None of the Marvin Gaye compilations so far are perfect. It's not just a matter of taste, either. This collection hits every every period of Gaye's varied recording career, but where is "Stubborn Kind of Fellow", his first hit single?
Still, with all the other essentials--not necessarily hits, but essentials that are here, this compilation is highly satisfactory. Among the indispensible tracks here are the strange and wonderful records Gaye made for Motown in the latter half of the 60s: "One More Heartache", with its obsessive rythmic figure, and "You", a haunting, minor-key, small-scale masterpiece of singing and record production. Another essential is the incredible record that was seen as "just a follow-up" to "Grapevine": "That's the Way Love is", an absolutely great record, regardless of genre. It's infectious and gloomy, fatalistic and erotic, all at the same time. Gaye sings this song as though it were his only stab at recording fame. The marvelous duets with Mary Wells (an underrated singer) released as a 2-sided single, "What's the Matter With You Baby?"/"Once Upon a Time" both capture Gaye at his seductive/feisty best.
It's lamentable that nothing from Gaye's final album for Motown, IN OUR LIFETIME, could be included here. That record contains music that points towards the multi-layered wonders of MIDNIGHT LOVE (which is in fact represented here).
The inclusion of "The End of Our Road" raises this compilation a notch above most others. This incredible recording of a top-drawer Motown song appeared as the B-side for "That's the Way Love is". As great as the latter record might be, Motown perhaps misjudged Gaye's reading (and Norman Whitfield's production) of "The End of Our Road". This could have been one Gaye's greatest successes. From the disorienting guitar riff that opens the record, to the heart-pounding drum rhythms, to the singer's expansive vocal range (all of it used here, to the greatest advantage), this is a great record that far too many Marvin Gaye fans do not know.
Get this compilation and a copy of the now sadly rare IN OUR LIFETIME and you have (almost, but not quite) the very best of Marvin Gaye, one of the greatest talents American popular music has ever produced.