20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: Rare Earth.
What: The debut album by Motown’s most successful rock band, released in August 1969 on the company’s new rock label – which was named after them.
When: The title track was released February 18, 1970 as a single and entered the Billboard Hot 100 the following month, rockin’ its way into the Top 5 by June – when the long-player was also in the Top 5 of the magazine’s soul charts. Written by Smokey Robinson, “Get Ready” was first a hit for the Temptations, in 1966. Rare Earth, who were then known in and around Detroit as the Sunliners, added the song to their concert setlist that same year.
Where: Rare Earth put their album together quickly in the Motown studio on West Grand Boulevard, recording from 2am to 8am for five nights in June 1969. In addition to “Get Ready,” they cut versions of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” and of “Tobacco Road,” a John D, Loudermilk number which originally began life as a country tune. “We had so many great songs that it was hard to pick the ones to record,” recalled Rare Earth lead singer/drummer Pete Rivera in his autobiography, Born To Wander.
Why: “We had always gotten a really strong crowd response from it,” Rivera added about “Get Ready,” but noted that their rock rendering was “decidedly different” from the Temptations original. “It seemed to appeal to both white and black audiences on so many levels.” It also required no more than two takes in the studio. “About four minutes into the first take, we screwed up and started again,” he wrote. “When a song is 21 minutes long, you usually don’t take it again for a while.” (For more on Rare Earth, read here.)
What else: That 21-minute marathon occupied all of the second side of the album. But it didn’t attract much attention until Motown released a three-minute edit as a single, when R&B radio stations in several cities began playing it. “The brothers and sisters loved the tune,” recalled Rivera. “Motown promotion men had no trouble getting it on R&B radio.” Months earlier, when Get Ready was released, the record company pressed up the first 5,000 vinyl copies with a die-cut, semi-circular LP jacket.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?