Although they only released a handful of singles (and no albums) during their time with Motown and they never had a truly big hit, the Velvelettes sure recorded a lot of material if you count all the unreleased tracks they laid down for the label. This two-CD set is the proof, presenting not just most of their scant body of previously released Motown sides (some of which didn't see the light of day for decades), but also no less than 32 cuts that make their first appearances here (although half a dozen of these are just alternate versions, alternate mixes, or stereo versions). Does the availability of all this stuff redefine their legacy? Nope -- it, like prior Velvelettes compilations, solidifies their standing as a decent but second-string Motown group, although it's a gold mine of discovery for the serious Motown collector. Though the Velvelettes really weren't much different than the Supremes
or the Marvelettes
in the caliber of their talents, and they recorded songs by several of the best Motown songwriters, they just didn't get those special classic tunes that would have vaulted them over the hump.
Nevertheless, some of those unreleased tracks penned by the likes of Mickey Stevenson, Norman Whitfield
, Brian Holland
, Lamont Dozier
, Eddie Holland
, Clarence Paul
, and Barrett Strong
are fun to hear, particularly the earlier ones from the 1963-1964 era, which are good if slightly cookie-cutter slices of the classic early Motown sound as it found its feet. The recordings, whether released at the time or not, did get a little more generic as time went on -- perhaps the label's hopes for the group were flagging in the absence of a breakthrough smash. Padding out the anthology are some peripheral but interesting oddities, including five previously unissued live songs from a February 1964 concert that (in common with some other early live Motown relics) have a rawer, grittier edge than most of what the label cut in the studio. Yet more offbeat are four French-language numbers (including translations of Holland-Dozier-Holland
's "You Lost the Sweetest Boy" and Smokey Robinson
's "As Long As I Know He's Mine") that likewise find their first release here.
Note, however, that as comprehensive as this double CD is, it doesn't quite round up everything the Velvelettes ever released, as two of their best singles, "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" and "Lonely Lonely Girl Am I," are represented only by previously unavailable alternate versions, rather than the ones that appeared on the original 45s. Of course, the fanatic collectors will welcome these, but as "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" is one of the only two Velvelettes songs the non-Motown specialist is likely to be familiar with (the other being the small hit "Needle in a Haystack"), it seems odd to include the alternate. Why not put on the official standard versions of those two songs as well? It's all the more reason to stick with a basic single-CD Velvelettes anthology, such as 1999's The Very Best of the Velvelettes
, unless you're a serious devotee of the Motown sound.