thu 17/10/2019

Long-overdue recognition for Motown’s West Coast subsidiary Mowest | reviews, news & interviews

Long-overdue recognition for Motown’s West Coast subsidiary Mowest

Long-overdue recognition for Motown’s West Coast subsidiary Mowest

Mowest was making early-Seventies soul waves on the West Coast before big-brother Motown moved to California

'Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973: Our Lives are Shaped by What we Love': Celebrating a neglected aspect of Motown in style

The Motown label will forever be identified with its Detroit birthplace, even though it had a Los Angeles office in the Sixties. The shift west was completed in 1972 when founder Berry Gordy Jr moved the whole concern to California. Before that though, in 1971, Gordy had launched subsidiary imprint Mowest to ostensibly showcase Los Angeles acts and as a test run for the California move. This gold-chip compilation shows Mowest is worth remembering. Motown's Mowest Story 1971-1973: Our Lives are Shaped by What we Love is the first comp to dig into this all but lost imprint. It’s terrific.

Mowest’s peak was Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons' tremendous 1975 UK hit "The Night", recently borrowed by Mark Ronson for his Record Collection album. A hit after packing dance floors on the Northern soul circuit, "The Night" was originally issued in the States in 1972. Although not from LA, The Four Seasons were resident there by the Seventies so ended up with Mowest. Some of the other Mowest acts were already known or became known after the label folded: The Commodores (after being on Atlantic, they signed with Mowest after being suggested by Michael Jackson), Thelma Houston and Syreeta. Lodi were an eccentric signing – they used to be Sixties garage rockers and Beatles sound-alikes The Knickerbockers. Despite its generally commercial roster, Mowest failed to carve out a place. Promotion was slim and Motown inevitably overshadowed Mowest, whose shelf life was just two years. Another two years, and after the label had gone, "The Night” hit the UK charts.

None of this really matters after hearing the music. “The Night” will always amaze, and Odyssey’s title cut was a rare groove covetable. Opening Our Lives are Shaped by What we Love with The Four Seasons' evocative, soaring "You’re a Song (That I Can't Sing)" sets the bar high. There’s no filler. Even Lodi’s Three Dog Night-ish “I Hope to See it in my Lifetime” sounds like it should have been a hit. Odyssey’s “Battened Ships” is an aural swoon. The Sisters Love's “Give me Your Love" is a semi-funk, Philly-slanted shuffler as good as anything actually from Philadelphia. Apart from a production gloss, little here sounds definitively LA.

At the very least this compilation would have been an interesting insight into an overlooked aspect of Motown. Instead, not only is it an incredible listen, it’s a recalibration of received notions of what Motown was about.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Listen to Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons' "The Night"


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