Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mary Wells: The Best of Mary Wells: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Motown, 1999]
The first six tracks here are the same six tracks in the same order that Massa Gordy put on his little runaway's Greatest Hits in 1964. From the calm, hurt "The One Who Really Loves You" to the blissful, confident "My Guy," they're Smokey Robinson's portrait of the heroine as a nice girl: a vision of female sensitivity balanced by female pride, all plain poetry and subdued sexual promise. The Shirelles themselves never said it better. Only then, starting with a Marvin Gaye duet and proceeding on the simple strength of compiler Harry Weinger's taste, the less canonical numbers sustain the illusion that Greatest Hits turns to filler. There's even a song written by the artist, who proved what a fool she was to desert Motown--and what a construction her modesty was--with every piece of forced soul and adult pop she turned out for Fox, MGM, Atlantic, etc. This is all the distinction Wells had in her. It was epochal, and it was over before she passed 21. A