney) serves as a moving salute to her importance not just in The Supremes’ history, but as a distinguished artist in her own right. The Motown Anthology is a complete physical and sonic preservation of its musical strength. Highly recommended.
by Justin Kantor
#Mary #Wilson #Motown #Anthology #Review
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