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MOTOWN: THE CLASSIC YEARS
(UTV)
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Although most of these tracks are by artists who can and do support two-CD comps of their own, the documented existence of whole generations of young people for whom they are prehistoric overrides such scruples. Motown was Motown before it was Smokey, Supremes, Tempts, Marvin, Stevie, or marvelous Marvelettes, and it deserves to be heard that way. I fretted that its formula—on the first disc, only two tracks clock over 3:00 and two under 2:30—would sound corny or mechanical. Instead, all but a few of these 40 records range from superb to transcendent, and the only one I'd pan is a pet peeve, the Four Over-the-Tops' "Reach Out I'll Be There," which some judge a masterpiece. Lists for $25. If you know somebody who wouldn't be delighted to receive it, ditch the sourpuss. A PLUS

POP MUSIC: THE EARLY YEARS 1890-1950
(Columbia/Epic/Legacy)
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Unlike the equally amazing nine-CD American Pop: An Audio Archive(still floating around the Net for $70), the sole prize from Sony's misshapen series of two-CD Y2K keepsakes (discounted at Wherehouse.com for $20) relegates the folk to other keepsakes and deals solely in pop: not only "commercial" music, which all records aimed to be, but manufacturedmusic, geared to the demands of a known distribution system. It doesn't avoid schlock (bandleader Ben Selvin, who laid down 2000-plus sides, is a far commoner denominator than Elton John or Celine Dion), and it's got its ringers—14 of these 50 records aren't on Joel Whitburn's Pop Memoriescharts. But most of the nonhits serve some historical or artistic purpose—in my favorite (conceptually, at least), the Italian American impostor who played Aunt Jemima in the original Show Boatdelivers "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," her only release. In general, these tracks are more urban, Northern, immigrant, Jewish, female, female-identified, arranged, literate, timely, faddish, vulgar, sophisticated, expert,confident, compromised, conflicted, and monocultural than theirfolk counterparts. They're also every bit as fascinating and enjoyable. Education can be fun. Pop is art. A

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