Fantastic Four - 1971 – The Lost Motown Album
Motown lovers/aficionados will be licking their lips in glee on this one – and with damn good reason. Supposed to have been issued on the Motown subsidiary label Soul SS-722 in early 1971 – the vinyl album “How Sweet He Is” by THE FANTASTIC FOUR was cancelled at the last minute and unceremoniously pulled from the schedules – thereafter remaining a sought-after holy grail for label collectors and lovers of quality Soul.
Five of the 12 cuts made it onto American 7″ singles and a further three tracks later turned up on various European CD compilations in the Nineties and Naughties. But what’s so exciting about this 2015 CD reissue is that researchers for Ace Records of the UK went back into the vaults looking for the album and its associated B-sides and found ‘dozens’ of outtakes of an extremely high quality. Hence this Expanded CD Remaster gives you the whole 12-track album intact at last, along with a whopping 13 Bonus Tracks – 10 of which are Previously Unreleased.
The Fantastic Four were the rare case of a group that was hot until they joined Motown, hot again after they left Motown, but who had nearly nothing to show for their time there. In fact, these native Detroiters’ one hit record at Motown, “I Love You Madly” (not in this collection) originally came out on their previous label and was then transferred to Motown’s Soul imprint. They did not receive consistent support and were relegated to second-tier (arguably third-tier) status. (One of their members called it being “put on the shelf.”) However, they themselves were as consistent as could be, as one can hear across the 25 tracks found here: 12 which were for a projected LP that never materialized, and 13 additional tracks. Both sides of their three issued 1969-1970 singles (the only ones recorded at Motown) are here. I knew of this Detroit group when they were with their previous label (Ric Tic) and had their 1968 soul-chart single “I’ve Got to Have You“, but I never heard these three before.
The Fantastic Four were blessed with an outstanding, powerhouse lead singer in the portly form of “Sweet” James Epps, whom I would situate voice-wise between Darrell Banks and Motown’s David Ruffin. Since the projected LP was going to be called “How Sweet He Is,” there was no doubt that the plan was to spin James off as a solo act.
For me, the two most outstanding tracks by a mile from “How Sweet He Is,” which should have been A-side singles in my estimation, are their fantastic exquisitely rendered cover versions of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell‘s beautiful duet ballad “If This World Were Mine” (written by Marvin) and Jerry Butler‘s cleverly tuneful “Just Can’t Forget About You“. Both of these in their original releases had been B-sides and thus way undervalued. – meaning, there could have been huge hit potential to exploit.
The bonus tracks feature a killer version of Johnny Bristol‘s “I’m Still a Struggling Man“, which went on to become Edwin Starr’s follow-up hit to “Twenty-Five Miles“. Three Bobby Taylor-produced tracks – “Loving You (Is Hurting Me)“, “I Hate Myself for Loving You” and “Fan the Flame” – are excellent, emotive (as the titles suggest) midtempo ballads. (“Fan the Flame, co-written by Smokey Robinson, originally appeared on a Temptations LP.) The uptempo, very catchy and well-constructed “In a Bad Way” would have been another fine choice for a Fantastic Four single – it had originally been a 1964 Freddie Gorman single on Ric Tic and was worthy of a second chance.
This is a typically outstanding Ace/Kent Soul compilation. The sound mastering is flawless – and included is the obligatory photo-filled Ace booklet that never fails. Co-compiler Tony Rounce’s six pages of liner notes tell the Fantastic Four’s story about as well as it can be told in this format. Sadly, as we learn in the final paragraph, none of the original Fantastic Four survived to see this “long-overdue retrospective of their time at Motown…” But Fantastic Four fans now have this pleasure.