Best Of: The Millennium Collection
The funkiest, and not-coincidentally only, white band signed to Motown — at least in the early ’70s — Detroit’s Rare Earth released a surprisingly strong series of albums whose best tracks, seven of which are collected here, remain solid and enjoyable, if slightly dated listening, 30 years after their release. The band weren’t known as great songwriters — none of these tunes, including their signature song, “I Just Want to Celebrate,” are originals — but they stamped their distinctive brand on a mixed bad of soul, R&B, and Motown covers in a remarkably effective way. Transforming compact, snappy Motown singles like “Get Ready” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You” into marathon, 20 and 10 minute respectively jazz-rock excursions complete with extended improvisations (unfortunately including drum solos) gave them credibility with the hippie crowd of that era, where such things used to count.
Arguably ahead of their time through their rugged combination of hard funk, jazz and pop, the six-piece has a lot of anthologies that cover this material, but none that include the original long album versions of these songs. That’s sometimes a mixed blessing, but this entry into the bargain priced Millennium Collection series is, at 70 minutes, not only a great buy, but the only way currently available to hear the full 21:20 of “Get Ready,” 7:19 of Ray Charles’ “What•d I Say” (almost unrecognizable from the original in a rocked up arrangement that oddly works) and 17:19 of “Ma.” The latter tune was sort of an answer to “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” also written and produced by Norman Whitfield, and features a similar insistent, grinding groove, making it one of their best and most representative songs.
The band had far more worthwhile material than the meager seven tracks represented here (they released a whopping six albums in their four year, 1969-1973 Motown run), which is available on other collections. But for those who want the full, extended Rare Earth experience • and at a budget price • it’s impossible to beat this collection. Go ahead and celebrate.